I’ve been thinking about the amazing lines in Chris Toll’s work. I was listening to the Mole Suit Choir down in my dank bar and heard the line, “I’m not a voice crying in the wilderness—I’m the wilderness” and I was struck anew. This morning I was getting ready to create an Instagram post to share them, when I came across this uncollected poem, published in 2011 in the print issue of our online journal Everyday Genius. The title plays off another of his great poems, “Why Is Try in Poetry?” which includes the lines “A detective grips her raygun tighter/and kicks a door open.”
Why Isn't Try in Divinity? An inventor hires an orphan girl to maintain the robots on his isolated estate. I make my heart an open book. Her only qualification for the job is her skill with a raygun. Why is a diary in incendiary? The domestic staff is a coven of lesbian vampire witches. Two lifelines race side by side. Trust me—in an alternate universe, you’re truly loved. The nun who writes plays in the locked attic died on the surface of Mars. Now she has a cheetah’s heart. Your heart is a seed. Let it break.
Chris Toll displayed an enormous collection of figurines in his Baltimore apartment.
“The goal of poetry is—to make Mystery live in this rational world. In my poems, I am always after a Grand Truth—I heard a Grand Truth passed this way a while ago and I write a poem and I hope my poem is clever enough and brave enough and beautiful enough to catch the Grand Truth when it passes this way again.” —Chris Toll in BOMB
Chris Toll was a beloved and respected member of the Baltimore literary community for 40 years. During that time, he wrote and published many poems, including the volumes The Pilgrim’s Process (Shattered Wig), The Disinformation Phase (Publishing Genius), and Life On Earth (Fell Swoop). He was also mentor, teacher, and friend to many poets and writers of that community, known for his gentle encouragement, sharp poetic eye, and fearless honesty.