If you’re looking to hire someone to craft an unforgettable phrase, one that will play itself to the tune on your car radio or float like an asterisk across the report you’re trying to read, hire Mark Lamoureux.
It might be more accurate to say that the phrase will append itself like a footnote, since footnotes play an important role in Lamoureux’s new book, 29 Cheeseburgers + 39 Years, but more of that later. For the moment, let’s sink our teeth into the deft phrasing and wry sense of humor that pervade the opening section of the book.
Here, Lamoureux takes the 29 cheeseburgers, as well as many other objects from pop culture, and uses them as a common language for the poet’s and the reader’s growing awareness. As Lamoureux holds up one familiar and overlooked item after another, the insights come like jolts from a game show buzzer. Thus, the very young poet, looking up at glow-in-the-dark stars in his bedroom sees, “plastic/constellations that glow/on the wall of my room for a short time after eating/dim light.” The child’s first moment of skepticism comes a moment later when he reflects, “They call these meals Happy.”
Later, describing a gypsy moth infestation, the author observes, “the neighbor’s kid kills/them with rocks, green/slicks of guts make/maps on the blacktop.”
It is an arbitrary thing to choose favorites, but a hit list would have to include: “cheese crisped & curled, upturned/edges pointing at grease,” “chugalug of a helicopter descends,” “waffle irons snapping at air like clockwork mussels,” and last, the phrase “Your father’s not coming back” stuck off to the right of a seemingly unrelated poem, like the margin note of someone trying to study while distracted by events.
Pop culture intrudes in a different way in the “39 Years” section of the book. Here, a poem marks each year of the poet’s life, with multiple footnotes in many of the poems used to remind readers of sounds or catch phrases associated with various cartoon and commercial references. For example, when the poem includes the line “Fear the Man-Bat,” the footnote assists us with the sound “Shreek! Booga Booga! Skreek!” When a later poem references Megabug Gladiator, the footnote explains, “In the year 2003, Earth was invaded by a vehicle from a galaxy thousands of lightyears away. This vehicle has the appearance of a giant spider. People called it Megaspider. ™”
In this way, the footnotes become like a soundtrack playing behind the poems or the sound of the television left on during a family fight.
This technique makes vivid sense in most instances, but occasionally seems burdensome when the footnotes are long and the reader must make an effort to return to the meaning of the poem.
On most occasions, however, the footnotes provide sharp and helpful “gotcha” insights. Anyone who has ever taken a college exam will feel a shock of recognition to see the phrase “omit needless words” appended to a description of “magma for melting/the chickenscratch off the /diamond leaves of/those blue, blue books” like a professor’s acidly displeased correction.
Those of us already past the 40th year will find much to relate to in the lines of the final 39th poem that reminds us, “what cannot be/reimagined/only decays,/winded/from the stairs” as we wait, in front of our aging portrait “for the fake brick to/grumble open.”