Some reviews of my first book, In the Shadow of the Bomb…
On the words of J.W. Gardner
By Drew Ishmael (retired Army combat vet)
Joe is my brother, not of the biological kind, but by choice. In our brotherhood we have always loved each other, never forgotten each other, but we did miss birthdays and Christmas’, and marriages and divorces, and we missed each other’s angels and demons. Joe and I have had different paths to where we are today, different but real. We are real men in a world that hates real men….and difference.
Joe and I met in a half lit, rundown, second floor hallway of a barracks. We met with drinks in hand and tough words on our lips, boys of heart but men of body. We were both hardened by the world’s standards and one of us had been given up on by the world, the other given up on by himself. Pain was a constant in our lives, his was fresh and I could see it in his eyes un-dulled by the bottle of SoCo already finished and my pain was present but not instant. I felt calmness in his rage, as if this was not a new pain, just a different name attached. I knew I met a brother in that moment, before the white stars exploded in my vision and my automatic instincts honed in a misspent youth kicked in. As we fought in that half lit hallway, in a building that has been demolished twenty years since our blood specked the walls, we both understood that brotherhood is forever. Later as we sit in a room off of that same hallway him drinking his SoCo and me my JD, we talked, unashamed of our tears. There is no shame with your brother, his loss echoed in my soul and for his pain we wept.
I had watched him come, and I watched him go, praying that I could meet him again in this life. Anyone that has served in a branch of the military knows that people come in and out of your life every day, week, month and year. And we also know that when we go ‘home’ there are no guarantees. His enlistment ended before mine and we wrote a few times back and forth but I dropped that ball when I was getting out and years later I turn another year older, but I wanted a party and to be surrounded by friends. You know though I only have three people that were there that day that are still in my life in a meaningful way, and I remember one of the greatest surprises I have ever had – my brother getting out of my car in my driveway to spend the weekend with me.
We lied to each other and he hid his life from me, because this was a good occasion, not one marred by sadness and pain of the past. I never knew much about the things that Joe had been through, not because I didn’t ask, but because Joe didn’t tell and he had buried those things deep. These poems are the first times I have heard his true anguish and my heart is softer somehow, yet hard to the world.
These poems are an explosion of Joe’s truth in a lying world. I know Joe – I don’t know how but I always saw the great man and broken boy hidden behind the gruff, sarcastic, self-deprecating tough exterior Joe put on for the world. I guess that is why I find him in a new place every few years and we talk via email or text OR the evil Facebook messenger. Joe is in a great place now, with a family that loves him in all his brokenness, because that is the mark of a real man. Oh, and chicks dig scars – all kinds of ‘em.
I started reading the work, some of what is in these pages and some that isn’t, but all are raw emotion, the howl of the lone wolf. Remember that the wolf howls to find those of its kind. This book is the howl calling all real men, lone wolves in our own right to his side. Finally poetry can be a release for the everyman.
How does a man speak?
I don’t mean the scarf wearing, skinny jeaned, merlot drinking genetically defined male.
I mean the hard man, the man that has seen things – things from hell that most couldn’t handle and things from Heaven that most still couldn’t handle. A man that hears his demons scream and can face them in all of their intensity.
Well this book of poetry is how Joe speaks. These poems are cries against the night, cries for mercy from the pain and forever the struggle of the ones unwilling to surrender to the fate that is.
I am not the hard man. I am not the weak man. What I am – a father trying to do better than his father. These poems speak in a voice I need to have; a voice of anguish, a voice of madness and a voice of redemption. This is a voice that all men need to have and all women need to hear. Men are not perfect and my brother is honest in his voice of imperfection, we as men do not get to choose to be weak. We as men, raised on a steady diet of John Wayne and ‘tough love’, and before that was anything but ‘love’, don’t get to give up. We as true men have to go on; we have to be more than even we think we can be.
If you have had a hard life, you have to read this book. If you ever wondered what other real men have felt, but are too proud to ask, you HAVE to read these poems. If you have ever bled beside a brother and carried yourself off of a field of battle, whether it be the streets, the jungle of Vietnam, or the rugged mountains or desolation of Afghanistan and Iraq – YOU HAVE TO READ THIS. This is our cry to the wildness that still is MAN. It is also that admonition that we are broken and that redemption is available.
So I sit here, my bourbon is better, but the ache of drinking alone, without my brother is bitter. He is just a couple thousand miles away, but that chasm seems somehow larger tonight. Oh well, the bourbon is better than it used to be. I love you Joe, till we can pass the time with all of our families around, I drink like you are with me.
The Geography of Joe Gardner’s Imagination
By Mike Sonksen
From Modesto to Hawaiian Gardens, Colorado to East Lakewood, Joe Gardner is a Second-Generation American Drifter. I met him back at Artesia High School in Honors English when we were both 16. Even then his working class poetry would sing. Punk Rock has been in his Wheaties from the beginning. In this collection of poems, his blue collar aesthetic permeates every page.
Shortly after high school, Gardner left Southern California and joined the military. His travels across America and the world expanded his perspective and manifested into his slice of life style of poetics. Gone from California for close to 15 years, Gardner returned home in 2010 and reconnected with his high school sweetheart Jennifer Brown.
Poems like “Paying Rent,” In the Shadow of the Bomb,” and “Bar Fighting with Mullets,” demonstrate both his matter of fact ethic and his combination of humor and pathos. Gardner can use the same 16-line poem to make you laugh and make you pause for a moment. He transports his readers to “24 Hours on a Greyhound to Denver.” The poems move from the San Joaquin Valley to Long Beach harbor, Bakersfield to San Pedro.
The geography of Gardner’s imagination is the California of Steinbeck, Woody Guthrie, Bukowski and Tom Waits. Family memories are recounted and childhood heroes populate the poems. The vocabulary is everyday life and Gardner’s objective is to show you the world through his eyes. Standing on the precipice of a nation in transition, Gardner’s windshield perspective broadcasts from these poems in technicolor:
Putting everyone behind the wheel of The American Dream, A big V8 roaring along the new freeways of modern inspiration connecting everyone and everything to the Promised Land for the Greatest Generation.
Turn the page to take a trip. Joe Gardner is a Second-Generation American Drifter.