by Matt Bialer
Bizarro Pulp Press. 2014.
Sometimes you have to start at the beginning. To move up. To get lifted. To ascend.

At the end of Matt Bialer’s epic poem, Ascent, there is a wedding, a Jewish wedding, the bride and groom lifted in chairs, the ancient dance, the Horah, lifted. They grab hands up there in the ether of the wedding hall as the guests celebrate in gleeful exaltation. It’s an ancient dance, an ancient ritual that has its roots in the symbolic joining of two, a partnership. The moment is deliciously human, grounded in tradition, faith, religion, and spirituality. If you have ever been to a Jewish wedding, if you have been married as a Jew, and have experienced this moment, this ascension, it is undeniably profound. The dance, that break in the dance, when the chairs are pushed into the middle of the circle, the bride nudged into one, the groom, the other, then lifted, will make you weep and cry out, simultaneously. It’s an earthly magic that is really, wordless.

Matt Bialer has written an epic poem about a supernatural event that ends with a Jewish wedding, with love. How beautifully curious. For all intents and purposes, this poem is about a creature from the sky. It is about an alien. It is about what is alien, foreign, and how this kind of entrance of the unexpected creates the greatest surprise.

In 1903, in the town of Van Meter, Iowa, the town was enchanted, horrified, and sent into a frenzy, by an 8 foot tall winged creature that simply ‘arrived.’ No one knew what to make of it—hoax, reality, tall tale—but it was there, real, envisioned or not. Businessmen, doctors, lawyers, respectable members of society embraced the creature’s presence as something real and viable. But, who knows? Who ever knows what is what and what is not what? There was no visual proof of the being. There were no photographs, movies, or etchings. There was just the power of the mind, of the imagination.

Matt Bialer’s epic poem, Ascent, addresses this happening with a quick, reflective, profound stark beauty. At the center of the lyric is the unspoken, un-written question: So what? So what if the creature’s presence was real or not? It was. In the hearts of minds of the folks who inhabited Van Meter what mattered most was that it was. For many, it was as real as the post office or the Iowa sky before breakfast. Bialer is obsessed, engaged, and completely taken with the mystery of what happened there in Iowa in 1903. He is completely enthralled with the notion of mystery in all of its manifestations—psychologica, humanistic, horrific, and beautiful.

This is a poem in short lines. It moves quick:

No one believes him

The Doctors gone batty

Too much absinthe

A monster in Van Meter?

You can read it in 30 minutes. You should. Then, you should read it again and again. You should read it because no one is writing poetry like Bialer. No one. What he does with such ruthless beauty is take a paranormal incident and then infuse it with ethos, with pathos, with humanity. God, his poetry, this poem, is so rich with the human condition, with what is ethereal and what is concrete and everyday. He writes:

Now there’s

Casey’s General Store

Heartland Co-o Fertilizer Plant

Century 21 Real Estate

ABC Chimney Sweep

That it was a fabrication

We need the footprint

Floating through
The night sky

Fat Randi’s Bar and Grill

Bacon cheeseburgers and beers

Why would these prominent citizens lie?

What did they see?
What did they see?

Bialer has a way of repeating lines, throughout, which creates a cadence of desire, of deep searching. It is undeniable. That down-on-the-knees inquiry, full of passion and heat. This poem is an exploration of the human heart. Why would these folks make up such a happening? What is at the center of this collective vision? It hints at a religious quest and why, at the end of the poem, Bialer gets to the traditional Jewish wedding. Flawed as all weddings are—infidelity, etc.—but so human in spirit and scope.

Because there is nothing more mysterious, more divine, than what happens in the center of the human heart. If you want to believe that the creature is real. Excellent. If you want to believe that it is a symbol for all of our fears and desires. Even better. I don’t think it matters. I don’t think it matters, either, for Bialer. What matters, of course, is the temptation in the mystery.

What Bialer does is bring the past to the present and the leap to this wedding at the end of this poem, is completely unexpected, completely spiritual, and the experience you will have reading the poem, at the end, is that you get your ass kicked. What? Where did this come from? It’s like the winged creature appearing in 1903, or not. What? Where did this thing come from? It’s all about getting blindsided, yes, and embracing what hits you and looking up, eyes to the sky, knowing somewhere in your heart that there is a God, or a mystery—winged or not—that is unexplainable and scary and beautiful. That’s what Bialer’s poetry is, at its best—this intersection of the horror and the beauty, the sorrow and the pain.

So, here we are, at the end of Ascent. Bialer is writing about this wedding, about things out there in darkness but not so far out there that we can’t recognize them as things pretty close to what is inside, right in front:


A flash of light
In the darkness

Over the trees

Large silent object
With bright lights


300 feet
Over a pasture

We all saw it

We’re not crazy

We’re not crazy

At their wedding

We’re all dancing the Horah


His tie loose

Shirt untucked


Dancing the Horah

Put them in chairs
We lift them

Lift them


Each holding
The end of a napkin

The flash of lights
Of lights

Her beautiful white A-line sleeveless
Satin lace gown


We fall

Undo her strap


We lift them

We lift.

The falling and the rising are simultaneous. We see and what we believe we see are the same thing. His poem struggles and beautifies these dualities. It’s genius material. It’s poetry that is so easily accessible and so layered in its scope that whether we believe or not in Van Meter, we are forced to listen, we are forced to embrace his lyric at every turn, we want to see, we want to believe.

Reading Ascent is to have that experience of jumping off a bridge into a watering hall, to feel the force of gravity pulling us toward the liquid while our stomach rises rapidly up through our body, into our throats, flying at full speed out of the tops of our collective heads, blowing our minds into some weird and wonderful consciousness that exists somewhere between outer space and this deliciously mysterious planet earth.

Matthew Lippman
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