Return of the Fist by Amy Lingafelter

Return of the Fist is the third short book in the third volume of the Lost Horse Press New Poets Series. Illinois-born Lingafelter flirts with deeper human concerns through surrealism, holding up, as she writes in “Holoblastic,” “a mirror / in the bathroom of the party.” The speaker goes on in this poem to admonish those on “the road to Recovery” through cleverly spring-loaded syntax that “you’ll never always be wanting / just one thing.”

Indeed, Lingafelter never gives the reader “just one thing.” It is from “Days of Grace” that the theme of the title emerges, through an extended metaphor comparing ear-nibbling “Mike T.” to the speaker’s own animalism, indecision, and inability to avoid returning to “the fist.”

This signature combination of absurdity and pathos, dealt like a one-two punch, culminates succinctly in “My Cousin,” where we learn:

…My cousin was kicked in the face by a horse,
pregnant, indoctrinated, working at a Dollar Store,
in the Air Force, naked behind a shrub,
pregnant, married for three weeks,
when all of a sudden, she evaporated into a POOF! of tiny spores
she rode the wind southeast,
searching for the right conditions under a tree, a large stone,
to mold on, groove on, get kicked in the face by a horse,
pregnant, promoted and given a key,
felt up by a doctor, pregnant,…

The two most startling elements of this poem, that the cousin is “pregnant” and “kicked in the face by a horse,” recur and interweave through a series of believable and unbelievable “facts,” juxtaposing the plausible and tragic (“felt up by a doctor”) with the equally-shocking, but clearly surreal (“she evaporated into a POOF! of tiny spores.”)

“The Summer I Started Pickling Things” finds poetry by taking the Midwest tradition of pickling to new levels of absurdity–mirrors, siblings, even Shame itself are suffused with vinegar. “Monotremata” casts an at-once poignant and nutty glance at female fertility. Lovemaking, mirrors, tanning, and cell division recur in the ever-shifting worldview of these poems.

Other poems are a bit more straightforward. In “The Counterfeiter,” the speaker, continually “backing up” a charming man comes to realize that, “I will be a happy woman / the day I realize / the secret to your charm / is my charm.”

The secret to Amy Lingafelter’s charm lies in her uncanny ability to hold reality and unreality squarely in the binocular vision of these poems, admonishing us, as she does in “Days of Grace,” that, “‘Remember’ is not the opposite of ‘forget.'” These are poems you will both remember, and whose dizzying effect you are not soon to forget.

Return of the Fist is available in New Poets | Short Books Volume III from Lost Horse Press. Read more reviews from the Lost Horse Press New Poets series.