Who Lets Go First
Prose Poetry by Gian Lombardo
Swamp Press, 2010
Whenever I hear a phrase like “who let’s go first” I think of a very tense situation: two men aiming a gun at one another, two men releasing a rhinoceros into the wilderness, the onset of weaning, a romance on the rocks. There is drama, and there is a moral. The first person to let go is forced to assume a role they would rather not have. It is a situation that calls for a great deal of attention and personal scrutiny. Intuitions come at us with lightning speed, but judgments are often hard to form. They require reflection. Poise. And most importantly, risk.
The 64 texts in this collection are, to borrow Lombardo’s own description, “a reflection base on an image, series of images or the barest backbone of a narrative derived from reading the commentary and symbolism of a hexagram.”
A hexagram, as it applies to the I Ching, is a figure composed of six stacked horizontal lines. Each line is either Yang, an unbroken line, or Yin, a line with a gap in the middle. The lines are counted from the bottom up. Each of the 64 hexagrams is accompanied with an elliptical description or event with the flavor of a moral, or parable. Lombard has included in the back of this book what he refers to as “Volume II: Instructions For Throwing A Hexagram.” There are also three coins, with inscribed with symbols and Chinese ideograms. One side constitutes heads, the other tales, though I’m not entirely sure which is which. I decided the side with the Asian ideograms would be heads. When I finished throwing the coins, and adding their value to arrive at a hexagram, I matched my pattern with the pattern of the one listed among the 64 hexagrams printed below the instructions. I got number 59.
59 is a parable of negligence, and finding oneself in a predicament as a result. It is titled “The Mother Of Invention.” I will print it below in full:
Now you are stuck. You weren’t paying attention. Both oars slipped out of their locks. They float beyond your reach.
You curse your absent-mindedness in the same way you curse being caught in the dark without a candle.
Try crying for help. Try putting your elbows on your knees and holding chin in hand.
But is that a breeze crossing your sullen brow? Never mind that you’ve been taught not to stand in a small boat. Get up and unbutton your shirt. Let it unfurl from your open arms, ready to embrace whatever shore the wind casts you.
Naturally, I cannot but help read my own personal narrative into this parable. I am absent-minded. I do tend to curse a lot. I don’t use candles, but I do occasionally forget to turn on a light when I’m looking for something. I do spend a lot of time with my chin on my hand. My brow could easily be described as ‘sullen.’ Sullen suits me. And there are, wonderfully, occasionally, those “oh fuck it” moments when I give myself to the wind, and go wherever it blows me. This is an important lesson for absent-minded people. Absent-minded is actually the opposite of what is occurring. Negligence and forgetfulness are the result of being preoccupied. With having too much in your mind. If my mind were absent of the clutter usually crowding what little space I have there, I would not forget so many things.
Lombardo’s parables are both edgy and whimsical. The phrases are lyrical delicacies, well-crafted without coming across as too labored or precious, and the images are rich and timeless; they do not appear to belong to any particular epoch, and while not altogether modern, neither are they archaic. They seem redolent in many ways of the colorful and theatrical images of Tarot cards. And sometimes they have a quirky huckleberry tartness, as in this sentence from #30, “On The Cusp:” “The only thing the toaster emits is a pungent spiral.” Pungent spiral refers, I’m sure, to the electrical coils in the toaster that heat up. And when they heat up, all the crumbs and whatever slices of bread have been inserted into the mechanism produce a very strong odor. I like the way all this information gets squeezed into a sentence of ten words.
This is a remarkably beautiful book, physically. According to the information listed beneath the Colophon, “the types are Goudy Handtooled and Goudy Old Style, both cast at Swamp Press. Press work was done on a Heidelberg Windmill, and the sewing was done on an antique Smyth. The hardcover is printed on Pescia mould made and limited to one hundred copies. There are three hundred and fifty softcovers.” Which means, dear reader, you should rush out and get one while you can!