Wednesday, December 3, 2014



(Punk Hostage Press, 2014)

[First published in eleveneleven: A Journal of Literature and Art, Issue 17, 2014, Editor Hugh Behm-Steinberg]

A History of Broken Love Things is a tapestry to hold against the light. Behind each burst of color, each time warped pattern, are bundles of messy, curious, ocean whipped strings. “Good work done/and done again.” The collection reminds us to check out the undersides. How could “thoughtful sailing” be our future, if “swashbuckling” wasn’t our “lost and lonely past?”

The collection’s title prepares us for some sort of personal chronology of love gone wrong. What’s most surprising is Stokes’ explorations of macro systems of modern love and loss. In, “a world of restraint diseases,” Stokes calls out “ghost democracies,” “incoming tides of uranium decay,” and the collapse of higher education. He reminds us, “no one knows for sure/when humankind will actually arrive,” and three pages later concludes that love is “always about crossing/back toward/the other’s shadow.” Being a modern human is hard, technological betrayal is hard, love is hard, but here we are, re-writing and re-wiring together.

In “Kirby Cove,” the collection’s self conscious backbone, Stokes pulls himself out of the city, out of the bedroom, and onto a bay area beach. You can see the Golden Gate Bridge from Kirby Cove. It’s a place that asks you where you’re going and reminds you where you’ve been.

I look at technology
& I look away
that’s how I know
I’m human
How I know
I’m not completely lost
not completely
without animal

If we’ve become without animal, Stokes will be the first to remind us where to find it. In a landscape overflowing with industrial and spiritual backwash, it’s possible that some of us may have gotten a little lost. Stokes’ simple solution is to tap back into nature, back into love. “All we can hope for/a pumpkin at sunset/ & not being pathetic/with people that love us.” Although this is a triumphant moment in the collection, the surrounding poems prove just how hard this can be. Nothing comes easy when you risk loving, risk consciousness in a particularly unconscious system.

What Stokes has done for the reader is offer a road map into the ever staggering, ever self-conscious, backwards forwards motion of the heart brain animal. In “Sweet Rolls Might Be Delicious, But They’re Not Food,we learn that “Chairs are more relatable than people. Safer to cover with the mass of your body.” Just one poem later, “It was magick. We fucked like magick. We fucked and it/ was magick. We fucked until magick. We fucked and then/ magick.” Stokes reminds us that it might end messy, but you’re never going to fill up on magick if you don’t get out of your chair. These domestic scenes interlaced with the strange science fiction of “sloppy-joe” creatures and “cartoon renderings/of terror” in planetary interspace, offer the reader a well rounded experience of what it means to be a conscious, complex human, living in the modern world. In “Beaver’s Accordion,” Stokes wonders if we are just “a stray thread in the weave of then-now.” A History of Broken Love Things, proves that yes, we are all just stray threads, all our stories just messy, colorful strings. It’s the honoring of these scraps, these tangled bits that makes the larger, polished tapestry even more beautiful.


Nora Toomey is a recent MFA graduate from California College of the Arts. She writes poems in Oakland, California.

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