cover image The Last Two Seconds: Poems

The Last Two Seconds: Poems

Mary Jo Bang. Graywolf (FSG, dist.), $16 trade paper (88p) ISBN 978-1-55597-704-7

The impressive and challenging Bang, winner of the 2007 NBCC Award for Elegy, has never been accused of optimism, but this powerful, caustic set of lyrical and antilyrical works might be her harshest collection yet. Bang rebukes herself and her readers, dresses down civilization, takes on species extinction, militarism, and bodily decay while warning us—in as many ways as the language can bear—that the end of everything is near. A map is “an empire/ of uncommon horror: the human speaking:/ ‘Every moment all that matters is me.’ ” Thought won’t help: in the title poem, “[T]he mind/ isn’t everything, only a gray-suited troop of mechanics/ working to ratchet the self through the teeth of a wheel.” Animals, species, ways of life die off: “[E]very last scene lasts for no more/ than a second; some ceramic panther/ stands in for the extinct. Is it today yet?” Bang addresses sources of doom that are not our fault (mortality) and those that are (climate change); her pessimistic conclusion draws on cultural lodestones from Virginia Woolf and Franz Kafka to Walter Benjamin and Cyndi Lauper. Attentive readers who delve into Bang’s sharply articulated vision will find them unforgiving indeed—and those same readers will praise her to the skies. [em](Mar.) [/em]