by Mikal Wix
January 10, 2023

Mikal Wix is a queer writer who lives in the American South. Their work can be read in Corvus ReviewPeregrine JournalBerkeley Poetry ReviewTahoma Literary ReviewRoi Fainéant Pressdecomp journalOlitQueerlingsDoor = JarGone Lawn, and elsewhere. As an old science editor, associate poetry editor, & holder of grad degree in creative writing, they collect literary anthologies from bygone eras to help keep vigil.

Short Film Starring My Beloved’s Red Bronco by K. Iver; Milkweed Editions; 88 pages; $16.00

    As a perennial reader and fan of woeful poetry, I found K. Iver’s forthcoming book from Milkweed Editions to be a vast exploration of the potency of heartsickness. In Short Film Starring My Beloved’s Red Bronco, winner of the Ballard Spahr Prize in Poetry, selected by Tyehimba Jess, Iver plumbs the highs and lows of what it means to love oneself and others from beyond the boundaries of the heteronormative, paternalistic bubble. Their poems reach out like missiles, fired at these rigid and often cruelly self-serving walls. At times, these verses have chambers loaded with bodies, or rather the notion of the body as a vessel to contain and offer only the prescribed gender at birth. As the quote in the front matter by Oliver Baez Bendorf states, “There must be a girl … there must be a boy ….”

    Iver’s poems strike at the heart of how these normative codes actively participate in punishing those who find themselves desiring a queer space to exist and foster loving relationships. There’s the implied and misleading notion of a divided city wherein the majority protects themselves from perceived hordes of heathen barbarians: bodies of the wrong gender, sex, faith, color, orientation, ad nauseam, all of which produce iniquitous outcomes, such as suicide, generational violence, inherently destructive secrets, and shame. In the poem, “Family of Origin Content Warning,” whose title is brilliantly ironic, the speaker states, “It [this poem] wants you to resist brightsiding its tragedies” and a few lines later, “It’s tired of hearing joy is possible. It wants joy.” In other words, placation and appeasement do not create trust; only love and acceptance can bring about any form of potential reconcilement.

    In many of the poems, Iver uses a form of deflection that is both a literary technique and a psychological defense mechanism: techniques such as irony and personification, for the author, and mechanisms such as repression (denial) and projection, for the speaker. In “A Medium Performs Your Visit,” sweet candy is personified to become a crucial manner of escape for “a blonde boy forced to call himself a girl” as he signs notes as “Reese” from the treat, Reese’s Pieces. And the speaker projects a belief system onto candied sweets, a conflation wherein the sugar is savored in the mouth, “the mouth our church couldn’t categorize.”

    Another mechanism of repression appears in “Missy,” in which the poem avoids all use of any punctuation that might artificially slow the pace: no commas, periods, colons, or semicolons. The lack of grammar here rejects convention, allowing the verse to spill down the page in a rush of scenes, dialogue, and recollections. The seriousness of themes, such as suicide, depression, and alienation, are blurred together, giving the speaker cover to divulge through an epistolary confession all those events that carried them to the hospital. There’s a comma in the title, which is the only place the convention is honored, as if to say that the name Missy, the potential new name of their beloved, is the only word worthy of pause. In addition, the poem as letter contains no complimentary close, no name or word to contain the glorious pain of their connection. The absence of punctuation smartly operates as a representation of fluidity while also symbolizing the cascade of profound melancholia.

    The larger artifice at work in Iver’s book of poems is illustrated by the title to be a cinematic expression of how the power of words can become a salvation through visions and the energy of symbols and metaphors. Unfortunately, it’s a short film, and the star of the film has passed into the ghostly realm of memory and imagination. The book compares the beloved’s living body to a red bronco, a somewhat purposeful Freudian slip of overtly sexual connotations, revealing the speaker’s true feelings, “No one with lips this pillowy needs to deliver ice.” In a world where gender is inverted for two lovers, where pronouns of he and she become weapons used against them, the lovers cling to their hearts’ names and their desired words for each other. The stars of this tragic love story are aware of all the names and words that others throw at them, too, as in “Boombox Ode: Enjoy the Silence” — “Somewhere, bodies like ours are pulsing under the same pink neon to the same words like violence, break—Torsos like ours are touching and strangers watch ….” They realize the dominion of words rests with finding the ones that will support their love, protect their options, and respect their choices; words like bodies and torsos create space and air enough to grow. “Body is the only good word for body.”

    However, the finality of death intrudes on growth, and the survivor’s grief becomes a transformative experience. The speaker of these poems continues to move into the future by reviewing the film they made, by restoring the memories, through verse and reflection. In the poem, “Anti Elegy,” these reflections become exquisite moments in healing lines: “You might’ve struck the impossible: surgery, a new name, your own boat, & someone beautiful to name it after.” This poem evolves quickly into the political, with heat rising for all the injustices they have faced and must still endure together, regardless of the loss that severs them from each other’s bodies, like the river that flows down through the center of the poem’s structure.

    As the book moves away from the past and further into the future, other forms of loss are encountered. The loss of watching one’s grief subside, the grief of forming new attachments without the beloved’s presence, and the grief of locating, understanding, and breaking all the patterns of the past are all explored. The final verses find the speaker charged with a beautiful self-awareness, as well as a political mastery that grips the present by the throat: “I catalogued your masculine markers as the rebellious exception. Something to be drawn to, not imitate” and “my first name is now one letter. Under it I grow like a plant that can finally see the sky.” In the final poem, “Because You Can’t,” the speaker has risen to the level of awareness that all the previous verses bled for, a place so bright that wishes would seem possible. In the line directed to the star of the film, the beloved who has passed, the speaker can finally transform the loss into a gentle and immense nod to how one can move forward: “I tempt what’s alive by doubting I could love it more.” 

    K. Iver’s book, Short Film Starring My Beloved’s Red Bronco, does what few poetry books ever achieve: the creation of a road map into and out of suffering and grief. The journey rushes through a landscape of pain, but never looks away, instead the poems do the work required to bridge the canyons and tunnel the mountains, deliberately and unflinchingly standing firm against all the winds of viciousness in life. There’s no easy way to do this, but Iver’s poetry provides a way for those among us who may need a light in the darkness to traverse the miseries and direct their own loving film of stars.

©2023 West Trade Review
Incarnations of Sorrow in K. Iver’s Short Film Starring My Beloved’s Red Bronco
Stay Connected to Our Literary Community.  Subscribe to Our Newsletter
Home    About    Subscribe    Guidelines   Submit   Exclusives   West End    
Home    About    Subscribe    Guidelines   Submit   Exclusives   West End    
Image by Mart Production from Pexels