The house is ready for Halloween. When shopping for decorations, Handsome Director and I discovered that classic images of witches, ghosts, pumpkins, and haunted houses were hard to find. In their places were entire aisles of fake torture devices and zombies groaning from every corner. With dry ice blowers and fake blood by the gallons (but you should really make your own), the aesthetic was DIY horror film.
Luckily, we found something scarier. Meet 70s Pumpkinhead Scarecrow – he’s garish and wears mismatched prints!
In an effort to make our coffee table more seasonal, it is now covered in books on the witch trials and stacks of monster magazines. I started pulling out poetry.
Feeding the Dead by M. Brett Gaffney was released earlier this year by Porkbelly Press out of Cincinnati. The independent press “seeks work with a strong sense of voice or place, often with a touch of fabulism, folklore, or magic.” Gaffney’s satisfyingly small chap could be hidden in a bag or tucked in a notebook and pulled out when you need to enter a different world for a moment.
In “Hyena Girl” Gaffney limns the particular hell of being a bullied teen girl, using the monstrous to highlight a particular human cruelty. “And so on the girl’s next birthday, she grows thicker hide, / her calendar a mess of cave paintings.” Hunters, demons, and even culture-worn zombies become poignant in Gaffney’s poems. I’m loathe to say more about such a gem, but check out the decadent cover art (photo below) by Mary Chiaramonte.
Feeding the Dead made me reach for more persona poems that speak to the monstrous in the human, specifically Killing Floor and Cruelty by Ai. This poet’s bravery at embodying voices that are murderous and cold is an exercise in dark empathy. She described herself as “half Japanese, Choctaw-Chickasaw, Black, Irish, Southern Cheyenne, and Comanche” which might inform her adeptness at shape-shifting. Her name means “love” which is the counter impulse to what she recognized as perhaps its converse twin, cruelty. Cruelty, “[t]he thing I want most is hard, / running toward my own teeth / and it bites back.”
Sabrina Orah Mark recommended the poet Lucie Brock-Broido’s A Hunger. It now is one of the books I pull out when the weather turns cool and the days short. There is a haunted air to the book and Brock-Broido’s unique voice. Go to “Elective Mutes” to learn about the Gibbons sisters, born in 1963. They were identical twins who developed a preternatural bond and private language. This alone would be eerie, but the girls’ obsessions led to dangerous rituals and eventually, their imprisonment. The poem is in the voice of June Gibbons but the I/we division slips and fails. Their intimacy was one that could not be breached or broken. The sisters were dangerous no doubt, but perhaps the unforgivable sin was locking out society.
Friends and I check on each other These Days, asking how we are doing in These Times. Everything feels title-capped like a 17th century document. Events have become Nerve-Wracking and Unbearable.
We all caution each other to take care, to have self-care, to care less about things we cannot control. When that does not work, perhaps Daniel Borzutsky’s The Performance of Being Human can.
“What do you make of this darkness that surrounds us?
They chopped up two dozen bodies last night and today I have to pick up my dry cleaning.
In the morning I need to assess student learning outcomes as part of an important administrative initiative to secure the nation’s future by providing degrees of economic value to the alienated, urban youth.
So for now hasta luego compadres and don’t worry too much about the bucket of murmuring shit that is the unitedstatesian night.
What does it say? What does it say? what do you want it to say?”
Performance was published in 2016 and some poems were printed in previous chapbooks dating back to 2014. This bears mentioning for some of the frightening phrases that seem so of The Times that have been since November 2016. The main character(s) are the body and bodies, in uncertain phases of living or dying, or both.
In my copy I circled this line: “Their bodies were traded by country A in exchange for some valuable natural resource needed by country B.” My note, dated 2/2/17: “Yesterday Trump yelled at the Australian PM about ‘a dumb deal’ involving refugee exchange.” And this line: “The immigrant is a racially ambiguous stateless poet from a country whose name for unitedstatesians is hard to pronounce.”
I gave up circling at some point as it would be better to put the book in the floor and draw a circle around it. Point at it and scream the national anthem without letting your teeth touch. Put on olive-colored zombie paint and read the book at the foot of city hall. Recite your social security number until you forget your name and read this, a “bedtime story for the end of the world” to your bedmate. Instead of despair, may it seed some stubbornness, some undying will to move, however slowly. Dig up and out. Rise and make another day.