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Books I've reviewed, Ryan Eckes

I never liked the Silent Treatment

someone had cut out ben franklin’s head from my one hundred dollar bill. i peered through the hole at my wife and children. at the first they perked up, photogenic, then cowered from the vacancy, which began to eat away at us. we melted in its pot. you’re not worth a shit, my wife said to my son, but he couldn’t understand. i stuck my head out the window for some change and found long strands of gray hair, possibly thread from the old blanket that had grown carelessly from the city’scracks up into our sky. it’s always raining. it’s always been raining. it actually rains up. nothing descends. so i have no one to blame. yet i keep at the landlord until finally he sends his repairman, who happens also to be his father. the repairman/father emigrated from greece to the states in 1968. when i come here, he tells me, i had nothin’—no money, no language, no nothin’.
Ryan Eckes “caption”
when I come here)

I counted the number of voices in Ryan Eckes’s chapbook when i come here. There’s somewhere between 1 and 40. One in particular, a narratorial voice, at first strikes the reader as journalistically objective to/from the other voices, a museum-esque “curation” of (primarily) the working-class in Philadelphia. But what makes when i come here even more interesting than that, even more “authentic” than reporting, is the dreamy, confessional and sometimes surreal minutiae of Eckes’s curious collection:

birds in the air, that one percent chance she might be pregnant. (“bird” 24)

Eckes often arranges voices in his work, and since when i come here is in some ways an homage to those whose voices are suppressed, it is significant that Eckes’s narratorial voice figures so unassumingly into the “dominant language” of the text, which is a chorus of voices:

I hide in the hum, the heat of june, the laissez-faire weather, and I believe that i get away with myself. vanna white is in the t.v., smaller than my hand, turning letters in her sparkling white dress. timmy, a sweating beak-faced guy in a ratty t-shirt, shows up. earl puts him to work folding clothes. timmy makes smacking sounds with his caved-in mouth as he concentrates hard on his task, which he is not very good at. after a few minutes he looks up at me, as if he’d like to solve the puzzle, and form a triangle for a moment. (ibid)

The suggestion seems to be that Eckes’s voice is not part of a dominating culture, or a figure of control over a dominant language or text. On the contrary, Eckes-as-narrator, in his gestalt of confessional “dialogue” comes across just as marginalized. In this way the narrator ends up manifesting the postmodern condition of being a member of a dominating culture in one regard and controlled by it in another. It is a strange and effective representation of a constructed and deconstructed dominant voice.

In terms of dominance it is important that Eckes’s role in this sort of South Philly daybook is equally significant to the other voices, and equally humble. This is why/how Eckes marginalizes himself, a comfort zone perhaps, the vantage point from which the most consistent tenor of the book, respect, originates. Yet in this chapbook of polyphonic voices, it is interesting that Eckes (rightly) punctuates that choral noise with silence. Sometimes it is the silence of those who are perhaps the “oppressors” and sometimes it is the oppressed who are at a loss for words:

I said nothing on the el today when a toothless man in an eagles jacket tried to teach an albanian girl how to speak English. (“mutation” 26)

Although “respect” is not tangential to reporting, it is imminent/replete here, just as in a museum. But if this is a museum, it is one that you might tour in an aluminum and nylon lawnchair on the front stoop of a Philly rowhome.



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