Winner of the Black River Chapbook Competition, Pilgrims: A Love Story is a book I’ve had on my stack for far too long. I bought it because of the cover. I wanted to know what this car had to do with anything. I bought it because Black Lawrence Press is an imprint of Dzanc. I bought it because I like a lot of the writers that come out of Alabama’s MFA program and so I thought I’d take a chance on T. J. Beitelman. And I’m glad I did. This book is about one of my favorite writers, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and one of my favorite dreamboats, Jude Law. Someone should make this book into a short film. Man, I’d love to see this on screen.
Here is one of the early poems in the book, “The Inciting Incident,” which introduces the two to one another:
Scene: Arc d’ Triumph. Jude Law meets Gabriel Garcia Marquez, calls him Gabo. Marquez slaps the boy and calls him puta, Bitch, and they are instantly transported To a deserted island where they must listen To evangelists until they repent and kiss On the lips. A stand-off for months. Then the rainy season. The droplets, open mouths. The two men kiss like dust.
After this, they journey to Cuba, to the “borderland between the Nogales in Mexico and the one in Arizona,” all over the desert, and to Tucson, where they share “the same thought: / The world is brown. Dusty. Forsaken,” to a Denny’s in Casa Grande, to Mexico City, to wherever there are “Elvises, / thousands of them, / small-time Shivas / in white leather,” and on and on, the two of them each “wanderers of nothing / but the resolute world,” and then they are briefly separated and when they come together again things are different, to the extent that Jude calls Garcia Marquez “Sensei” from that point forward, because he “knows / To call him something new,” and then finally there is nothing left but for Jude, alone, to sit “cross-legged / To face the god / Who would make a world / So big and beige and plain.”
These poems are lovely; the bigger story is a joy to travel through; the characters are convincing and fun to see together; and ultimately, my only complaint is that this book isn’t three or four times longer. I feel I could read so much more about these two; I wish there were 30 more poems in the middle. I wish I could spend more time with Gabo and Jude. I wish they met a few more “characters” on their travels because I was just not even close to ready to put this book down after only 40 pages.
So, here’s to reading more of Beitelman in the future. Because I know I will. And you should, too.