Reviewed by Karen Corinne Herceg
Go because I Love You
by Jared Harél
72 Pages; $18, Paperback, ISBN-13: 978-1939728203, 2018
Courageous might be one of those words we’re tempted to toss about too lightly as a result of a daily barrage of media hype that champions hyperbole. We anoint any new talent as a “star” and those already canonized are “superstars.” The excessive overstatements are meant to grab our attention for the sake of the story. True courage, however, engages us for the often subtle, gentle way it moves into life in unexpected ways, defining the coping mechanisms of the daily grind and noble continuance in spite of personal setbacks and ongoing obstacles. In his poetry collection, “Go because I Love You,” Jared Harél deftly juxtaposes our conscious efforts to sustain and understand our lives against deeper, darker intrusions and motivations. He does this in language so discriminating and often ordinary, that the effect is infinitely more jarring than if he’d been shouting such incongruities from a pulpit or podium in sexier, catchier phrases. In fact, the very quotidian normalcy of expression creates an immediate sense of comprehension and empathy. Harél writes with a painful, stark beauty that spares nothing and requires no embellishment to emphasize his angst and observations that so aptly mirror our own. There is a sparse, precise and exquisite craftsmanship at work in these poems.
We may not often be able to control the trajectory of our choices, but we do have the option to recognize them responsibly and honestly. Harél shows us we have an obligation to not glaze over those choices with false distortions that appease our fragile egos and illusions and compromise truth and reality. He examines places where our expectations and confidence become derailed. In “Masters of the Universe,” he asks, “Wasn’t I the kid who was always/fine, content with whichever/slice was mine?” (P. 19, ll. 7-9). When does that contentment fragment into disappointments or devaluation? Harél doesn’t offer answers but rather poses the questions we need to ask ourselves. He offers acceptance of misfortunes through poetic resolutions that do not condescend to the inexplicable but offer a shared solace of what we cannot solve or resolve. In “Go So You Can Come Back,” he writes, “…and to love is to leave/room for longing,” (P. 9, ll. 22-23), skillfully splitting this line into dual meaning. Love is impacted with a multitude of ongoing departures, the ultimate being that of leaving the physical body and our awareness of the finite. But the “longing” allows for replenishment. He notes our “…perpetual rotation of goings and comings” (P. 9, l. 25) and reminds us to “…remember where is home” (P. 9, l. 28). We should be careful not to miss the nuanced phrasing of this last line. Although there is no question mark at the end, it cleverly leaves an open-ended suggestion that we are continually seeking “home.” Where can we find that “home” as we face our inevitable disappearance? In “All Possible Fates,” he asks, “In the end, isn’t it in our nature to disperse?/To pull away?” (P. 10, ll. 9-10).
Harél explores relationships as a barometer of how we experience ourselves in the world. In “New View” he writes about his young daughter and how we attempt to infuse our hopes in others. As he tells stories to her, he admits, “I say this crap, and it becomes/her childhood…” (P. 12, ll. 6-7). Her heart becomes a “…crimson motor of meat/and stardust” (P. 12, ll. 9-10), a startling juxtaposition that justifiably exposes the dichotomy of so many experiences. We are tethered to others as much by the mysteries of what we do not know as we are to their familiarity. He questions how much we can actually share with another, how much we can actually connect. When his wife usurps their comforter as she sleeps, and when he recalls how his mother tied his wrist to hers when he is a small child, “so no one would take me” (P. l.), we see the intensity with which others’ needs and desires come into conflict with our own. Our actions display an underlying concern for self-preservation and question the altruism of our motives for union and kinship with others. Most often we see others through the prism of our own reflections, wounds and desires that we justify as selflessness and concern. Harél asks us to think of our true intentions, not with castigation, but with an authentic eye to truth. Do we fear for others and protect them because we really fear for ourselves, for the loss of that person and what it means in our own life? We are tied to their desires as much as our own with all the inherent conflicts and the need for self-preservation that fosters our insecurities.
Harél examines further how we create meaning in challenges that we manifest out of fear and our need to believe we can conquer and face those fears. We feel safer seeking it out as if that will dispel or diminish our dread of the unknown. We feel the need to create meaning if we can’t readily discern it in our frequently random and unfathomable surroundings. In “Local News” Harél describes playing with a friend as a young boy, their imaginations creating adventures that mask their growing apprehensions of the world around them. He observes, “That’s how desperate/we felt those days, how certain/we were there was nothing to see” (P. 15, ll. 6-8). As we grow into adulthood, anxieties and a desire to connect can compromise the self then develop into a “marketable heart” (P. 21, l. 23) that reduces two potential lovers to interact in approved ways rather than from innate and intuitive impulses. In “A Commercial Looping on Sports Radio” Harél notes, “These days, each kiss/is expected. I don’t/even think. I close my eyes” (P. 21, ll. 34-36). Subsequently the realities of family life evolve, and couples awaken to the obligations and restrictions of parenthood. In “Playground” we see the poet as a young father in the park with his daughter watching “…adoring/parents blink into their phones” (P. 23, ll. 8-9). They are another generation “of thirty-somethings who knew/this was coming, but didn’t think/it was coming so soon” (P. 23. ll. 17-19). It is not the utopia they imagined it might be. In “Father of Daughters” and “Apart,” we see the inevitable shattering of the perfect paths we hope to travel. Harél does not ask but rather states somewhat resignedly, “A god who’d keep us/then leave us to chance” (P. 34, ll. 17-18), emphasizing our dilemma of living between belief and seemingly random circumstances. Life can change in an instant, catching us unaware and unprepared because “Terror, it turns out/is immense in its stillness” (P. 35, ll. 9-10). Our perceptions become distorted, “…the way horror/can seem subject to the convenience/of our reactions” (P. 36, ll. 12-14). We can recoil at a description of how animals are slaughtered for meat but later sit down to a steak dinner and remain oblivious to that connection.
So much of these poems are a testament to life’s ironies, to what is missed and overlooked. It’s not that we can change things, necessarily, but Harél compels us to take notice, to bear witness and observe:
How mouths kiss
with the smack
A fruit so delicious
you don’t notice its pit. (P. 39, ll. 16-20)
There may be much we cannot escape from but it shouldn’t be because we failed to see and apprehend what happens around us and to us. And this extends to larger worlds than our personal ones, including the national and global landscapes. In “Schoolyard with the United States Painted on Asphalt,” we see destruction by competition through division on micro and macro levels:
where two children
yell Mine! bodies collide,
and a lost globe
plunges into the Gulf. (P. 42, ll. 23-26)
There is an inability to overcome how we see others and the world as
separate from the self, our perception of limited resources, and our greed for personal abundance. We believe acquisition equates to security, and having more than our neighbor is an insurance policy against lack.
In “Spoils” Harél asks the poet’s poignant question wondering if he needs to apologize “…for every time I step out/of myself” (P. 63, ll. 18-19) and for speaking of others “…as props/in a poem” (P. 63, l. 25-26). But an artist searches and examines in communion with his environment and others. Through family dramas we “…carry the weight of a hundred generations” (P. 65, l. 3), leaping forward, “…softened with distance” (P. 67, l.15) that obfuscates our fears. We carry history within us riddled with guilt and anxieties. Harél feels the weight of this, and when it hits him the sky is like “…a damp rag twisting above me” (P. 66, l. 10-11) and there are “…locusts humming in his eyelids/dried lamb’s blood tinting each fist” (P. 66, ll. 13-14). As we grow older we collect more than we discard and take stock of our past. One day we will
to find display cases
destroyed, polite smiles
of the recently thwacked. (P. 69, ll. 18-22)
And then we must ask ourselves if we will assess our actions and make retribution. But can we do so sooner than later? As Harél knows well, “There are so many ways to be cruel/in this world” (P. 71, ll. 18-19) and “…each wail is holy in its appeal/for affection” (P. 71. ll. 31-32).
This collection has a raw, unadulterated appeal that reaches well beyond personal introspection. Its confessional intimacy provokes a union of collective emotion and unrestricted relevancy. We cannot solve all of life’s existential issues individually or collectively, but we certainly have the option to face them in a universal spirit of inquiry and empathy. Harél makes a heartfelt plea to us from the depths of his uncensored excavations of himself that he communicates from the wellspring of an immense talent and genuine courage.
About the reviewer: Karen Corinne Herceg writes poetry, prose, essays and reviews. Her latest book is Out From Calaboose, by Nirala Publications (2017). She lives in the Hudson Valley, New York.