when all our days are numbered marching bands will fill the streets & we will not hear them because we will be upstairs in the clouds
(Mud Luscious Press, 2010)
Sasha Fletcher’s whimsical first novel(la), the extravagantly titled when all our days are numbered marching bands will fill the streets & we will not hear them because we will be upstairs in the clouds, is like a bird that visits, flutters, migrates south, circles back, sings again, and finally vanishes in the clouds. It is alive and organic. It has a pulse and wings.
Fletcher’s book is published by J.A. Tyler at Mud Luscious Press, which has put out an admirable list of chapbooks recently. Tyler is also an editor at Dzanc Books, another press publishing literature from the edge, including Robert Lopez’s most recent novel Kamby Bolongo Mean River. Fletcher himself has clearly learned a thing or two from Lopez, picking up aspects of Lopez’s spoken word rhythm, anarchic syntax, and recursive diction. What attracts my attention to authors like Fletcher and Lopez is how they are responding to both the seismic shifts in narrative structure brought about by writers like Beckett and the radically changing literary landscape brought about by the Internet. Of course we still crave fiction, but we crave it differently now.
That said, Fletcher’s chosen form—the “novel(la)” length prose poem—might make any reader cringe with a healthy pessimism. The parenthetical “la” itself was enough to make me brandish my cute and clever bullshit slaying sword. But, in the end, Fletcher convinces. He fortifies his prose with sharp sentences that fold back in on themselves, ideas and images that recur consistently, and a story that curiously assembles itself through earnest repetition. In this text, Fletcher shows us how we literally create our own worlds, either with words and pictures, or simply with our own minds.
While there is whimsy aplenty in these pages, each moment of carefree wordplay actually serves a purpose: it reveals the author’s process, it shows us the working mind, the mind at work. “She shot me a look. I was impacted by the look. The look made impact with me.” These turns of phrase, these twists of sentence disclose Fletcher’s editorial instincts, his composing consciousness. “I was thinking about being lonely. I was thinking about feeling lonely. I was thinking about worrying about loneliness. I was worrying about loneliness. I was worrying about worry. I was worried.” These crafty permutations are satisfying because they echo our internal patterns of thought and of language.
To be sure, Fletcher is precise. He has a poet’s savvy for rhythm, the Beat’s love of the ampersand. His chance rhymes often strike a nerve; “Then she looked up at the sky, towards the clouds, which looked as though they were aching to be loud.” You can feel how he is fulfilled by an image, and how his images fulfill; “The cops split their heads open with billy clubs.” Most impressively, he knows how to arrange the words on the page so that you feel like you’re reading art, or poetry, or whatever—something tended to, something cared for. This slim volume with its pretty cover feels like an art object, which is nice.
So what’s the novel(la) about? Well, in a word, or a string of words, it’s about birds, storms, windows, fire, mail, food, dreams, and marching bands. Essentially, it’s a fire-bellied Promethean poet’s dream of creative bliss and domestic heaven. It’s about grape salads and “building” beaches. But mostly, it’s about a relationship. It’s about how a lover keeps her beloved from “getting carried away.”
That’s what I most loved about when all our days are numbered: the intimate peek into a shared space. The dialogue. For a book that is far removed from reality—cops fall out of spigots, rainbows stream out of boxes, and flawless skies lie underground—the poem does slyly chronicle a love affair. And not just any love affair, but a fresh, young, blithely hopeful one: “I wanted to wear you like a skin. I wanted to bury myself inside of you.” This is the song of an earnest lover: “I opened my mouth as wide as it would go. I wanted to put her in it and keep her safe.” The book’s finest moments are comprised of the dialogue between the narrator and his lover: “She said I have been dreaming of obscure cloud formations. I said what does that even mean. She said Whatever. I said No. I’m sorry. I was. I wanted her to go on.” Ironically, for all the novel’s whimsy, it’s this gritty, real stuff that hits home. Love is wanting her to go on.
As I read, I began to identify with the narrator’s beloved, who unfortunately remained forever obscured behind the narrator’s endless fancies and aloof absentmindedness. “Come down from there,” she says. “No,” he says. But she, or rather we, the beloved slash reader, we too can express ourselves, we too have a voice, we too can get carried away. “Are you listening she said? I am I said Listening. Good she said.” Good, indeed. It’s good to listen. For how else do we ever keep each other from getting carried away?