A Review of American Fractal by Timothy Green
by Susan Wiedner
In Timothy Green’s debut, American Fractal, he mixes pessimism with hope, media with science, and family with philosophy. He blends surreal images with real images, giving several of his poems a dreamlike quality. His humor throughout prevents him from being a true pessimist and makes this a book more about questioning society than condemning it.
Form meets content in Green’s dream narrative poem, “The Body.” Here, he uses spacing along with line breaks to make the poem more interactive. The reader can decide how long they want to pause at each image. The title starts the poem which then introduces us into the speaker’s dream: The Body
in the dream I wake to a poem about trains what it is that insists
that crawls clamors the windowpane clasped shut against a
wind outside bare branches in a dry heave & I rise over the
swelling resolution not to rise I rise
Is it the dream or the poem that clamors at the speaker? The spacing leaves it open for interpretation. The spacing throughout the narrative adds to the poem because it keeps one unsure of what is dream and what is waking.
This questioning of boundaries continues in “After Hopper,” which is a poem based on the painting, “Nighthawks” by Edward Hopper. Green introduces a female character in the first line: “She says that everything is after Hopper.” At some point, he transitions to the characters in the painting, but it is hard to pin point when the transition takes place. Where the line between reality and media happens. Here, he may be referring to the initial she or the woman in the painting:
Sometimes she’d stand in broad daylight, naked
before an open window, flesh so pale
and round and full it seemed about to pull
a tide of ruttish men up from the street.
It is difficult to determine if this is Green’s fantasy of the woman in the painting, or his condemnation of the woman who attributes everything to being after Hopper. In the next line, “But mostly it’s the red dress,” Greene drops us into the painting. Then he switches back to “she,” and why she is fascinated by this painting. “She says you never even she her talk, / but just about to talk, about to smile.” Green manages to combine the two women with the final line: “How you only see her almost satisfied.” Green uses a painting to show the complexities of relationships.
In “Potluck,” Green addresses family relationships. In this poem, he lists each family members mistakes with an “image” instead of food. “Someone has brought the shoplifted / wristwatch, the keyed Caddy, a dead / fish in a mailbox.” The lists start out misdemeanors but grow into felonies. “I’ve brought a bowl of arson for / the turkey.” Green shows that some of the damages are emotional, not criminal. “From the chair / where Dad used to sit, Mom drops / a mug-shot in the mashed potatoes.” When it comes to family, doing time does not make up for the crime.
Human nature is unanswerable at times, just like nature. In “Poem from Dark Matter,” Green takes science and holds it up as a reflection of human nature.
… Even the constant
speed of light is decaying. And look where thoughts
can lead: Somewhere in a lonely future, a man
hears his heart stop beating long before the world
goes black… The soul, a ship
in a bottle lost at sea. Drops its anchor anyway.
Green manages to leave the tiniest speck of hope in the dark pessimistic world he paints throughout his book, making this one for both pessimists and optimists to read.