Online Edition: Fall 2005

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Escape Velocity

David Breskin

Soft Skull Press ($13.95)

by Ross O'Hara

The “Prelude” to David Breskin’s Escape Velocity includes a sprawling sestina that envelopes the page with music, art, politics, and sex, setting the tone for a compelling collection. The repetition of end words reminds us that no matter how we rearrange this world, we are left with echoes of the exact same place. The collection’s title calls for an escape, forceful and explosive, from imprisonment by complacency and the status quo. Over the course of 127 pages, Breskin describes a world in which people are slipping further into poverty, society is becoming more indifferent to its woes, and love is a passive virtue.

The title poem establishes Breskin’s desire not only to reveal society’s flaws, but to inspire the reader to speak out in his or her own way:

                                                   Life’s
not cheap at this burn rate. Out here there’s

no air save your own breath. You’ve gone so long
not talking, words feel like food in your mouth.

These final lines open the collection’s first section, “Evidence,” where Breskin examines sociopolitical issues ranging from the follies of the current administration to the dangers of our legal system. In “Welfare Reform,” Breskin introduces images of the downtrodden and innocent being devoured by the powerful, writing of the upper echelon’s dependence on the poor:

Mr. Full, I’m Mr. Empty. Rub my bones
together to spark a wispy fire. Swallow

your pride, keep yourself warm on the oil
of my intestine.

He gradually moves into societal issues that exist beyond the political realm, of families struggling to be traditional and children existing without being cared for. In “Waffles” Breskin writes:

such miseries—including divorces mixed
into infants’ formula, blank-disk kids
jacked on joystick killing games, undone rents
pushing Ritalin or smacking kids or
smacked-out themselves.

In the next two sections, “Well, You Needn’t” and “Rhythm-A-Ning,” Breskin explores the personal side of these societal problems, but always maintains a stolid distance. He is critical without being sympathetic, depicting lives while not attempting to touch them. In “Woman Trapped by Screaming Children,” Breskin illustrates the overworked working mother with estranged objectivity:

…this supper-class woman so full
of tuition, therapy and chocolate
is being driven stork raving mad
by her kinder but won’t admit it
to the higher authorities.

Here we also experience Breskin’s intelligent and enjoyable mastery of language. His poetry is highlighted by a quick pace, jazz and funk inspired rhythms, and skillful plays on words.

Breskin achieves his finest poetic moments, however, when he looks inside and places himself into this world he depicts. The rarity of this act may add to its force, but dearly leaves the reader wanting more personal reflection. Through most of the collection Breskin seems like a visitor, observing but unaffected by his environment. He shines when he allows his lyricism to engulf himself, such as in “Belief Systems”:

The way falling planes at night believe
in their lit runways, the way basketball
players shooting the turnaround believe
in the swishing sound of nets, the way
even the steepest inland cataracts
believe in oceans, I believed in you.

The collection’s “Coda” ends with a poem posing as transcript, an airport taxi driver ranting about the world in 33 lines much as Breskin has done for the entire book. The driver covers the political, the social, and the familial, ending with a poignant “what next?” Those two words resonate through the pages of white space that follow, urging the reader to take a stand and emphasizing that the past may have been a perpetual cycle but the future is undetermined and open to change.

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