Continental Breakfast
By Danny Caine
Mason Jar Press, 2019
$15.00, 129 Pages
Review by Maria C. Goodson

Continental Breakfast by Danny Caine (Mason Jar Press, 2019) is a collection of poems I had a feeling my dad would like. This is not because my dad is what the card companies that fill the shelves at Target think dads are like — a beer guzzling, tool fixated man attracted to fart jokes and complaining about how you only call when you need to borrow money. My dad loves 7/11 coffee, and the fact that you can get two hot dogs at Sheetz for $1. My dad is the guy who drives by the abandoned Circuit Cities and Borders on his daily commute, places where he used to take me when I was a book-loving kid on the way to Home Depot and then Costco and then home to a house that he built himself. My dad sees the beauty in life even at its most normal, which is why I thought my dad would like Continental Breakfast.

This book is not just for dads — there is something for everyone in these pages. Continental Breakfast is a look into a part of America oftentimes overlooked, oftentimes ignored, but a part that has a hold on us all one way or another. It takes place in the Midwest, starting in a grocery store (“Darn girl the way you punch / those produce codes makes me want / to save myself for marriage.”) and ending watching CNN and reflecting on sorrow (“Let my people raise / a joyous middle finger every time / they try to destroy us.”). It’s a page-turner in a way that books of poetry usually are not — you want to know what is going to happen next, but also read each poem twice and reflect on its meaning. But whatever happens next is not a plot twist or a character reveal, it’s another poem opening a tiny window into another life we have either never known or completely forgotten. Whether you have lived in, driven through, or grown up around suburbia, there is something for you in these pages.

The poems in this collection range from the straight-up hilarious such as “The Ideal Budweiser Customer Watches a Budweiser Commercial” (a personal favorite) to the surreal like “Bono Rings My Doorbell” to the all too present realities of gun violence (“Gun Math”). Reading this book was the closest thing I have read in recent years to actually capturing what it is like to live in America, the ups of being in love on the wide open road, to remembering that Waffle Houses and Cracker Barrel’s still exist and that yes, you did stop at that one every few months and play the peg game, to the crushing realities that even school children have to worry about lockdown drills. This book is about suburban hell with wildflowers growing out of the cracks in the sidewalks and man are they beautiful.

Speaking of falling in love on the open road, here’s a selection from the most romantic poem I’ve read in a while called “Interstate Love Song”:

“Let’s play the alphabet
game until
we get stuck on J. Let’s play
the game
where America is the board,
the mile markers
are tokens, the God billboards
are bonuses,
the rollergrill hotdogs are penalties,
and we’re on
the same team beating everyone.”

I have texted this poem to at least five friends at this point, read it out loud twice to my boyfriend, and emailed it to my grandmother, which I ended by apologizing for an expletive in the last few lines: “Fuck flowers. I’ll buy you a purple triceratops.” Her response was “I liked the poem. Don’t worry about the bad word, I can handle it.”

This collection reads like a memoir, and although I did not grow up in the Midwest, I still found myself chuckling at the reference to Ghostboxes (abandoned box stores), Dinosaur World (the one referenced here is in Kentucky, but the one I know is in Virginia), and Blockbusters of old. Reading this book made me feel like I was taking a long drive, stopping at the hotels and gas stations along the way to listen in on people’s conversations, spy on their lives, taking time to reflect on my own fear of mortality heightened by real tragedy in the world (see poem titled “Kaddish” honoring the victims of the Tree of Life Synagogue shooting), and ending up at home, with your family who have traditions you follow begrudgingly, respectfully, skeptically, and yet always with love. Continental Breakfast takes you on a trip, styrofoam cup of coffee in hand, your destination — belly laughs and nostalgia. And a Waffle House.

“Nobody bothered them. They ate, they had fun.
Someone commented on how clean the bathrooms were.
They danced a little. Every Waffle House has a Jukebox.
Kanye wouldn’t look at Kim. John and Chrissy held hands.”

— “Chrissy, John, Kanye, and Kim go to a Waffle House”

I actually gave my dad this book the last time I was at my parent’s house. My Dad will read anything you buy him even if he hates it, just because you bought it for him. I told him that I knew it was poetry, but not to be afraid. I said, “Look, I even marked all the funny ones. You don’t even have to read the whole thing.” He first read the ones I bookmarked, chuckled, then flipped to the beginning and read it cover to cover. I asked him “What did you think?” He said, “It’s good.” Coming from my dad, there is no higher praise.