In Tony Mancus’ recent poems as found in Bye Sea and Again(st) Membering, the poet writes a lyric in distressed syntax that embodies the chaos of nature and daily life. In his newer long poem “Past blued fields, feels like NEPA,” moments chain into an inquiry of a small town and masculinity; the life inside the garage, the walk past a field, the ways that hands can write, in what they touch, the diary of the day. And this particular visitation on the quotidian seems to ask what is at peace in the masculine? What amount of tension counts as normalcy and what doesn’t in the status quo? What amount of handiwork amounts to having fulfilled your role in the bigger picture? In fact, the speaker seems to exist in the present and in a male relatives ghost life simultaneously. Doing so, he examines the forces of memory and seemingly intergenerational memory that dictate present consciousness.

The poem begins with a wide-angled observation about landscape and the way color seems sent to this early spring from the wrong place. Mancus moves right into the dailiness of pings, getting the work done be it business or art. In this world, the goop from a can and putting one’s hand in it (1) updates the modernist impulse to elide the “I” by embedding it or personhood in all things. Wherever this “you” and this task were supposed to signify, Mancus is fine with allowing them to mutate and conflate into a mosaic of male touch and embodiment:


The feeling of putting your hands

Up to the elbow

In a canister of goup—then up

To the neck


                        The neck

                        Of the canister

                        Its own feeling


A couch-like, but inexact feel—maybe a futon

A convertible

Maybe a bad night

Folded sofa


                        You were put by the dry goods


                        A wasp the noise

                        In the window

                        Three fingers

                        Of light (1)


Mancus situates the “you” so as to banish the possibility of being easily assigned an identity of meaning and so opens the poem’s first mystery: this rejection of a man or a ghost into the cupboard, into the feeling of unpenetrated solitude. As the poem ranges further over atmosphere that implies a human presence, but doesn’t show much of the human himself, (“smoke/huge, hugging/the fan-blades/they tuned the air”), Mancus allows consciousness to be implied, searingly so. The elision of the physical person does capture the tensions of boredom, poverty, and the interior noise created by capitalism:


a hot summer storm day

feel prices

right on the teevee

            below the rice

            a roni, the decimal


and come-on-down music (2)


In the midst of these somehow unobtrusive brand names and household economics and background noises about winning money, he shows us the actual world, then veers right to the crux: “any link between/humans and their lives/is a germ”. This invites us to understand how the material billows into much bigger entities like memory. Germ as seed or germ as icky biotic, we can’t get away from how the physical sticks to each of its parts. Not wanting to wax too philosophical, Mancus goes from this germ right back to the inner ear, candle wax, the trouble bundled into objects. Their presence holds ideas about maintaining vision, hearing, that again emphasize the attention one has to pay in a kind of capitalist yard sale. In doing so he puts the problem of having the male voice overtake the truth of objects at least in the background and foregrounds the truths of materiality, lets the things speak rather than the “I”.

The masculine hand and its contact with this world (“The bone steady feel of punching old snow”) take several tacks: noticing a woman/girl, drunken friend times, hunting wild game, cars, chaining the fragmentary stanzas together. The quick succession of their appearances suggests that each is not enough to sustain the speaker, he has to move quickly on to the next, or that the act of circuiting through them is the destination. Mancus achieves a depiction of the masculine, then, that has no conviction, no new duties. In allowing this particular idea (manhood) to exist in things, Mancus shows the reader how manhood limits the man: a cardboard cut out made to stand here or there, a creature moving forth on what he’s always known, and therefore keeping to the same haunts. It slowly forms a picture of the unobtrusive man of the previous century and the fact that the speaker (who is more like Emerson’s floating eyeball by the time four pages of I-less poetry has elapsed), feels he may have:


…come home

too late feeling,


less and


at all

a feeling, thehome


a clear cut path

            from the tip of salem mtn

                        onward scratched

                        thick with briars — (5)


The sense that objects want to offer cannot survive this dislocation. They too become incoherent. The roofline of the house, the power-line of the blocks, more obviously here at the end of the poem trap this sense of self, and, paradoxically, provides the man with the home he knows. It’s one made out of a kind of comfortable chaos. Mancus’ circuit through the known and lived locations of a man stuck in his chosen roles lets no afternoon off the hook. The press of mortality hangs in these garages. The “he”, the little bit of light within this tangle, barely seen, moves as a way to survive, cursed a bit by, but also blessed by what is perceived as what he must do. Examinations of expectations pinned on men by men are few and far between and show that Mancus is elaborating a poetics that casts a subtle light on these invisible imperatives. Such projects are key to interrogating the sense of self-mutilation and the self-erasure of the psyche so often brought to bear on men. Mancus maintains a complicated view by ending his supple set of leaps here:


for chimney powder, light forms

in the tangle

a series of lines

into knots





Cynthia Arrieu-King teaches creative writing at Stockton University and is a former Kundiman Fellow. Her collaborative book with Hillary Gravendyk, Unlikely Conditions, will come out from 1913 Press in 2016.