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The Last Lie

  • Image: Image
  • Book Type: Poetry
  • by: Tony Gloeggler
  • Date Published: June 2010
  • ISBN-13: 978-1-935520-15-3
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 140pp
  • Price: $16.95
  • Review by: Kimberly Steele

Tony Gloeggler’s latest poetry book, The Last Lie, celebrates imperfection in all its ubiquitous manifestations – in people, relationships, memories, and dreams. It is about the lies we tell ourselves when we discover that the truth is insufficient, and the tools we use to renounce those fabrications that distract us from recognizing beauty in imperfection and experiencing fulfillment from that which seems lacking at first glance.

Every poem in The Last Lie surrounds a fantasy that has never been realized, a mirage that has yet to manifest, an ache that cannot be soothed. In “Literature,” Gloeggler’s speaker discusses things that “Me and my uncle never talked / about,” because the latter “died / before I ever wrote anything / I wasn’t afraid to show people.” He refers to missed chances and wasted potential in “Reading and Writing,” a poem about “A woman who may / or may not be dying / of cancer.”

He ruminates over the things he “wanted to be” in “When I Grow Up,” knowing in retrospect that he was probably never destined to achieve those childhood goals. His portrayal of the could-have-beens that never were pain us because we haven’t yet bought what he’s trying to sell – the idea that these hopes and dreams have little worth; they merely get in the way of understanding and accepting life for what it is. Gloeggler prefers to savor each tiny pinprick that plagues the world around him and proves that it’s real. He cherishes that which transcends the confines of fantasy – the uncomfortable, taboo, or devastating. If the dream is a lie, he will stare the bitter truth in the face until it is all he can see.

The real soul of the book comes from poems that describe the speaker’s work with the developmentally disabled. He gives us the panoramic view of the caretaker, who, by necessity, invades the privacy of his patients’ lives in a way most of us would consider humiliating. In “Crossing,” this metaphorical omnipotence becomes actualized as the speaker hides behind a black Cadillac to watch his patient Larry attempt to cross the street by himself for the first time. In the middle of helping his friend Rob bathe in “Bath Time,” he recognizes the latter’s urge to masturbate:

We both watch it
harden, rise above
soapy water. I draw
the shower curtain,
sit on the closed
toilet lid, light
a cigarette.

Gloeggler’s portrayal shocks with its honesty, focusing on the child/adult dichotomy that exists in all of us but is intensified in the developmentally disabled. We may find it more comfortable to infantilize these individuals, but this is a delusion – a lie. The truth is, while Rob may have the mental acuity of a child, he has the body of a man, complete with adult urges that are every bit as unrelenting as our own.

Of course, the speaker is not immune to frustration when it comes to dealing with life’s harsh realities. When he tries to wash Rob’s face in the same poem, Rob “slaps the water” when he gets soap in his eyes, eliciting the sharp rebuke, “Stop acting / like a damn baby.” In speaking thus, the speaker reveals his own expectation of adult-like behavior from Rob, instead of making excuses for him based on his condition. He also, however, betrays a desire to believe the lie. Although he accepts that all metaphor constitutes fabrication (one possible reason he opts for such a straightforward poetic style), he would not always have it this way. He, like everyone and everything else, is an imperfect part of the imperfect world he chooses to embrace, subject to the same emotions and temper tantrums as his patients. His subtle shift in perspective has brought him no immediate or applicable enlightenment.

In “Mid Life Poetry Crisis,” he bemoans his frustration with stark reality while delineating many of the book’s motifs:

I’m tired of song titles,
retards, autistic kids,
old and new girlfriends,
battered valentines, baseball
metaphors, not getting
laid, subway stations,
working class families,
drunk drivers, dead fathers
and every one else who never
try to talk to each other.

His world-weariness makes him want to “escape” into the realm of aspirations and dreams, where he could be a child again, when he thought he could be “a fire truck” when he grew up, and there was always a chance that he and his father would talk about something meaningful. This is the same childlike naïveté he exhibits later in life when he hopes his old girlfriend will leave her husband to be with him in the book’s title poem, “The Last Lie.” This establishes the only time that the vibrancy of the fabricated world so eclipses the solemnity of the real one that the speaker can’t abide the latter. He says, “We were walking down Houston / to see some movie and I said no / I wasn’t seeing anyone else” as if just saying it will magically make it true. The following verse reveals that he is lying less to her than himself:

And yeah, I kept lying
after I told her the truth
a day later as she screamed
and cried and cursed me
all the way from Virginia.

In this poem lying is really put to the test – its value becomes paramount. Certain cruel truths are easier to accept than others, and even the speaker isn’t entirely resigned to a life without fantasy. He declares that he “won’t lie anymore.” The statement sounds decisive and firm, if not a little idealistic, until he qualifies it. “Not about something / like that. Not to her.” This says nothing about the lies he will continue to tell himself, and these, as he’s already indicated, are the hardest ones to refute.

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Review Posted on November 01, 2010

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