You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know
Cleveland State University Poetry Center
Wash your hair in the sink for the next few weeks. Do not clean out the trap. Let the collection of hair gather and gather within it all of that which might normally pass through your house pipes unimpeded. Remove the stringy amalgamation that forms after those few weeks and what you have may be the relative of many of John Bradley’s poems in You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know.
Throughout this collection, Bradley’s narrator(s) give(s) us a glimpse into a complex reality in which the body and the world are tied to one another: “Once, when there was only one word for people, and it was the same word as for the earth, I was human, with a body for a body, skin for skin, teeth for teeth, and hair. Hair everywhere.” At the center of this reality is a conflict of identity and the whole self: “[. . .] hair grew from the soil. But I was not afraid of Hair, just of the things Hair wanted me to do.” The narrator proceeds to tear out his hair “in handfuls” and thus a conflict arises between most of Hair and the narrator so that “only some of Hair could tolerate me.” What little bits of the now mostly disembodied hair remain continually “ask me, those last survivors of Hair, what I cannot ever know—“Are you hair? Are you human? Are you human hair?”
Bradley and his narrator(s) wander, sometimes helplessly, through a gutter of body parts and Americana, as well as what is known and unknown. They continually try to come to grips with the world and help teach us about it through parables such as “Parable Embedded with Patience and Impatience,” in which we are taught about a life where parts of us could explode at any moment.
Sometimes the explosions are momentary fits of humor, of which there are many imbedded in these poems. However, just as George Steinbrenner is both God and Devil in “Noah’s Ark Found on Mars,” so too is Bradley both humorous and deadly serious, giving his blocks of prose the ability to dance on the page and go where they please while at the same time keeping them in check, similar to the narrator of “I Was John and Cindy McCain’s Indentured Servant” who prefers “a master severe, yet soft; soft, yet severe.”
The complexity of the character population in this collection challenges the reader to attempt to contradict the multifaceted reality of Bradley’s poems. But it is hard to do so because, just maybe, we can’t yet fully understand the world in its entire vision as it manifests itself here. The body, fluxing reality, and the physical world that impedes upon us and which we impede upon: all is called into question and all is suspect for its sleight of hand. What is most frightening is that which we don’t know or at least don’t know yet: “It’s not the possession of 9/11 non violent living violent dust that disturbs. It’s the doll.” The inarticulate truths are not what are most frightening, but instead the enclosures that keep us from them.
Mike Krutel is a native of Akron, Ohio, and is a graduate student studying poetry in the Northeast Ohio Master of Fine Arts program. He is a poetry editor for Barn Owl Review and assistant editor for the Akron Series in Contemporary Poetics. Mike is unashamed of his love for Andrew W.K.