Book Review: 4 Against the Wall (2005)

Poems by Zachary Chartkoff, Sam Mills, Robert Rentschler, Ruelaine Stokes

WallNot so much a review as a conveyance for your consideration. I know Mr. Mills, and have published or reposted one of his earlier free verses here in the form of a guest special interest writing, aka Donut Hole: The Editorial Department. Sam and I worked in the same editing and writing group for the company once known as Electronic Data Systems—then after the General Motors severance, simply EDS—owned and run by the self-styled brilliant entrepreneur and captain of industry, Ross Perot. This was, for me, in the late 1980s. Sam predated me a couple of years at the corporate communications beach head.

And I’m a huge fan of both Sam the Man and Sam the Poet. He writes as I like to imagine the world, deftly and with a eye sensitive to the living-breathing, common part of us all. After we left EDS, we kept in touch, I dropping in, from time to time, to a convenient establishment on his end of town serving adult beverages. In fact, I believe he made available this booklet to me for a reduced price or in return for buying him a drink. These were the days before the convenience and print-on-demand of Createspace came to independent publishing… and I recall how our barmaid, who had become a good friend of Sam’s through several sessions of good-natured banter, oohed and ahhed when he bestowed a copy on her.

General observation on the book, it’s quite a pleasure. Also a bit of an inspiration to try my hand one day at this form of expression. You truly tap into the soul and the life force of the poet through his or her presentation. And the four members of this crew have been hanging out at a public setting in the Lansing area to verbally deliver their art. So much the better. Yes, one day soon, I’ll hook up with Sam on my travels up the road to the Michigan capital and, I hope, at least attend a reading.

I’ll simply excerpt a poem, on a fair-use basis, from each of three of them: Sam, Robert, and Ruelaine. Nothing personal, they’re all good, Zachary’s were either too long for my format here, or just felt not as seasoned to my taste—he’s the youngest of the bunch, even without the photographic confirmation.

Fortunate Success, by Sam Mills

At the Chinese restaurant
I reach into the large bowl of baked fortunes,
hermetically sealed for our protection,
and pass a handful down the bar.
the insurance salesman is at first puzzled by
“You will live in interesting times,”
but finds hope in the subtext.
The journalist is nonplussed by
“No news is good news,”
which he sees not really as a fortune
but rather an insult.
And what was yours?
“Your friends like you.””Ha,” you said. “The last time I opened a fortune cookie
there wasn’t anything in it. Empty!”
I crack mine to reveal
“Everything you put your hand to will find success.”
I quickly touch the edge of my glass,
my wallet, my eyes, your hand,
figuring I have more than enough
success to spare.

The Chase: Circa 1935, by Robert Rentschler

faded blue on round corners
from the sun
like plums buffed
by soft hands of the wind

mohair upholstered hulk on the gravel
drive half-inflated tires
empty tank rear shade drawn
to a slit for it’s an

on wheels for G-man
Melvin Purvis
chasing mobsters in Chicago
Finger guns that never need

fire over fenders from side windows
splintering the lilacs scattering
the leaves decimating Rush Street
and the near north side

by winged justice on the hood
J. Edgar’s agent
on the running board
rids the syphilitic city
of Big Al Capone again.

Mama, by Ruelaine Stokes

your mama’s so pretty
people would tell me
looks just like a movie star
the youngest mother in the church
fastest talker at the bar

she did backbends
in the front room
cartwheels on the lawn
danced the hula
for the neighbors
made me wave my hands like fish
and sing along

even the Catholic priest took her to Tijuana
bought me candy and a big pink doll
got the whole congregation talking
about just how far he could fall

and Dr. Walters
wanted to leave his wife
take us away in his huge black cardrive off to Nevada
and the neon lights
he saw shining in my mama’s hair

but it was the fifties—
at home, after work
my mama would sigh
pull out her long green dress
with the tiny wood buttons
stick pins in her thick blonde hair
pour a cup of coffee
and smile at me
the little melon face
sitting cross-legged
in that old blue chair

What is it about poetry, or at least the poetry I like (and maybe would like to someday write)? It takes me to a quiet place that’s quite large and amiable, but also quick and bright. It makes what seems common and superficial in casual view into a deeper connected reality, bringing a calm joy to the soul. At its best, it’s simply and universally human.

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