A Journey Not Across the Universe But Across The Generation Gap
Review: Penultimate Human Constellation
Steven Ostrowski and Benjamin Ostrowski
Tolsun Books, pp.136
Father and son purposely set up the parameters right up front: “Let’s not talk the way we learned / or think in old orbits. / Don’t want to wind up in the house of worn synapses / or embroiled in t.v. dark matters”. Their stated goal is to “have the penultimate human conversation.”
"This allows them to emerge from behind society’s imposed mask of masculinity to share with one another (and the reader) their vulnerability and insecurity."
Upon first glance, the stark imagery of the vast white space of the page looks to envelop the sparse little grey typeface. But the words and the enjambments find their place amidst this sea of nothingness. It is here that father and son bridge the literal and figurative generation gap in a poetic conversation that is always in constant motion. The book’s section “Poems from Southeast Asia; Poems from Southeast Connecticut” offers up the most poignancy. It is a dialogue in which Steven associates commonplace locations and things with home and wistfully remembers days long ago, while Benjamin excitedly juxtaposes his newfound freedoms and discoveries traveling abroad. “Pops” expresses both of joy and sorrow for his son a half a world away, while “Bud” reveals both wonder and uncertainty in his strange surroundings. The topics presented are as fleeting as thoughts, but linger just long enough for senior and junior to add his own riff. Reading feels like a jazz piece composed of equal and perfect measure by the performers:
until we do it
is why I’ve always loved singing with you.
Ultimately, the most satisfying aspect about Penultimate Human Constellation is that we are witness to the simple special bond shared between a father and his son. This bond is the heart that beats life into every page. The “family ties that bind” theme is quite prevalent. The book is dedicated to the memory of family patriarch Ben, a beloved father, and grandfather, and coupled with an epigraph credited to Friedrich von Schiller, “It is not flesh and blood, but heart which makes us fathers and sons”. The importance of family is driven home to the reader. Humanity may continue try to find understanding by looking to outer space, but poets Steven and Benjamin Ostrowski have successfully shown us we need only to look to our own inner space for what we are really seeking.