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A Lifetime Spent Scratching:
Ken Victor's We Were Like Everyone Else

Ken Victor's We Were Like Everyone Else
Ken Victor, We Were Like Everyone Else
Toronto: Cormorant Books, 2019.

Ken Victor’s We Were Like Everyone Else is his first collection of poems. “A Lifetime Spent Scratching,” the first section of the book, carries the weight of Victor’s rabbinical assertion that men generally fall short of the mark. This mark is established in his first poem, “The Discovery Of Mouths,” which is set in Eden, where satiation and communication are second nature to Adam and Eve. The couple bathe in delicious, ripe fruit, like plants basking in sunlight, and they converse using telepathy. They have not discovered their mouths because they have no need for them. Victor uses his hyperbolic version of the Genesis story to simply say that “those early days” are over and that men, in particular, need “Freud” to deal with their debased minds, and gossip to cope with unhealthy relationships, and they, of course, suffer hunger as a symptom and metaphor for their physical and spiritual malnutrition.

Victor is direct when he shows how this depravity plays out, illustrating men who fail to provide for their families. “Sustenance” sketches an underachiever who cannot afford to properly nourish his pregnant wife, and“Traveller” imagines a 14th-century widower who struggles to feed his hungry family. Both incompetencies are pitiable when juxtaposed with the bounty of Eden and of Les Fougéres in the poems “The Discovery Of Mouths”and “Lunch at Les Fougéres,” respectively. Perhaps the most pronounced ineptitude described is a man’s inability to simply be there for his family. “Portrait of the Family Without a Father” caricatures a big-bellied absentee who is “either staying or going” and never “just here.” At the end of the first section, Victor’s assertion has become sentimental: men fall short because they are mere men. They are fools, yes, but they are like everyone else who tries to get by—hunting for food, seeking some shelter and “some scraps of meaning.” The blunderings in “A Lifetime Spent Scratching” rise in a crescendo called “To The Unborn Historians.” The poem groups foolish men in with the rest of humanity whose history can be summed up by mundane things like “checking off another task on the list” and “ensuring the paycheck will last the month.”

In another section of the book, “Our Wordless Loves Would Fail Us Too,” Victor offers no remedy for the generally miserable human condition, but children seem to give some relief from the constant drudgery. Adult faces reflect back the natural radiance of a baby in “At Ashbridges Bay Park: Pushing Sacha In The Stroller,” or a father is drawn to his child’s “unopened eyes” by “ropes of love” in “The Request.” However, the former poem quickly recalls the irony of how only with experience can one appreciate innocence: an infant’s “original form” only serves to call out the adults’ “tarnished selves” and to recall how “these two strangers…shined once.”

Victor, himself, feels resistance to the idea that humanity can be redeemed. “The Whisper” tells a story from his Jewish schoolboy days; he is baited by anitsemetic words from his Protestant schoolmate: “he didn’t hear Chris whisper kike, kike / in the fanfare’s pause. Chris lived, I think, just to bait me.” Dissimilar to how Edenic speech is light, jumping “across the gaps between” Adam and Eve, words from Victor’s childhood nemesis are “like rocks” that weigh him down. Gritty, anecdotal details like these truly serve to make the Genesis theme and Victor’s initial assertion worthwhile: the Eden myth is debatable, but how far humanity has fallen is sometimes all too real.

 

Luke J Frenette is a writer from Windsor, Ontario, Canada. He took his MA in English literature from the University of Windsor and has taught writing as a part of the Student Success Centre on the university’s campus. Luke is currently working on a collection of poems and seeks future publication.

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