AFTER TAXES by THOMAS FINKBARRY DORDICK reviews
AFTER TAXES by Thomas Fink
(Marsh Hawk Press, 2004)
Thomas Fink’s audacious new collection of verse, AFTER TAXES, bristles with startling wit and shoots its barbs into the side of a society gone awry with recklessness, greed, and mismanagement. Tax is toxic, and its effects are everywhere. In life, the popular saying goes, we are left with two certainties: death and taxes. After death, we’re not sure what will happen; but after taxes, we can be sure of one thing: more taxes.
Building on the success achieved by his first two books, SURPRISE VISIT (1993) and GOSSIP (2001), Fink presents us with a language and landscape of imagery which is clearly original. His poems are infused with startling twists and turns as he works to create different levels of meaning both broadly humorous and curiously profound. “We are all like stairs. We just line up differently” (25). His poetry, which is elusive, allusive, and deftly enigmatic, does not yield to easy explanations as it radiates out and across a canvass of linguistic and imagistic complexity, and yet it always seems to yield a pleasurable result.
Images of financial woe and economic folly where debts “crank on” (57) and “a nation frowns. Our own/ rendered alien” (74) are most clearly rendered in poems like "Dented Reprise I" and "Frowzy Cabal Roving For." Also, there is “aggregate gaping” in a poem like "My Dear Bank" in which ”we tour the caviar/ mirage/ until it’s hacked./ Squamous greenhouse/ breathing debt.” (76)
Alan Greenspan, whose Midas touch can’t be trusted, is playfully mocked in "Rice-", a poem about fiduciary bungling, and “structural engineers” are taken to task and lambasted in "Those Indecent," as we see them “…burrowing/ in their gray pancakes when/ an apple collapses/ a pocket is sprained…” (79)
The humor in AFTER TAXES is subtle and often contains searing ironies. Puns abound, as do sardonic questions like: “YOUR TONGS/ have style, but do/ they sabotage distinct pleasure?” (89) and “Can a fine/ ax liberate harassed/ vector’s pure egg?” (31) We also find cosmic and comic explosiveness running rampant in lines like “seismic bazookas running wad/ gyrate Reebok hernias (77) and “Grade/ skull poesie’s// grim pious thwack./ It’s a schlumpy gestalt, Jethro. And you haven’t laid one/ good slogan yet.” (96) And we are pleasantly surprised by sharply blunt oxymorons like “Lackluster dynamite/ makes one shutter.” (96)
In the book’s final poem, where all the various themes of social, economic, psychological and moral decay are brought together ("Trillion Urges: Manufacturers"), we make a Dantean descent into hell and back while encountering dark humor, wry puns, and a host of expectations dismantled and overturned at every corner. Just relish the language here, vigorous and apt: “Feel a scrunch when some crook or hook of honor// thrills prodigious/ to military inflation/ dangled from democracy//demo.” And “Everybody owns no//one’s/modest parachute.” At the poem’s conclusion we are left in a dangerous place some call home, with trouble lurking in a “suitcase marked eventually,” (100) culminating similarly where the poem "Violet Bulb" begins:
on flood coverup.
big mire syndication?
Calibrated to big wand fashion. (80)
Fink’s language is infused with vivacity and verve, a rawness and vitality, which recalls the language of the surrealists, and one may even detect a hint of Gerard Manley Hopkins in the sprung rhythms and rich sound patterns which appear in lines like: “maximum crease roams ruthless” and “Cuts merge./ Riot moon’s// mood rubble is idiom relentlessly/ mown incandescent.” (93)
In the poem "Volcano Interruption," a humorous play on volcanic eruptions, we are left with some of the book’s wittiest lines: “I think cake/ should be the next
president./ Let Dad have it; he// doesn’t care how fat he gets.” (37)
Other poems notable for their inventive titles and memorable first lines include:
DO DAYGLO NIGHTS DEFILE// that gaggle of hinterlands, your willow/ campus? (9)
I CAN ROW THROUGH THE ONE // tingle I have lotion over. Sand grows/ behind
YOUR HANDBARROW// sucks roses in Barbados. (29)
"In Memoriam" contains a warm and touching portrait of a grandfather speaking to his grandchildren and in the "Yinglish Strophes," the author displays a keenness and facility for capturing the nuances of Yiddish and English speech. These poems unveil many clever lines filled with wry puns and double entendres. “The closet is desperate./ And the gallery should hang him good./ Turn out the guess.” (45) And there are various images which might be interpreted in several different ways. For example, “Always a ladder hard to read” could be viewed as either a letter hard to read or a ladder hard to reach, giving resonance and depth to the language. There are plenty of wonderful sayings in these poems replete with comic irony and two of my favorites are: “Will taste it how it tastes” (45) and “Do you stop ever eating?” (49)
Barry Dordick is the author of 2 humorous books of poems for both children and adults: Macaroni on the Moon (2003) and Dear Cow, Not Now, I'm Busy! (2004). He is now working on a third book, temporarily titled, A Squirrel Leaped Into Mom's Grand Piano. He resides in New York City.