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The World Will End Tonight: Review of Lotus & The Apocalypse by Austin Davis

Poetry Review

Poetry—like music, to which it has been wedded since the first bards sang their poems to live audiences—can be a precocious art. Texas-based writer Austin Davis, fresh out of Arizona State University, demonstrates this truth in his third book of poems, Lotus & the Apocalypse. Like a Gen Z John Donne, Davis explores love and despair in these eighteen poems—along with masculinity, mental illness, and the sense of doom and wonder that come from being (perhaps) in the last generation of our species on this planet.

“For me oftentimes, I will draw from a really raw emotion like, I just had a suicidal thought or, I don’t know how to escape this OCD spiral that’s telling me that if I don’t do this compulsion my mom’s going to die or something. And I use that as a place of honesty. That’s what writing and poetry is,” Davis said in an interview about this book with Ryan Heinsius of KNAU Radio. <https://www.knau.org/knau-and-arizona-news/2022-03-03/poet-austin-davis-finds-solace-in-art-with-lotus-the-apocalypse> “It’s not rigid, it’s flexible, it’s fluid, it crosses boundaries, it crosses terrain. You can experiment in any possible way. I think that that’s what I really fell in love with when I was a kid with poetry because to me it feels like magic. And I know when I was a kid, I wanted to try to be a magician, try to create a little magic.”

Davis displays flourishes of poetic magic in Lotus & the Apocalypse. Sixteen of its eighteen poems, both long and short, are in the voice of Lotus, a character who reminds this reader alternately of the perpetually stoned, pleasure seeking lotus-eaters of Greek mythology and the lotus of Buddhism, which represents the near-magical ability to float above attachment and physical desire—in Buddhist lore, lotus flowers appeared wherever the Buddha walked.

This poet captures moments of startling beauty in a dying world. In the book’s opening poem, “The World Will End Tonight,” Davis’s speaker asks his lover to

Kiss me soft
as the clouds peel away
from the sun like dark yellow apple skins.

In “Lotus & …” the speaker muses about desire on the edge of disaster:

if it was always night
the crickets
outside our window

would be gluttonous
& addicted to sex

but I don’t give a fuck

you’d still be
in bed

breathing out your nose
on my neck

Even when Lotus is alone and strung out, as in “Lotus & Hallucinations,” flashes of a nightmarish childhood (“…All the garages in every suburb / were filled with weeping fathers, / balancing on their heads / like clowns after sex / who had run out of cigarettes”) are shot through with moments of crazy-beautiful wisdom:

…Not everything needs to be fixed, Lotus.
Some houses are built with the wrong bricks.
Don’t blame the painter
for trying to color a hole, Lotus.

And in the disorienting Arizona heat of “Lotus & Summer,” the poet has a vision of god as a laboring, uncertain potter:

…god is churning us in his hands like wet clay
hoping the universe will resemble something
of a vase after it leaves the kiln

This god is similar to the speaker in “Lotus & Fear,” who attempts to recapture his youthful faith through a desperate experiment:

..last night I broke into my old elementary school
and left a coffee mug full of wet dirt and seeds
in the janitor’s closet
to see if it’s possible for a flower to grow tall and bright
under the glow of a lightbulb on a string

A favorite poem of this reader, “Lotus & Love,” brings together many of Davis’s themes: love, longing, an idealized and unrealized past—or future—and the threat of imminent destruction. The unconsummated love in this poem is reminiscent of Tom Petty’s song “Even the Losers,” although Davis references another pop song in his lyric. (“Lotus & Love,” like other poems in this book, is illustrated by Myla K. Smart of the Etsy shop @ArtnNeedles.)

…We lie on the roof of my van
and stare up at the sky.
You call the stars “cosmic freckles”
and tell me that our biology teacher
from high school buys glow-in-the-dark

condoms and that the “v”
on the middle of the Valium pill
looks like a little heart
that wants more than anything
to become a circle.

[…]

Maybe we should make out
or make love or make up
some story about a little home
in the mountains

with art on the walls,
a pineapple pizza
cooking in the oven, and “1979”
by The Smashing Pumpkins
playing on a ham radio in the kitchen.

[…]

[you] make me feel like
the man who cried into the clouds
during a solar eclipse

Poetry saves, even when an indifferent god or a lost love or an unreachable childhood or adulthood can’t quite achieve the transformation. As Davis says in “Lotus & Insomnia”:

anything can feel like a metaphor
if you’re scared enough

*

Front cover of LOTUS & THE APOCALYPSE by Austin Davis

LOTUS & THE APOCALYPSE by Austin Davis

Purchase LOTUS & THE APOCALYPSE by Austin Davis

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