Buying Desolation on Delmar: the sanest decision you could make
J. Gordon
4/26/2008 5:16:34 PM

Matthew Freeman’s new book of poetry, [Ginninderra Press], begins like a great novel. With “True Story,” the reader gets the set-up: It’s 2001, the Trade Center towers are about to fall and this NYU student is at a party, dropping acid, fighting depression, loneliness, and what we later learn to be schizophrenia as he takes a five-storey free-fall out the window. In guardian-angel style salvation, he survives; apparently fated to write of his knack for a lack of accomplishment, even with suicide.

On Desolation on Delmar’s black and white cover, Freeman is posed like a lost member of the cast of Dragnet, or maybe your Dad in the 60’s. He plays his low-key role of observation; never seeking to be the center of attention, and centering his own attention upon wrapping words around, with himself the center of everything.

Some of Freeman’s works are short, nursery-rhymish ditties that stay stuck in the head, not for their melodics, but for the message:

I’ll send this vision down the hall
to beat its fist against the wall
beside a door
where someone sits who’s less awake-
or more.

(from “Bedtime”)

Some of the poems are stunning in their visual and emotional narrative:

Again and again, she tested my memory:
which bar was which, what
month we were in what hospital,
which cheap hotel used to stand.
Then we pulled over at a fire in
a drum and warmed our hands.

‘I love you,’ I said.
‘I’m dead,’ she replied, ‘and you’re dumb.’

(from “I Dig Marx”)

There is more smart, dry humor than we have room for here, but here’s a taste:

We won’t care what meathead runs the world.
There will still be room for our evasions.

(from “That Old Discourse”)

and there is wisdom borne of loss and disappointment:

A taste of honey’s worse than none at all
(from “Overblown”)

At his most visceral, Matthew Freeman’s words have a power to infect your dreams. Narrative poem tales like “My Journey Into Beauty” have layers of meaning and are so thick and rich you can practically taste them:

Have you ever gotten high with Hitler?
I have, it wasn’t cool.
Into rectangles to
wild drips, no answers to grasp when aging flunkeys
come at me across brooks of broken glass
after I wake up on the wrong side of town.
I escaped to Delmar, the corner
where my cousin got
arrested for preaching.
I was outside of the pugnacious flowershop-
just as sure as night is day and dark is light.

Then I asked myself if I were normal.

Of course, I always wore my hat
backwards and slang – but
as I forgot dates, as I
returned deftly out of the desolate
traditions and the visions
came quickly and more and more,
the inner and outer came to complain.
Apart from several reconciliations
I was so afraid I couldn’t blink.
My belly morphed into
something else on midnight’s brink,

and Lesbia was like a fingerprint
on the police blotter of my psychosis
when Eden and Hell brokered a deal
over lunchtime drinks at Euclid and Laclede.
The first guy to speak
was no doubt the craziest.

Then the whole thing changed my vibes,
the condom glades and the diesel dales,
as I flirted with the unutterable.
Drugs brought them flashing rings and hypnosis/
Behind the panther a thousand panthers,
each one remarkable and each one with
his own set of enmities, his tongue on fire.

(from “My Journey Into Beauty”)

It’s a journey, all right. Desolation on Delmar is practically the complete autobiography, with more drugs, guts and feeling in its 62 pages than most novels pull off in 400.

A lot of people assumed I’d never
get it back. Yet, here I am. I’m picking
clovers on the path away from the hospital.

(from “Thorazine Shuffle”)

And it’s the craziest thing (pardon the pun), but after taking this trip with Freeman, having been locked up, cracked up, turned out and spun around, you’ll look at his insight and wisdom, his philosophies and problem-solving prose, you’ll marvel at his mastery of language, and you’ll most likely deem him the sanest guy around.


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