When You’re Deep in a Thing reimagines the coming of age book and the masculine tropes of the bildungsroman, suggesting that adulthood never vanquishes the kids we were. When Cappo’s speaker returns home for holidays, “memories / of hangdog childhood seep in / like methane.” Despite temporal distance, he perpetually finds himself in the museum of paternal absence, the house his father left, where “ghosts whisper” and “frames / fade to shame.” From this possessed site, the collection bravely asks, how does one make sense of boyhood? Become a man without guidance? As the certainties of a religious upbringing vanish, the physical and spiritual boundaries of the world threaten to disintegrate. From depression, to political violence, to the certainty of death, Cappo’s exigent debut ventures to discover an intimate humanity against all odds. At these poems’ horizons, a tenacity remains, a determination to find sweetness, candor, and connection in this troubled world, where “the air’s still, // The ground a trembling silence,” yet “scathed we set out again.”
“Saturday Night Fever” from When You’re Deep in a Thing
My mother couldn’t afford to buy me a leather jacket,
but my sister’s cop boyfriend gave me a John Travolta haircut.
His training: When someone does something
to this body, I pay attention. He took me hunting—
shooting at deer illegally from a moving car. I cried
when they broke up. He taught me how to drink,
how to slam the door when you walk in a room
to show you’re badass.
I was a strobe—my dad gone—pulsing
in the dark. Teachers said I’d changed. It’s easy
to be cruel with a tough guy haircut
and gold rope chain. My sister’s disco
throbbing on the lunchroom jukebox,
I’d sit with the greasers, but minutes would pass
in silence. Slinked away or just waited for the bell.
I always thought it was about the music but
Anthony Cappo’s voice is distinctly American—with Springsteen’s fondness for storytelling and O’Hara’s playful juxtaposition of images, the poems in When You’re Deep in a Thing are steeped in loss and desire. The book begins and ends with ‘the old story’ of the speaker’s father leaving the family, and throughout the book Cappo proves Falkner’s truism that ‘The past is never dead. It’s not even past.’ The ramifications of this abandonment ripple through the collection, making the young speaker a self-proclaimed bully and the older speaker alone again after a series of failed relationships: ‘I’m an open vessel—grief, loss, have at me.’ While fully acknowledging the cruel vicissitudes of time, aging, religion, and politics, there is an enduring hunger for life in this work. The central question of the book is ‘where / to put all this love?’ Cappo puts it all into this art he has created.
When You’re Deep in a Thing is a book of gorgeous immediacy and depth. You can enter a poem as you might walk into your bedroom; it can open spaces like the night sky. The title poem accesses the human core so swiftly, so quietly, so honestly—our isolation and connection in a breath—as I write this, I want to read it again. Cappo’s voice is intimate, but the arc is visceral: ‘come with me and I will show you/fissures of men.’ His poems aren’t looking for alchemy, only for what’s real, this world in which a child might ‘endure/like an Arctic explorer.’ They are true, meaning: wholehearted and ambivalent. Cappo won’t show you prefabricated emotions, rather the contraries we wrestle as we try to conjure our destinies ‘under God’s random jackhammer.’ He charts an America of absent fathers and thrift shop hand grenades, an era in which the line between common sense and paranoia is fading. When You’re Deep in a Thing isn’t just beautiful—it’s courageous and necessary.