“Home is wherever I’m with you” or “Almost heaven, West Virginia” or “living in a shotgun shack” or “Just hold on we’re going home,” on and on, we are all creating towards home: its fluidity or certainty, the elusive nature of roots versus the ease in growing foundation-up. In no farther than the end of the street – a collection of primarily short prose poems – Benjamin Niespodziany writes towards some version, some chapter of his home: a specific, dream-like, careening, playful neighborhood block. When he isn’t writing about this neighborhood block, he’s writing into another version of a home: a person, a someone who he shares both tenderness and dynamism with. Through metaphor, whimsy, and a gentle intimacy, Niespodziany jumps beyond the horizon and into the eventual tomorrow where we all seek and try to find: Home.
Before anything else, Niespodziany opens with a quote from Pleasantville—a movie about two modern-day siblings who find themselves transported into a 1950s black-and-white TV show. Primarily, Pleasantville dissects our uncertainty about the unknown. Niespodziany grounds us here precisely because he is endeavoring to take us on a journey beyond the
neighborhood block, beyond the surface-level white picket fence and into the mysterious unknown of relationship-building and the brave act of putting down roots.
The decision to confine each poem to a neighborhood block might lead a lesser writer to face the suffocation of grass and doors and roundabouts; or even to grapple with the idea of home as something that confines us. However, Niespodziany rejects the easy way out. Each vignette relies on the confines of place to allow the poems to reach beyond what the reader might expect a neighborhood to look like. Livers appear in backpacks, whales in backyards. In Triple Lung (p. 13), Niespodziany accuses himself of selfishness:
The lung in my backpack is in my backpack
because I need a third lung to breathe. This is
selfish of me, I know.
In Whale in a Well (p. 14),Niespodziany writes of what grows and what doesn’t:
At the bottom
of our backyard
there rests a baby whale
that I wished for.
Because the reader begins grounded at the conception of the collection—within a neighborhood, to a home-grown story—Niespodziany can take starry-eyed leaps into the ether. He’s done the foundational groundwork of providing his reader stable footing. Throughout the collection, he brings us along with him, out to sea; despite our shaky legs, through turmoil and tension, we continue to trust that he’ll deliver us back safely intact to this neighborhood, to a home.
With intention and vigor, we are reading Niespodziany’s tender love poems. Stylistically, each love poem refuses the traditional ode or pure song-like reverence. In this way, Niespodziany challenges the love poem itself. In a series of three poems entitled “First Date,”“Second Date,” and finally, “Third Date,” Niespodziany writes into the brief intimacy that occupies us at the outset of a new relationship. Within “Third Date”in particular, Niespodziany gives the reader a window into the promises our two lovers start to gift one another. Writing about their hearts:
and we dug for months and at once you held
yours and I held mine and at once you swallowed
yours and I swallowed mine and we promised to
one day return to where our hearts were once
buried, our home a cold distance, listen, the fog
in our mouths like ghosts.
Later, the love sours. Does it? If we read closely, Niespodziany shows us that in the depths, with work and will, a love can expand. As our speaker begins to see their lover more clearly, so too shines the light through cracks of imperfections. From “Grief “
An enduring love is a black hole that gouges into itself and comes out broader and brighter on the other side. Niespodziany seems to know this even while navigating the uncertainty of the vast and abundant everything. The final poem in the collection, entitled “You All Along” drives straight into the holes we create for one another, doesn’t veer or stray but also doesn’t sit into certainty. By now, we know both the speaker and the apple of their eye have waded and waged through muck and mercy, ultimately returning to choose one another and the neighborhood again and again:
You’re the only one in the crowd,
writing on a napkin how to sound out my name.
Niespodziany leaves the reader in the unknown, in a new neighborhood, unpacking boxes, settling in. Alongside our speaker, we learn, of course, always: home is beyond what we can begin to fathom, home is everywhere and always, outside of structure or street or even person. Niespodziany’s final line provides steadiness:
Between the whales in the well, the livers in the backpack, the lovers we lose and gain, it is a trip indeed. When we walk with poets like Niespodziany who bring us up into the wide world of wonder and back down again, home becomes easier to find not only in the vast expanse, but within one another.
Yetta Rose Stein reads and writes in Livingston, Montana. She is a graduate of Hellgate Highschool and is currently pursuing her MFA at the Vermont College of Fine Arts. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Rejected Lit Mag, Orotone Journal, Grits Quarterly, and elsewhere.