Grief, Loss, and Hunger in Andrew Kozma's City of Regret

Kozma, Andrew. City of Regret. Zone 3 Press, 2007. (74 pages). ISBN 978-0978612719

Andrew Kozma’s City of Regret reflects the author’s journey dealing with the loss of a loved one. The death of the author’s father – to whom the book is dedicated – provides a prominent undertone for the whole collection. While other themes pepper Kozma’s writing, the book is shaped by the haunting aftermath of his father’s passing. Depictions of landscape, food, spirituality and sex are all tainted with a certain garish mood derived from the author’s grieving state of mind.

Those nights I thought I was finally dreaming,
the TV interfered so my father failed to whisper in my ear.

How do you confront what is already gone?

From the poem “That We May Find Ourselves at Death,” found early in the book, these lines establish the sense of disorientation the speaker feels after his father’s death. His uncertainty at handling loss translates into strange paradigms, where “the sun is an exit for the sky” and “an eye that comprehends the inside” reflect different ways of seeing the world.

                                               In planes
cities are specimens splayed out on a slide,
not real as a virus is not real, not in the world.

In this poem, “One of the Unburied Dead,” the author’s sense of disconnect from reality is apparent. The title alone conveys his sense of separateness. While it remains unclear to whom the undead refers (perhaps the speaker or his father), the message in this poem and throughout many others in the book is that the speaker no longer considers himself an active participant of the world. While he continues the physical process of living, the speaker feels little connection between the person he is now and the person he was before his loss. These lines from “Poet Will Eat Himself” project the poet as a shell of his former self.

During an average lifetime enough skin and hair is shed
to create ourselves several times over. Where are these
empty spaces? Who have I stepped away from?

Another motif expressed here that permeates much of the book is the discrepancy between physical processes of life and the experience of those processes. It’s as if the author, in a trance, is watching a wound bleed with glazed eyes and is trying to shake himself into feeling the pain of his injury.
     Kozma’s collection captures snapshots of a person going through the motions of life in a daze, punctuated by vivid dreamlike moments of lucidity.

The counter, the floor, the apron
are all at home in blood.

There is a cut on his wrist
he does not remember making,

and he does not remember how the rain
cleaned the street of people, as a child,

…..the rain so fierce
he asks it in

and holds the guttering pulse on his wrist out
to the crowded air.

In “The Butcher,” this image of a person gushing blood from a self-inflicted gash, holding his wrist into the streaming rain and forgetting how that same rain felt to him as a child, conveys a feeling that stays with the reader long after the book is read: how can we continue to bleed, to breath, to live, after someone so close is gone? The character in the poem seeks feeling, but experiences only numbness. The theme of loss is expressed in the juxtaposition of visceral, physical imagery with a tone of clinical coldness and detachment.

Was empty ever meant to be? No
             cup was carved for air.

Kozma grapples with a sense of emptiness, expressed here in the poem What Is.” Just as a cup is meant to be filled, so too is life meant to be experienced.
     The author’s internal struggle and change of perspective is mirrored in the many garish depictions of eating and food. Phrases like “meat freshly slivered from a discolored haunch” and “there is always some beauty to be understood only through digestion” tie the experience of eating with death. From “The Alchemist’s Genealogy,” this connection is made further apparent.

There. Taste. The rough of my father’s skin:
charred beef, chicken bones ground to flour.
I’ve trained my tongue for years to decipher

submerging flesh.

These portrayals of food and Kozma’s comments about digestion illustrate both his numbness during everyday activities and the comfort he finds in pursuing those activities. Toward the end of the book, the author appears to find some closure in the cremation (which may be metaphoric) of his father’s body. In the poem entitled “After the Cremation,” he writes,

                         Coffee suffuses the air.
I drink it scalding, as if to label myself alive.

Similar to “The Butcher” poem in which the speaker cuts his wrist and turns his wound upward to the rain, the drinking of scalding coffee in this poem illustrates another of the speaker’s attempts to snap back into feeling and out of numbness and emptiness.
     City of Regret is not just a reflection of grief and loss, but a processing of those emotions. The division of the book into sections, ranging from “Entrances” through “Walls,” “Living Spaces” and finally “Exits,” presents a journey. The author fully inhabits each phase of his mourning. Eventually he does wake from his grief-induced trance and seems to move forward and into a more functional state of mind.

Too much self-martyrdom and though I am all holes
I cannot make myself a saint. I can make myself
a sandwich.

From “Not a Love Letter,” this change in attitude from self-pity to self-reliance provides an encouraging reflection on the experience of loss. The simplicity of making a sandwich symbolizes the author’s healing, while the humor in juxtaposing saints with sandwiches demonstrates a lifting of grief’s ominous cloud. The product of Kozma’s suffering is a sense of the author dusting himself off after his trauma. City of Regret poignantly chronicles this journey.

Amanda Lleshdedaj is a freelance writer and marketing director for a nonprofit agency in California. Her work has been published in World Scholar Magazine and the Orange County Register. She holds a BA in American Studies from UC Berkeley, and lives in Hollywood with her husband.

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