cover image Wonderland


Matthew Dickman. Norton, $26.95 (96p) ISBN 978-0-393-63406-8

“I am always doing this. Walking around the old neighborhood, always/ sixteen, moody and stealing cigarettes,” writes Dickman (Mayakovsky’s Revolver) in a collection concerned with those liminal, adolescent years when the forward motion of growing up is both necessary and dangerous. The poems are ferocious and hardened by a backdrop of addiction and poverty. Dickman recalls his sister battling addiction while taking care of him and his twin brother, “her heart like a sack of rabbits, skull-sized/ motors in the dark,” and a neighborhood where the “men happen to the women/ and the women happen to the children,” with each new day arriving “like a van/ with its windows// painted black.” A series of poems marked by the hour runs through the collection, beginning at one a.m. and progressing in stages to midnight. Here, Dickman departs from his broader narrative using chant-like anaphora: “This amphibian inner-organ green./ This smoke./ This pillowcase and razors and salt and trying to be a human being.” For Dickman, the wilderness of youth becomes a kind of wonderland: “when I think of the second grade I think about fall leaves,/ black oaks, and urine.” In Dickman’s poems, readers observe as the bright-eyed potential of youth is shattered by the devastation of adulthood’s onset. (Mar.)