Saturdays Are Mlekodays

Episode Four: Geoff Kagan Trenchard & The Balancing Act

Geoff Kagan Trenchard is your favorite performance poet’s favorite performance poet. One of the things I admire most about his work is how it walks the line between reveling in the chaotic dark and insisting fiercely on ethical imperatives. Check out this poem, “Joker: Year One,” originally published in 12th Street:

Joker: Year One

-October 30th-

It’s been months of days at the library.
Learning all there is to know about
how to make napalm from Nerf foam
mixed with lighter fluid,
the Zimbadro Prison Experiment,
and the Gotham City PD’s standard procedures
in case of natural disaster or terrorist attack.
Soaks it up like fresh gauze.

Years of weeks in the city dump.
Shooting strays with assault rifles
so his arms grow accustomed to recoil.
Sparring with winos until he can drive
a hood ornament through an eye socket
in one smooth action.

In his room, explosions in bloom
are tacked on all the walls. In the center
he sits cross legged. Holds his hand
a few inches above a portable blowtorch.
Learns to keep it there
just a little longer each time.

-January 13th-

After the third liquor store, realizes he might as well
just walk in with the gun out. It’s the way he moves
through the room. Dogs shudder, children cry, plants wince.
Even without the make-up, even before they see the scars,
the victim knows something sharp and wet is about to happen.

After the fourth stash house, decides regular crews
are for regular crooks. When they leave him in the Narrows,
icy boots ringing his ears, snow sticking to his bloody lips,
he vows to not work with anyone
he doesn’t plan on shooting.
Smirks at how quick
a broken face teaches a lesson.

-April 1st-

He’s been up for days. Eyes sunk
back like eight balls, teeth rotting yellow
with plaque, hands rattling in happy jitters.

It was supposed to be a quick penthouse invasion
over Easter weekend but things got complicated.

You would be surprised how many
so-called “bad men” get skittish
when Grandma starts to gargle
from a box cutter slice cross the wind pipe.
How a hardened criminal just melts
at the first application of a hot stovetop.

Guys like that never understand.
It’s not about the money,
it’s about the half-second

when the prey’s eyes
turn from terror wide
to numb thin.

It will be Tuesday morning soon.
There is a hundred dollar
meat cleaver in the kitchen
that has yet to be used to split a bone.

He knows he’s on to something,
but hasn’t found a face
for it yet. Can’t decide
on what shape the ghost
of this story should take.

A little girl’s muffled scream
shakes through duct tape. Blood
back splatters an arching smile
on her cheek. He thinks yes, yes,
this is the look we are going for.

-July 3rd-

Birth certificate, social security card and every picture
ever taken of him are ash in the bottom of a bath tub.
Remembers last summer, before all this all started
when he first heard the rumor about the demon
that haunts the wicked. Still has the newspaper
clipping. Mob boss splayed on a searchlight
like a split chicken. Keeps it folded in
his breast pocket. A love letter.
Wanted poster. Report card
to aspire to.

Hones the edge of his knives and bullets
for tonight’s double homicide robbery.
Plays solitaire with his calling cards.
The ones people weed out of the deck
when they want to keep the game predictable.

-September 27th-

Standing on the corner of Fifth and Main waiting
for disposable accomplices the mask dangles
from his fingers like a severed head.

Truck screeches to a halt, he gets in,
barely able to contain the laughter.

This is the end of the beginning.

I love this poem. While it does, to a certain extent, take pleasure in the grotesqueness and violence of The Joker, it manages to avoid so many pitfalls that would be easy for a lesser poet to succumb to—it could’ve been a straight up persona poem that tries to build sympathy for the villain, or an outright celebration of the spectacle, or a moralizing good vs. evil anthem. But instead, Trenchard’s written a fantastic poem that focuses on mastery of craft, on stunning but not overwhelming imagery, on the details and the concrete facts of the character’s origin. He describes the horrors of The Joker’s training rituals without using them as shock tactics, and, in so doing, strikes a balance between romanticizing and condemning the villain.

He recently released a book, Murder Stay Murder, that comes with a comprehensive workshop guide. Check it out here:

GEOFF KAGAN TRENCHARD’S poems have been published in numerous journals including Word Riot, The Nervous Breakdown, The Worcester Review, SOFTBLOW and Pemmican. He has received endowments from the National Performance Network, Dance Theater Workshop, The Zellerbach Family Foundation and the City of Oakland to produce original theatrical work. As a mentor for Urban Word NYC, he taught weekly poetry workshops in the foster care center at Bellevue as well as in Rikers Island with Columbia University’s “Youth Voices on Lockdown” program. He is a recipient of a fellowship from the Riggio Writing and Democracy program at the New School and the first ever louderARTS Writing Fellowship. He has performed poetry on HBO’s Def Poetry Jam, at universities throughout the United States, and in theaters internationally as a member of the performance poetry troupe The Suicide Kings. He is currently a Juris Doctor Candidate for the class of 2014 at the Hofstra University School of Law. He lives in Brooklyn.

MICHAEL MLEKODAY is an MFA candidate at Indiana University and a National Poetry Slam Champion. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Ninth Letter, Sycamore Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Anti-, Muzzle Magazine, and other journals. He’s ready for winter.