The Winter of J is Gary Percesepe’s eighth book.
In The Winter of J, Percesepe cuts himself wide open in this candid portrayal of a love story that soars before bursting into flames and cinders. Lucid and visceral, every page packs an emotional punch. Percesepe dissects the foibles of love with a surgeon’s scalpel and a watchmaker’s keen eye. The writing is at once subtle but searing, and while the journey he describes is his own, the path will be intimately familiar to any reader who has ever loved and lost someone they cherish
Early on, the romance Percesepe describes is steeped in pheromones that make the world both blurry and absolutely necessary:
I thought the house was breathing
it was only us
a jump of white wine
in your swollen throat
When she finally arrived it was like a cello playing inside me.
I became interested in what I might become
Those surges of dopamine lead to an eventual release of defenses, that sacrificing of oneself with complete abandon, regardless of the consequences:
Let the wind howl
& distant stars shiver
the furnace groan
and every false
calendar be turned
again to careless
Still, Percesepe is not completely blinded to what potentially awaits him:
In a city of neighbors I sat alone and waited for my piece of the storm.
Midway through The Winter of J we are presented with the book’s anchored theme, and it comes to us both in the form of a question and its subsequent answer:
…why are we so fearful and insecure in love?
…the key is to find someone as terrified as you are.
Percesepe is adept at articulating the toll that loss takes on the heart and psyche, often by using truncated language to underscore emotions:
“When a clock dies no one wakes.”
“death like the lobby of a hotel
you were just leaving”
Other times Percesepe will ruminate through self-introspection and soul-searching:
Why am I here? I’m here to document the disease of naming what we want and never wanting what we get, the way she has become both the poison and the cure.
Why am I here? I am here to learn again the calculus of loss, the difficult arithmetic of the recalcitrant heart.
Using the city of Buffalo during winter as a backdrop, Percesepe brings a potpourri of images to the page, ones that accentuate a relationship turned sour, frozen and frigid:
Outside it was cold, really cold. Air crawled out of tires. Eleven elves dropped dead in the basin. A moth caught fire on the street post light, the moon dressed in a white nightgown. Shall I be forgiven? Forgotten? Outside, the wind roared and ice formed on the lashes of the sky. Sand froze in gutters. Please, someone, interrupt.
Through it all, The Winter of J is a story of survival and reclaiming one’s identity, as we see these final words on the closing page:
It isn’t possible to be young again, yet a common light bathes the cobblestones. The day will fall of its own weight. The mystery of beginning, resumes.
–Len Kuntz, This Is Why I Need You
The Winter of J is not simply a love story – it takes as its subject the evolution of love from its tender and uncertain beginnings, through disillusion and withdrawal, to the place of after-love, where the writer can attempt recollection in a semblance of tranquility. The love and un-love story plays out in the wintry cityscape of Buffalo – sometimes tender, sometimes solemn, sometimes wryly funny (as when the poet considers whether it’s possible to say “riding shotgun” when referring to a Buddhist passenger), using a mélange of forms, including prose and free verse, and a subtly shifting and tricksy point of view, The poems have striking images: the city as “a white/ shaking dome/ fastened to a great lake”; rich and evocative allusions to Cheever and Rich; and strong statements that marry philosophy to the experience of pain as the poet attempts “to learn again the calculus of loss, the difficult/ arithmetic of the heart.”