by Paul David Adkins
Blood Pudding Press
Date: May 2014
Reviewed by: A.J. Huffman
Stick Up, a chapbook by Paul David Adkins, manages to capture a lifetime of desperation in a mere twenty-one pages of intense urban poetry.
Adkins is a master of multiple perspectives in this tragic tale of an everyday convenience store robbery. His use of an MTV-video-blip jump in points of view allows the reader to capture the scene as it plays out from three distinct speakers: the robber, the hostages, and the police officers.
This series is about loss, losing, and having nothing to lose. The robber, a female whose long, hard life is exquisitely summed up by the current contents of her car—“a half-empty bottle/of Jack in the truck/and her wallet she stuffed/in the glove box/her creased AARP card/her license,/expired last month,/and a tucked photo/of the lover who left her,”—is someone we all know, is someone we could become. She is closing in at the end of her life, and has come to a point where a fake gun and a chance to steal some potentially life-changing lottery tickets has become more attractive than continuing on her current path.
A second point of view emerges from the purported heroes of this tale. The police officers vacillate between the desire for action and the desire for safety as they “prayed/for a quiet night. They prayed/for a night of gunfire.” They struggle with the same indecision that an average person deals with every day: Is a long, but mundane life preferable to a short one lived to the extreme?
Adkins has his hostages contemplating dairy products along with their lives, as if they are mirror images. In “He Considered the Dairy Products,” one of these hostages’ biggest concerns is “Will I die beside/the frozen yogurt light?” Not ‘Will I die?’ but ‘Will I die here?’ as if logistics were a factor in the fight or flight decision in these potentially last moments of breath. In “He Recalled as He Ran Back in the Store,” another hostage actually refuses an offered opportunity to escape because the robber fascinates him. He sees her as the walking dead, a figure from a horror story that he was told as a child: “She emerged from the tree line,/tall beneath the floodlit/Coors display,/her shadow sharp/and stark as the chalked/outline of a corpse.”
‘Round and ‘round we go between these speakers as this literary Russian roulette of a merry-go-round ride spins us out of control and into this depraved and very human moment where there is no clear-cut victim or hero. Every one of Adkins’ characters has flaws that create an unbreakable bond of empathy luring readers to the edge of their seats, until “They Called for an Ambulance Though All Agreed.” In these last moments Adkins writes, “there was no rush, no siren needed/for the robber, peppered,/dead amid the shards.”
Death, one of the universal inevitabilities, continues to linger on the horizon of this series just as surely as it landed on the floor of this convenience store, the blunt and bleeding culmination of humanity’s emotionally devastating choices.
A.J. Huffman has published eleven solo chapbooks and one joint chapbook through various small presses. Her new poetry collections, Another Blood Jet (Eldritch Press) and A Few Bullets Short of Home (mgv2>publishing) are now available from their respective publishers. She has two additional poetry collections forthcoming: Degeneration from Pink Girl Ink, and A Bizarre Burning of Bees from Transcendent Zero Press. She is a three-time Pushcart Prize nominee, and has published over 2200 poems in various national and international journals, including Labletter, The James Dickey Review, Bone Orchard, EgoPHobia, and Kritya. She is also the founding editor of Kind of a Hurricane Press. www.kindofahurricanepress.com