The Heights by Tim Krcmarik

The Heights is the first short book in the second volume of the Lost Horse Press New Poets Series. Chicago-born Krcmarik, now a Texas fire fighter, mixes a cocktail of bravado and tenderness, literature and low-brow dialog. The speaker in the opening poem, “Soulmobile” tells us, “I like my Shakespeare mixed up with my Dante / the same way I like hot sauce dumped over my fried / ham steaks and scrambled eggs.” Later:

[…] I see this dog carstruck and bowled
into the roadside briars. His world begins to gray,
Light leaks out from the busted gaskets around
his eyes. Blood runs from his ears and his rectum.
I sit and hold him. The ants start eating us. Start
fattening up. They’re smart, but I have a truck,
so I run him over and burn their colony with
siphoned gasoline. […]

God and fire recur throughout this collection, sometimes colliding as in the poem “Beloved,” a street-tough retelling of Adam and Eve with the surrealism of a Hieronymus Bosch painting. From the moment “[t]wo lovers emerge from a quick / poke in the bushes, her breasts full of hickeys, / his balls hanging out of a fig leaf,” while, “Before them looms a burning house,” through the recurring cries of “‘Help me!'” from within the lapsarian inferno, to the endlessly replicating pairs of callous and licentious Adams and Eves, which result finally in the “pretzeled … mess of legs and arms” from which no Eve can single out the Adam who “truly belongs to her”–the poem gives us a tour of a crass, anarchic fall from Grace. It is, at once, like nothing you have ever read before–yet hovers like an indictment over present-day excess.

Other poems are equally strange, equally interspersed with brass and intimacy, pulling us close and smacking us around. Krcmarik is not afraid to yank the rug out from under the reader, to mix the lyrical and the urbane, as in the end of “Smell the Veronicas,” where the individual becomes emblematic, at first beautiful by contrast, then, in a quick change-up of tone, suddenly terrible:

He brushes her face with a long-stemmed rose. The
blush quickens in her cheeks. The perk in her terrific
breasts. “What is your name?” he asks in his phony Latin
accent. “Sorrow,” she whispers cupping his canned ham
of a face in her porcelain hands, sliding her tongue
in his pie hole’s gristle, swallowing his head whole.

These are poems that play with sincerity even as they play with language, mistrusting the apparent even as they long for something transcendent amid the mundane. In this Krcmarik has given us something truly fresh and original, a collection of big band recklessness with a cappella hymnals poking through; a series of poems undeniably his own.

The Heights is available in New Poets | Short Books Volume II from Lost Horse Press. Read more reviews from the Lost Horse Press New Poets series.