“Railway Killers,” by Anthony Farrington, Fiction (from IR 30.2, Winter 2008)
“Archeology,” by Wayne Miller, Poetry (from IR 30.2, Winter 2008)
Above us, the usual branches lift unprophetically or not, depending:
now spears; now arrows. There’s a kind of tenderness that makes
all it touches. There’s a need that ruins. Dark. The horse
Reviewed by Cate Whetzel
In borrowing her title from Milton, Larissa Szporluk’s fourth collection, Embryos & Idiots, invokes and salutes Paradise Lost and the epic tradition by offering an alternative to overly familiar and reheated Western cosmogonic myths. What a relief! Very few collections offer an escape, however brief, to a landscape as mysterious as the
In the beginning is Anoton, Szporluk’s principle character. We learn that in the mineral
The opening poem “Boulders” shows Anoton’s suspicion that his mother has a live bee “trapped in the amber / nook that led to her mineral uterus.” The lines that follow are saturated with Od-forbidden images and the buzzing of a lone bee:
He had been born with that sound,
the rain of maracas, maraud of a rose, and so lived
in his mind with a wax city, silver hives
of see-through honey, chambers crammed
with princess-waste and ice, and would be
almost crazy, brushing her outer stone,
of which he had grown enamored
like a pilot of a bomb site, fingering the lever—
This is a reminder of how the forbidden becomes erotic and may refresh and exert its power through imagination; and how language may give us our desires with one hand, but will punish us with the other.
It’s an old story but the voice is new; the metaphors are glossy. Here are jealous and impatient mothers, fathers and children. Children are alternately victims and tyrants. Parents are tragic failures who need to be overthrown. In section two, in which “everything starts talking,” we hear an anonymous speaker, whose situation is analogous to Anoton’s, address his mother in “Stars and Marrow":
…I turnedmy back on you and died lEike a duck
in the open, a pile of yesterday’s
nobody’s child. Strapped to my high
yellow chair, the waves that lunged
at me were carnal, but no, I didn’t
mind. There is so much good
in the worst of us, so much bad
in the best. I found succor in the devil
when the angels cooked my head.
Anoton’s fall is reminiscent of similar scenarios in Classical Greek, Hindu and Christian mythologies: the Greek Hephaestus is cast down from Olympus by parents Zeus and Hera during a family argument, resulting in a permanent limp; another Classical turn in Embryos & Idiots refers to Anoton as “Venus’s son,” the faintly incestuous, temporally crippled Eros. In Hindu mythology, Ganesh loses his head when his father Shiva fails to recognize the boy guarding Parvati’s bedroom door. In an effort to console Ganesh’s mother, Shiva replaces the boy’s head with the head of an elephant. Last in this group is the Biblical and Miltonic Satan, expelled for a definite crime: attempting a militaristic coup to rule heaven in God’s place.
But whatever similarities abound, Szporluk’s Anoton has more in common with
The past is a quasi-fetish.
I was only a child but my
obsession with you was divine.
The richness of language in this collection cannot be overstated—Szporluk loves to rake words, to break rocks, to turn the earth in each poem by breaking up the musty and the comfortable. In doing this she brings us new worlds, neat and prettily shaped on the page, but also smart, allusive and self-referential. Her poems demand a careful eye. Although I admire Szporluk’s previous collections, I admit that in the past I’ve found myself feeling along a poem’s outer wall for a latch or window, having a great time but thoroughly mystified. That’s not the case here. Here many layers and motifs set up an infinite figure eight for the dedicated reader to tread and retread. The poems in Embryos & Idiots reward the intellect without sacrificing the senses.
“Why do you need two?” she asked.
“An experiment,” I said. […] “I’m interested in various angles of incidence and refraction,” I lied to her, leaning an elbow onto the counter. I then went on, “Do you know what the Venus effect is?”
[Kidder goes on to explain.]
“Okay.” She didn’t want to talk anymore. [Her voice’s] truckish quality was replaced by one of, not annoyance, or boredom, but of a hushed, tight-lipped, subdued alarm.
I then went to the drugstore and bought the largest hand mirrors they had.
When the clerk there asked me what I needed all those mirrors for, I told him that I was vain and left it at that.
The microphone at the drive-thru was designed as a plastic beer bottle.
"Hello," I said.
"Murf, murf," said the lady.
I told her she'd better articulate herself or else.
She said, "From this blanket of ashes, our Life, springs not one but a thousand dancing angels, their hearts dappled flags of moonlight, their wings slim and silvery."
"You look sad. Where are you going?"One can almost hear the hats swooping overhead, chasing the rising sun.
"To work," I told her. "Everyday I take the bus, same time. See my briefcase. It's an adult thing. When you grow up, you'll see. It's not sad. You ride the bus, work, come home atnight. Like that." I tossed the ball back, "You?" I asked. "Where're you going?"
The built-in reflector on the girl's sneaker gleamed. She said, "I'm going to be brave in ways you won't recognize." Then she pocketed her racquetball and ran away from me.