Once Aryan Skynet Goes Live It Doesn't Matter Who Pulled The Switch
Brandon Adamson’s third major poetry collection, Skytrain to Nowhere, results from the author’s “meditative, recreational” rides on the Sky Train rail system at Phoenix’s Sky Harbor International Airport, and is a sleeker, stronger effort than his previous book, the entertaining Beatnik Fascism. Accompanying most of the poems are Adamson’s photographs, some of which relate in obvious ways to the themes in the text, thus enhancing the reader’s experience of joining the poet on his circuit through space, daydreams, and stops at various cherished terminals in time. Surely a high watermark of the verbal and visual Adamsonian – just look at the colors on that cover! – the book is a retrofuturistic little near-masterpiece that belongs in the library of every twenty-first-century aesthetic dissident and anybody who has ever enjoyed Adamson’s AltLeft and Jostle articles, tweets, and distinctively detached but humorously deadpan approach to existence.
The opener, “Secret of the Skytrain”, announces Skytrain to Nowhere’s thematic concerns, establishes the skytrain (I will follow Adamson’s orthographic streamlining) as a symbol, muse, and vehicle for his imagination, and also offers some continuity with the beatnik ethos of his previous work. “The secret of the skytrain,” the author explains, “is that it never stops moving for too long.” Unmoribund life is perpetual motion and intellectual vitality. Only “occasionally” does the traveler have recourse to “the messenger bag / of the past”, so that the future – the destination never reached – is always at least as important as history, tradition, or nostalgia. “Just as a river must constantly flow to remain clean, / free from pollution and toxic waste,” this dynamism for Adamson functions as a genre of hygiene.
Appreciation for nature vies with Adamson’s technological fetishism and sci-fi ruminations, the two juxtaposed concerns coexisting in harmony or at least a respectful détente. Seldom confining himself only to Arizona’s arid expanse, he imagines a rerouted skytrain journey all the way to Wyoming in “The Wilderness Afar”, with “bobcats, wolves, black bears, frolicking all along the rail line, / maybe even a porcupine!” Man’s achievements, for Adamson, need not be abominations, but can complement and radically enhance the environment. As his readership is aware, and as he reiterates in “Thoughts on the Rampage”, he is “against the primitivists who’d prefer we raze all buildings and / return to simple existence as / mice in the fields / subject to the whims of the plow.”
A “thin layer of smog”, as envisioned in “Treadmill to Neonopolis”, may only be “a stubbornly lingering residue / of a transitional yet primitive polluting era, / a barrier which stands between us” and the retrofuturistic paradise of Neonopolis. Adamson regards the “Gila monsters, chuckwallas and horned lizards” as the landscape’s “elder creatures” in his poem “Stoics of the Desert”, wondering how they perceive the skytrain – “as a possible predator, / something that’s alive, like / a giant silver pterodactyl” or “another harmless extension of the Earth’s ever changing environment”? Reverent and appreciative as Adamson can be of nature’s “liquid blue skies that turn to layers of orange, lavender, and / magenta against the setting sun” in the collection’s eponymous poem, however, one also wonders if he does not indulge a fleetingly naughty delight in the “occasional Diet Pepsi bottles which / litter the briny ocean floor” he imagines in “Nautical Dreamer”.
Complementing “Stoics of the Desert” is “The Elder Dwellers”, which pictures “Fossilized eyes, / belonging to Freeway off-ramp art in the form of a creature” that seems “to peer back at the skytrain and say / ‘hey I remember when this desert was all mine.’” Adamson, too, in one of Skytrain to Nowhere’s somber acknowledgments of the aging process and of America’s changing demographics, imagines himself with his own “fossilizing eyes” that “peer out from the skytrain and say / ‘hey I remember when this desert was all mine …’” Adamson’s reluctant racism finds voice in “Skytrain Stowaway”, in which he laments, “The last thing I intended was to turn this optimistic, / uplifting experience into / tales of a cynic griping / about loud and obnoxious minorities / on public transit.” The skytrain assumes the trajectory of America’s national destiny as the poet briefly registers an “annoying young man” before pondering in a moment of national-existential dread, “is he the stowaway / or am I?” In “Safety Card”, he casts it as “the equivalent of a poor man’s amusement park thrill ride / you know / like a dilapidated escalator in a third world country”, and experiences “a sense of danger and an irrational fear / a realization of the potential for derailment” as he visualizes “the skytrain plunging toward / the unforgiving asphalt below”. He observes that “we’re still floating / for now” and that, “as the skytrain’s functionality / becomes more intertwined with my own sense of mere mortality, / my investment in it deepens proportionally”.
In addition to seeing himself as one of the “Elder Dwellers”, Adamson finds identity in “a frightened bat” in “Skytrain Braingames” as it flits chaotically, “echo-locating its escape from a world it does not recognize”. The theme of vampirism first occurs in “Secret of the Skytrain” as Adamson’s compulsive and transformative conception of life and of art: “To remain in motion is to drink the potion of life, / like an emerging transhuman with vampirist ambitions, / new, youthful blood must be transfused frequently”. Adamson haunts and is haunted in Skytrain to Nowhere as he “creepily” observes strangers in “In Between Skytrains”. Sometimes, as in “Brochures”, he has “to occasionally glance back and / check to make sure” that his “favorite daemons” continue to accompany him. A creature of the night, he is struck in “The Brightness” by the solar intensity of “the daytime skytrain experience” which is “not quite the searing sensation felt by a vampire who / forgot his Ray-Ban sunglasses while / watching the sunrise one morning / but more like that of a 20th century man / waking up from a 500 year cryonic sleep / and getting a glimpse of the future he was promised / for the first time” – a reprise of the cryonic motif from Beatnik Fascism.
Echoes from childhood VHS rentals color his vision in “Treadmill to Neonopolis”, for instance, as the skytrain “approaches and approaches / but can never seem to get much closer, / like a teenager ineffectually running down an endless hallway / in a horror movie cliché”. He even permits himself a Pyun-worthy moment in “Thoughts on the Rampage” as the skytrain “exits the terminal / like a slow motion silver bullet / leaving the barrel of a cybernetic pistoleer’s gun” as it makes its way “straight for the heart of a giant werewolf / who’s rampaging throughout the city.” Blue Thunder, 48 Hrs, and Saved by the Bell all put in cameos as Adamson, like the parallel skytrains passing in opposite directions in “The Habituated”, propels simultaneously into imagined futures of technological apotheosis as well as excavated pasts of personal and pop-cultural significance. His Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom lunchbox, meanwhile, is still in his closet, “sitting there / like an artifact waiting to be dug up”, he muses in “Let It Go”. Elements of the past, however, are “irretrievably gone, like taped over VHS and Betamax tapes,” he regrets in “Revisiting Tomorrowland”.
The latter poem traces the genesis of the author’s retrofuturism to a 1986 visit to Disneyland. “Never really thought about it, but / riding the monorail / and the PeopleMover”, he reflects, “may have been the ignition switch that sparked my interest or / enduring childlike fascination / with futuristic modes of transportation, such as the skytrain.” This distinctively Adamsonian impulse to look for the future in the past or in obscure and long-neglected potentials infuses Skytrain to Nowhere, which like Beatnik Fascism fashions amusing juxtapositions and fusions of myth and antiquity with scientific marvels and visions of fantastic things to come – the “New Atlantean astrologers” who appear in “In Between Skytrains”, the “floating cities” of Venus in “A Postcard to the Sun”, or “the electronic voice of an unknown goddess” who challenges the skytrain’s prospective riders in the collection’s concluding piece.
The Sky Harbor’s “pre-recorded voices” and “spoken word escalator music has a calming effect” in “In Between Skytrains” – as Adamson’s own brand of “verbal muzak” does when he speaks. Hang out and trip in the man’s imagination for several dozen pages, breathing in the desert vistas and mist-enshrouded cityscapes; but also know that Skytrain to Nowhere is, as “Musical Eames Chairs” puts it, “always on the go” and “Don’t make yourself feel too at home.”
Rainer Chlodwig von K.
Rainer is the author of Protocols of the Elders of Zanuck: Psychological Warfare and Filth at the Movies – the DEFINITIVE Alt-Right statement on Hollywood!