I began reading Jon Leon’s The Malady of the Century on an obnoxiously balmy day in South Bend, IN, and finished it the next day, when the weather had resumed its usual surly attitude. Gliding through weather patterns like this was like wearing parachute pants in a gym class in New Jersey in 1983, waving the parachute, running under the parachute, emerging from the parachute to learn my gym teacher was going to compete in the New York Marathon, in synthetic shorts, a golden perm, and with a white paper pinned to his tanktop. One surface glided into a tide of surfaces till it got permed out. Intoxified the tri-state. My leg skin never felt so good.
The formal strength of Leon’s book lies in his deft use of the paragraph, a large squarish ice-cube like form that seems to melt under you as you clamber onto the syntax of the sentences, depositing you at the bottom of your paragraph as at the bottom of a warmish tumbler of gin. Cast your eyes back over the paragraph you just read, it’s like looking back up at a used tumbler: sharp and sticky.
“Broadway Video carried exploitation films exclusively. They also provided free condoms at the rental counter. Helen and I visited frequently in the winter months. At that time I lived on the west side with Andrea in a house full of Dali reproductions and psychedelic paraphernalia. Luckily I was able to move out quickly and lease a studio in Miami. Ketja and I took holiday at the Thunderbird Inn. There I wrote several vignettes under the heading, “ I Hate American Girls.” At night we’d watch the sky turn purple turn pink turn orange-blue and melt into the horizon below the palm trees.”
The above passage comes from the poem ‘Hit Wave’, a piece as slimly intriguing as a 13-year old proto-supermodel from Florida or the Eastern Bloc. You keep watching her to see how she looks at different angles, and only at certain angles does the beauty strike out at you, a cheekbrow, an eyebrow, a cheekbone, the funnybone. This long poem is an account of an apparently continuous speaker skeining from hit to hit—fume-thin celebrity success which keeps emptying out and reaccruing and which is a kind of flight between proper nouns, here the proper nouns of women’s names, cities, hotels, media outlets, the names of his own obscure-media hits (Tract, Reiner, Videotaped Sex). This encapsuled poem pops, the air gets thin, the writing is by turns sharp and hazy, it hits you, you take the hit, and in its thinness and mirrored surfaces you get high. In another poem,
“I know you always loved me for who I am. I fucking miss that. When we are smelling crack from the other room and trashing the motel while we do teenage stuff on the bed. I know that it’s just right when we’re in the bathroom loving life. […]I love it when you gave me the pills in the Clermont Lounge on a weeknight. I wanted to puke. The love in the air is so thick and heavy and green. I’m not stupid. I know you are thinking about me and want to call. Do it.”
Reading Jon Leon is a bit like being in that slick bathroom, loving life. The double mirror gives us not a mise-en-abyme of abstraction or obscurity but of flatness , availability, the self-presence of the present tense itself. Like a model in certain magazines, the present-tense will always turn its face or ass to us. Some may read these poems as critiques of consumer culture, media culture, a culture continually getting high off the laminate on fashion magazine pages or in our new cars, or in the masks we put on before assisting others. But I don’t feel critique in these poems. Rather, Jon Leon’s poems emit the exhilaration and speed and high tones and acute sensations of a parachutist in flight, with his parachute on fire, that kind of sharpness, clarity and precision. In flight, time stops being consequential. Individual moments are just garments lined up on a silver rack, catching the eye in motion. One finger can move them. Grinning and huffing and shopping and cuming and grinning into the bright light, into the Blu-Ray in HD.