Charles Portolano, The little, lingering, white, lies we allow ourselves to live with, As Is Arts Press, 2012
by Steven C. Levi
One of the great strengths of a Charles Portolano poem is that it is timely. Far too often, poets produce works that are good but not for this moment. Portolano does not disappoint the reader with his most recent book, The little, lingering, white, lies we allow ourselves to live with. The poems are topical, precise, and timely. “Gandhi is smiling down on us,” thinks the poet as he “walks with locked arms” across the Brooklyn Bridge to protest the 1% who have hired the cops who will arrest all of them on the far side of the river.
The little, lingering, white, lies we allow ourselves to live with is a collection for the moment, this moment, this here-and now. As the old Chinese proverb goes, “May you live in interesting times.” We certainly do, and Portolano’s book is not for the faint of heart. Ours is not an era where the poet can silently and poetically reflect on the joys of a quiet stream moving through a meadow. There are moments of combined psychological and physical pain when a young mother holds an ice pack against her eye because her husband “came home/drunk again, unable to stand./When she makes the mistake/of asking him where he’s been,” she is beaten in front of their children. Then there is ongoing agony of “Living at home at 29, his old room,/waking up to his mom and dad,/living with massive debt/graduating from college,/now with no job, no prospects.” And most forceful, “John stands on the loading dock,/next to his massive forklift,/fanning the fumes from his face/as the last truck leaves the yard./He watches as his future/drives off into the setting sun;/all the machinery of the plant/sold off to the highest bidder,/China for no other company in/America had the dollars to keep/this latest technology here.”
Portolano’s work reminds us that we are in an era of terror. This is the not the terror where the enemy is some bomb maker in a foreign country. It is a web of lies, deceit, and greed spun by the banks downtown, the stockbroker on the other side of town and the racist on the next block. We are caught in the threads of that web and thrashing not only to get free but to be productive, to make a difference in a world gone quite mad. We 99%ers have been asleep too long. Portolano rouses us from a terrible dream, revealing that the nightmare is not in our sleep but in our streets. The little, lingering, white, lies we allow ourselves to live with is a poetic wake-up call.
Steven Levi lives and works in Anchorage, Alaska.