Take a Break and Read a Fucking Poem: "I'M NOT CARLOS" by Zachary Schomburg squib

by Rich Smith
A whole forest of tree machines. RS

Lately when I catch a glimpse of the Olympics or the Cascades—both views with endless refresh values, both ranges with endless wardrobes—I feel an intense urge to jump in a car and drive out to them for a long day hike. But even though the Olympics are open, that's just not in the cards for me right now. I don't have a car, and nobody in my germ group does, and I still don't see how you're supposed to keep your distance on those skinny trails, so in my view it's probably best to just chill out on hiking for a bit.

To tamp down my desire, I've had to channel the paranoia about the natural world that resonates so wildly Zach Schomburg's poem, "I'M NOT CARLOS," which you can find in The Man Suit, available at local bookstores. I like several of the books Schomburg has published since his debut, plus a lot of the stuff he publishes down there at Portland's Octopus Books, but The Man Suit still takes the cake for me.

A few notes:

• Robert Frost once wrote, "Like a piece of ice on a hot stove the poem must ride on its own melting," which is a weird way of saying he's only satisfied by poems that are driven by their own logic. The piece of ice, i.e. the poem, can be any shape or color, so long as it's internally consistent, or consistently internally inconsistent. Schomburg's prose poem is a weird-looking ice cube, but it certainly rides down on its own melting.

• The moment that best exemplifies the powers of this strategy is the line about his ranch-style home. The speaker is convinced that a bunch of "tree machines" in central Maine have it out for him. What are tree machines, you ask? They're nefarious tree-like entities, duh. They've snatched the moon out of the sky, and the speaker thinks the sound of the gentle breeze is the sound of their scheming. And "they have completely surrounded my ranch style home," he says, "It is now a log cabin." The idea of a log cabin just being a regular house that is heavily surveilled by trees is only kind of funny by itself, but because the image seems like it naturally follows the logic of the poem, it ends up hitting pretty hard.

• Schomburg also uses the call-back title trick to great effect in this poem. You basically just hit the reader with a beguiling title that doesn't make any sense until the end of the poem. But by the time the reader gets to the end of the poem, they've forgotten the title. So when they go back to re-read the poem, likely because they're very confused at the end, the whole poem suddenly makes sense. It's like a joke you get a second too late, or discovering that the answer to the complex mystery novel you've been reading has been right under your nose this whole time. Why the hell is this guy so freaked out about the tree machines? It's not because they're spying on him. It's because they keep calling him Carlos, and he's not Carlos. But if he's not Carlos, then who the hell is he? He doesn't know. Like the rest of us, he has no idea who he really is. He's an entity in a man suit, just like the tree machines are entities in a tree suit. And that's the freakiest thing there is.

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