Poetry Book Review: Pinnocchio’s Revolution by James Cushing

James Cushing’s Pinocchio’s Revolution Tilts the Question of Reality on its Axis
By Sanora Bartels

What does it mean to be a “real” boy – a real man – a real person? What defines reality? In Pinocchio’s Revolution James Cushing pushes the envelope of our senses and his sense memory as he explores the boundary of reality and we, as readers, experience a glimpse of the fantastic.

In Dear Shirley Temple, life’s metaphor is a movie, one that has been used before, but in the hands of Cushing another layer is added. We are the audience, yes, but at the same time we are also the writer and actors playing the scene. In this folded reality he introduces vestiges of Pinocchio’s mythology:

…its bedroom fills up with your hard blue amazement.
Your career shimmers under the sun like a plaster fawn.
The light fills us both with a single whale-shaped cloud.

Lost, but poised at the moment of redemption, we begin to move slowly, step by mythological step, toward acknowledgement and affirmation of reality, but at this point Cushing only agrees to play with perceptions as in Appearing Unbilled as a Cop:

The moon’s an artful splinter.
I bend, again, to pick up my book of broken mirrors.
I listen to pianos and ask myself, again, where
are my feet, not where my senses
indicate they are but where they are in some
Platonically, permanent way…

Reading this one feels the fragmented voice made up of joints, easily pulled apart – the marionette without his puppeteer in search of what once made him whole. The World I Stood Beside:

Right before me
my books started turning to dust, their page-
edges brown and delicately dry. Are they still
as important as I thought they were when
I bought them more than twenty years ago?
Did they mean, or was meaning a gift
I made them, pressed out of my compost
mulch of years?

Cushing then dives off the edge, deep into the slip of time, the blank canvas of space. Images play off of one another, stretching fingers to reach back in memory. Stigma Train:

Red leaves cling onto an otherwise withered branch hanging above
the fence along the tracks. If the leaves could make a single
sustained sound, and it were to be amplified, you’d hear a nearly-
perfect Louis Armstrong high C. Each red leaf seems to represent
one of the millions of thin pictures hidden inside the light between
things, traces of a thousand years of breath, reasons why cities
retain such depth. For example, at dusk on Sundays, if I stand on
Vermont and Franklin facing south, I see my late father walking
into a bakery. Pictures like these emerge at unexpected times –

Pinocchio’s Revolution shifts time and meaning 180 degrees. Pinocchio is no longer on a quest to “be real” – he is questioning and re-defining reality. Later Chapters makes this clear:

We watched a limited edition DVD of our lives
with additional years of sexual fantasies, financial regrets,
political catastrophes, doomed marriages and, just as

June got nasty, the scent of burning leaves and twigs.
Hands emerged from our wishes like flowers. Each
petal seemed to say, “I was free to choose this shape.”

In the poem, the voice and listener do not hear the petal’s message, but we, as the reader, do. The very next poem, Before I Was Born is a litany of possibilities, realities to be lived, fully aware. And, although we are only at the halfway point of Cushing’s latest volume, the depth of his message is clear – reality is what you choose to sense and name. Revolution comes in reclaiming your own innate knowledge and then finding a way to communicate so that reality may be shared. Many poets write poems about writing poetry (reality layered again). In Even the Highest, Thickest Walls, Cushing explores the possibility that there is no center, again touching on the theme of many realities, infinite possibility:

Look around you. There’s no vital center
everyone believes in enough to stand up in while life

makes circles around us. We don’t live in a mirror.
We mustn’t center being in a place like that,
then deny it. We have only this poem. 

It may as well read: we have only this moment. And finally, we reach the title piece Pinocchio’s Revolution. Here Cushing tells us the whole tale, the wail of a tale – and sums it up by acknowledging his own personal history which has landed “late again, in their open hands” but I felt moved by the truth stated a few lines earlier:

Outside my bedroom, land and sky embrace each other like women,
and I know I must rise and face their perfect love, for time
runs fast in every direction while it moves not at all, and no man
can comprehend it.

In Pinocchio’s Revolution Cushing invites us to embrace reality in the illumination of the movie screen, in the shimmer of memory that plays on our bedroom ceiling at night, in the naming of players, in acknowledgement of that blue light of love that begins and ends our days together. Pinocchio was real all along, historical mythology notwithstanding. His revolution is our reclamation.


Cahuenga Press is a cooperative press and Pinocchio’s Revolution is the 18th book they have published since their inception in 1989. You can purchase Pinocchio’s Revolution at http://www.CahuengaPress.com.


Sanora has been running writers groups for nearly 8 years and in 2006 graduated with a Master of Professional Writing degree from University of Southern California. She has studied with various poetry mentors, including Cathy Colman (Borrowed Dress), Ron Koertge (Making Love to Roget’s Wife), and Holly Prado (from one to the next). At USC, she studied screenplay writing with Syd Field (Screenplay) and has since completed a full-length screenplay titled “Straying Home”. Her poetry has been published in Wordwrights! magazine and New Millennium Writings. Her full-length poetry manuscript is titled The Order of Things. Sanora is a teacher of Vedic Meditation and has written several pieces on Vedic philosophy and has had over 20 articles published. You can find her meditation schedule on www.VedicMeditationTeacher.com. Sanora is a co-editor on the Meditation page of www.AllThingsHealing.com .


If you purchase the book, I would love to know what you think, so please send an email to sanora@lawritersgroup.com.



Written by: Sanora Bartels

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