The Louisana Purchase
Rose Metal Press
In 1803 when Thomas Jefferson made The Louisiana Purchase, its contents and inhabitants were largely unknown. Readers, however, can be certain that when set to explore Jim Goar’s The Louisiana Purchase, they will find more wedged between the present-day Midwest and the vastness of the western United States than Lewis and Clark would ever uncover. The Louisiana Purchase, in Goar’s vision, is part personal mythology (“Phil Niekro throws a ball at / the sky. The ball does not return. We call it the / moon.”), and part exploration as the America we thought we knew transforms quicker than history can be rewritten (“the moon, a vessel / of suns—something you can’t move—bites off the / lower half of Texas”). The Louisiana Purchase we learned of in grade school textbooks never mentioned that “on the eve of the election, Kansas starts to bleed,” or of how “Iowa 1806 falls into a great depression,” as we’re thrust, like the explorers of old, into a haunted yet familiar territory that shifts below our feet anytime we find a landmark to trust.
At times lyrical, Goar’s verses sing us back to our childhood lullabies, the simpler times, with moments like: “The moon is over Lake Itasca / ‘Lake Itasca Lake Itasca’ / the moon is over Lake Itasca.” The lyrical moments, however, are interrupted by terse prose with an ability to alter the pleasantly nostalgic memories: “A tree sprouted from my penis. The red-bird came to / nest. When I found auburn leaves on my sheets I encouraged / the bird to go. It claimed squatters’ rights. I called the police.” The book itself, much like the actual Louisiana Purchase with the Mississippi River running through it, has an undercurrent pulling us in unnatural directions despite its deceptively smooth surface. At one moment, we’re in Iowa 1806, where we “feel at home.” Next we’re in Iowa 1807 and “your gun is on the floor. Your eggs, over / easy. And the dusk like a good boy slaps his girl,” though “this is not the outcome / either of us desired.” But the truth is, as we venture further into the untamed wilds, we do desire this and are worldlier for it, despite never leaving the America of which we were once so certain.
Goar’s version of The Louisiana Purchase is populated by both the American indigenous—Ozzie Smith, Keystone Beer, and Lumberjacks—and the foreign—elephants, Louis XIV, and Zeus—which suggests that the US is more of a Melting Pot than we ever knew. The more familiar Goar’s United States becomes in The Louisiana Purchase with the abundance of American artifacts (the World Series, a Richard Nixon mask, Dumbo, Big Macs and Diet Coke, etc etc ), the more we feel like cartographers discovering our birthplace for the first time. The fortunate part, though, is that this new frontier, this new midriff of America, is a pleasure to wander, a pleasant place to be lost in, if only to discover we were never lost at all.
Eric Morris teaches creative writing at Cleveland State University and serves as a poetry editor for Barn Owl Review. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Laurel Review, Pank, Post Road, The Collagist, Anti-, Devil's Lake, Weave, Redactions, and others. He lives and writes in Akron, OH where he searches (mostly in vain) for a way to lift the curse of Cleveland sports.
Also by Eric Morris:
Aren't We All Boats in a Terrible Storm? An Interview with Marc McKee