“Gone This Long,” by Jeffrey Alfier

Jeff Alfier

Reviewed by Bruce Craven

Gone This Long: Southern Poems, a new chapbook by prolific poet Jeffery Alfier, captures the intense beauty of a natural land impacted by the hopes, joys, and sorrows of humanity,

Alfier, who holds an MA in Humanities from California State University at Dominguez Hills and is an Air Force veteran, lives in Southern California, yet he is very much a citizen and explorer of that terrain we call the South. He opens his collection quoting from Rilke about the importance tothink back on journeys in strange regions…encounters and partings you long saw coming…” It is very in the American grain to realize that opportunity requires you to move to a new part of the continent. Or to move from outside the country and cross the border. We are people transient for opportunity, yet as we move, the land stays, impacted by us, but with certain truths about it. “In Toward a Rapidan River,” he writes:

A skim of kestrels is sun-dazed over undulant
ground. Their flight is untamed grace
in the sport of distance: Frays Mill or Simmons Gap,
farms battened onto hillsides.

This natural beauty is also terrain impacted by people and their choices. In “Why You Can Never Cure a Small-town Heart, Alfier shows the impact of the culinary culture of the people: “Because the town is fried food, if nothing else, / thick odors of cooking grease warping the blacktop.”

He also shows the hunger for passion and excitement in “When a Band Ignites a Dance Floor” as well as the dependability of a town that understands when to relax and when to get back to work: “Because weekends are clean echoes of the last one, / And engines are gunned to beat the red lights home.”

That moment “when a band ignites a dance floor,” could be a line written by Denis Johnson, poet, author, and playwright and 2007 winner of a National Book Award.  Alfier’s poetry has many of Johnson’s moments of electrifying sensuousness, an element of hallucinogenic intoxication that presents both purity, transience and danger.

Alfier takes the reader on a specific journey that isn’t always serene but is honest. In “Why All Our Roads Go South to Nowhere,” Alfier writes: “Along a Chattahoochee backwater, / a heavy breath of river smell soaks / the air at The Cottonmouth Lounge.”

Readers should recognize quickly that Alfier isn’t just passing through on a road trip. This is his world, and if he has left it in some physical sense, he knows he will never leave it, nor want to have the influences of this terrain leave him, as that would be leaving himself and his history. When men express their manic excitementyelping / at the off-duty stripper smoking / Kools across the street, Alfier identifies with both the men and the woman. They are citizens of a world that is both latent with sadness and shimmering in hands that cradle both the sadness and a pureness — the beauty of the people.

In “Blues Despite the Odds,” Alfier remembers an aunt in a battered part of the South where “Guitar riffs moan through the thick summer air.” The woman doesn’t approve, speaking to the photo of her dead husband about her judgment on the celebrations of music:  “fifes, fiddles, and drums are the devil’s play.”

In “Cajun Coast July,” the poet is looking for “Any trade or craft / I might nab along the riverfront, / any drudge’s bar on Railroad Avenue. / But no one would hire a man on parole.” By embracing and presenting his hard memories of a place he knows, Alfier offers us truths in these poems about our humanity as seen in his memories of the South, yet relevant to all of us in these United States.

As our news-feeds churn with images of the pandemic and civil disobedience and we see statues topple from pedestals, we might decide some of those judgments are historically justified at this moment. We also might decide some of those judgements are ludicrously off-base, but I suggest we let those actions happen on our devices and turn our attention to poetry. Reading Alfier’s poems will take less time than each of us will sacrifice to our various smart devices, yet these poems offer us empathy, wisdom, and beauty.

I argue that Alfier, taking Rilke’s guidance, is bringing us a journey that is just as important to our future as citizens of this land. He’s reminding us to not let the present deter us from remembering the past. Right or wrong, our memories, our journeys, will help us understand ourselves and act with more wisdom based on understanding ourselves and our humanity.

In reading Gone This Long, there were moments where I wanted the technology of our 21st century world to appear in the lines, maybe just one plasma screen television or a smart-phone in the hand of bar-fly, but that is an aesthetic debate for another time. Maybe this world Alfier offers us is, as the title hints, gone and he is remembering it as Rilke suggests; he’s going back to find his journeys from a distant land and share them with us.











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