NICHOLAS T. SPATAFORA Engages
Last Call at the Tin Palace by Paul Pines
(Marsh Hawk Press, New York, 2009)
Present Tense by Anna Rabinowitz
(Omnidawn Publishing, Richmond, CA, 2010)
Anna Rabinowitz’s Present Tense & Paul Pines’s Last Call at the Tin Palace:
Suppositions of the Afterlife
Birth and death are events in time and space[....]
there is nothing but Life.
The afterlife has long been a topic of considerable intrigue and debate. Western theology presupposes a transition of planes as illustrated in “Primer” and “Chief Seattle Speaks,” two free-versed lyrics featured in Anna Rabinowitz’s Present Tense. Rabinowitz alludes to the question of eternal Heaven or Hell and one’s mortal and terrestrial obligations in “Primer,” while the latter speaks of a changing plane of existence. Eastern ideology, however, accepts the concept of physical rebirth, as evidenced in poems also written in open form in Paul Pines' Last Call at the Tin Palace: “Reincarnation,” wherein role reversal between a Jackal and her self-absorbed custodial master is evident, “In Memory of Bill,” where the subject is buried and exhumed repeatedly, and “Last Call at the Tin Palace,” with the narrator speculating his former lives, one man previously born a woman and another a reincarnated Native-American tribal warrior.
“Eternity is a very long time…” (Rabinowitz, “Primer,” pt. 1. st. 1. line 5): Life is transitory but eternity is infinite; therefore, one should maximize his earthly existence, “[s]ow[ing] seeds for grass, herbs, [and] trees…” (3. 1. 1.). He should not trivialize his incarnation but strive for perfection, living, as Eastern doctrine dictates, a life of spiritual inner and outer balance, contemplating self and serving the external world. Benjamin Franklin advises the “sluggard” not to fritter away his ephemeral life, for the hereafter is permanent. Most religious convictions advocate the existence of a Heaven and Hell as well as a final day of judgment following the resurrection of the body wherein one’s fate is to be decided, and such determination is questioned in “Primer”: “Ask / if you are being scolded / or invited to proceed” (1. 2. 4-6).
Whereas “Primer” assumes the eventuality of Paradise or damnation following the cessation of one’s earthly existence, Chief Seattle, legendary tribal leader of the Suquamish Native-American people, professes a transition of existential planes, devoid of physical death (lines 42-43), analogous to the “[a]bandoned cigarette [fume],” in authors Tom Fink’s and Maya Diablo Mason’s “Soul Fumes,” “whose light has ceased to glow, leaving its ember in the wake of its extinction,” allegoric of one’s earthly existence and disembodiment upon physical expiration, the transmutation from one form of life energy to another (line 1). Both pieces, however, do assume a transition of worlds, Chief Seattle forewarning the invading American Western Frontiersmen that his “religion / [w]as written on tablets of stone / [b]y the iron finger of an angry God” (12-14). The tribes leader also alludes to a Heaven on earth, the deceased Suquamish “often return[ing] to visit… // [the] beautiful world that gave them being” (40, 33).
Eastern doctrine theologizes a physical rebirth upon one’s passing, this consequent incarnation of the body assuming either another human life form or one of an alternative manifestation. In “Reincarnation,” Pines considers the ironic possibility of a role exchange between a keeper and Jake, her canid object of debt and subservience, rendering an apostrophic plea for the latter to consider his beneficence should providential consignment paradoxically appoint opposite functions: “If roles are reversed / don’t forget who… /… found you a home” (17-19). Pines makes reference to a “green-eyed jackal / from the alley / where Egypt dumped [its] imperial soul / like an old chamois:” symbolically allusive of the mummification and eternal existence of the Egyptian god Anpu, ignominiously succeeded by Horus as the god of the Dead during the Middle Kingdom (2-5). Eastern theology advocates the eventual demise of the human ego as a requisite for ultimate liberation from the body, yet the speaker in this lyric makes frequent repetition of his munificence, a form of selfish and conditional altruism incongruous with its attainment, which also leads one to question the veracity of his philanthropy: “What will you do for me / next life?” (15-16). He reminds Jake:
Don’t forget who left dry food
in the hall even when neighbors complained
you sprayed on their doors,
who let you rest by his radiator
on cold days!
Pines’s elegy “In Memory of Bill” ambiguously suggests reincarnation in both the literal and figurative sense, the subject of this narrative, Bill, who had evidently been “bur[ied]…again / and again” (lines 5-6). Here, the writer implies a physical interment or an emblematic reference to one’s immortal legacy and memory as evidenced by the remaining loved one left to mourn. “Last Call at the Tin Palace,” however, ascribes to reincarnation in the physical sense, the speaker confessing to past lives of himself, “whoever I was / in other lives / it doesn’t matter to me now” (lines 12-14), Nat in the kitchen whose previous incarnation was that of a woman (15-20) and Jim, who is a re-embodiment of the nineteenth century Nez Perce Native-American war leader Looking Glass (26-28, 32): “[H]e watched his people dying / in the Montana snow / and ... he was in tears” (29-31).
French novelist Anatole France once said that we must die to one life before we can enter another. Is this a physical rebirth as suggested by Paul Pines’s “Reincarnation,” “In Memory of Bill” and “Last Call at the Tin Palace”? Does the soul ultimately attain permanent detachment from the body as implied in Anna Rabinowitz’s “Primer” and “Chief Seattle Speaks”? Whatever one’s devout convictions, Anna Rabinowitz’s Present Tense and Paul Pine’s Last Call at the Tin Palace are certain to offer the reader a wealth of consideration and insight into the fascinating, curious and mysterious questions of life after death.
Fink, Thomas and Maya Diablo Mason. “Soul Fumes.” Autopsyturvy. New York:
Meritage Press, 2010. Print.
Pines, Paul. Last Call at the Tin Palace. New York: Marsh Hawk Press, 2009. Print.
---.“In Memory of Bill.” Pines 81.
---. “Last Call at the Tin Palace.” Pines 59-60.
---.“Reincarnation.” Pines 16.
Rabinowitz, Anna. Present Tense. Richmond: Omnidawn Publishing, 2010. Print.
---. “Chief Seattle Speaks.” Rabinowitz 30-31.
---. “Primer.” Rabinowitz 27-29.
Nicholas T. Spatafora is an educator at Joseph Pulitzer Intermediate School in Jackson Heights, Queens, and an English Professor at the City University of New York. He holds two graduate degrees from Hunter College in New York City and has enjoyed a successful career in education spanning twenty‑five years. Contemplating a life in Catholic ministry, he attended Cathedral Preparatory Seminary in New York. He is a member of the Tao Society in Tai Pei, and prior affiliations include the Religious Society of Friends and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn. Spatafora is the author of Hurt, the feature article “Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha: A Fictional Account of the Life of Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha,” “A Review of Jack Lynch’s Manhattan Man and Other Poems,” “Challenging Perspectives: A Review of Thomas Fink’s & Maya Diablo Mason’s AutopsyTurvy,” “Kingdom by the Harbor,” “Allen Bramhall’s Days Poem: A Critical Analysis of a Dying Art,” The Word: An Analysis of The Chained Hay(na)ku Project,“ “The Victims of Circumstance: Abandonment and Estrangement in Jack Lynch’s Girl in the Mirror” and “Make a Wish…and Blow out the Candles: An Explication of Tennessee Williams’s The Glass Menagerie” and “John C. Goodman’s The Shepherd’s Elegy: One Man’s Inner Pilgrimage,” featured in Eileen Tabios’s Galatea Resurrects, “Love Stories: An Analysis of Eileen R. Tabios’ Silk Egg,” featured in Remé Antonia Grefalda’s Our Own Voice, and “Love Loss: Reflections on Eileen Tabios’ The Thorn Rosary,” published by Marsh Hawk Press. Spatafora and his wife Hsiaochen (Judy) reside in Flushing, New York.