Noah Cicero is living in the moment. Nature Documentary, his new collection of narrative and autobiographical poems, is a portrait of human behavior in response to their environment. Cicero expresses nature itself as an accumulation of history and pain, and the present as something that everyone must endeavor, despite its inherent ruthlessness:
This star says to God,
“I’m doing it, this is it. I’ve been through changes,
each one more agonizing, more terrifying than the last.
for everyone to see,
I am going to implode.”
The star raises its head to the heavens.
“I have lived. I was never perfect. I tried,
I did what my physical form was meant to do,
and now goodbye.”
Cicero didn’t grow up in an urban environment. He is from a small town in Ohio where nature is abundant, and thus, matured to see beyond the traditionally pastoral vision of city folk. You won’t find any verdant forests or lush meadows in this collection. Cicero’s poems show nature as violent and unforgiving. Each organism experiences its cruelty in deeply personal ways, and instinctually seeks others that have been wounded by the same means. Cicero is no exception:
The pain had to be in common.
The flavor of the pain. The texture of the pain.
The flower of the pain. The tyranny of the pain.
The wounds required correlation.
If your arm was cut off by a sword, you have to find
someone else who has been cut down by a sword.
If a shark bit into your stomach, you have to find
someone else who is experienced with shark attacks.
If your life was easy and all you got was a bruised knee,
you have to find someone else with a sprained wrist.
Shark attacks can’t love broken collar bones.
Though many of Cicero’s poems center on the inherent rigidness of humans and their unwillingness to change, Cicero doesn’t leave the reader forlorn. Quite the opposite, Cicero offers solace by reasoning that their resistance in times of suffering can foster creativity, and more importantly, hope, which he describes in a touching poem about supremely-intelligent creatures that generate reality as a computer simulation:
“We will call it hope. It will be this thing that
cannot be destroyed.
No matter what happens, the hope will not die.
They will try to destroy hope. They will drink
and do drugs. They will force themselves
to be alone and suffer. They will try with all
their might to destroy the hope inside them,
and some will try to destroy the hope in others.
They will enslave. They will oppress, incarcerate,
and some will even murder to destroy hope.
But the hope won’t be able to be broken.
It will be the most indestructible substance
in their universe. And this is where the music
will come from.”
Cicero’s Nature Documentary is a humbling reminder that each person is an individual with their own story. It’s an exploration of existence, and how reality transforms from each decision a person makes. Will you drink the toilet hooch, or are you too afraid? Every choice amounts to something, and you must endure the result because nobody else can live your life for you. You may have an unfortunate existence, but your dog can’t tell or doesn’t care. They are happy just being with someone that will cuddle them. So cuddle your dog, or don’t. In the end, who will remember anyway?
Benjamin DeVos is the author of the forthcoming novella The Bar Is Low (Dostoyevsky Wannabe, 2018) among others. He is the head editor of Apocalypse Party and lives in Philadelphia.