“Undead, undead, undead” (Bauhaus)
Recently I’ve been teaching a class that explores fairy takes, new and old. One of our texts is My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me: Forty New Fairy Tales (Penguin) edited by Kate Bernheimer. At the risk of sounding like a homer—the poets rule this book! The aforementioned Shelley Jackson has a wonderful tale. And a few weeks ago our class had a viscously delightful time performing Joyelle McSweeney’s dramatic, gooey take on “The Town Musicians of Bremen.”
But my favorite piece in the collection is Sabrina Orah Mark’s “My Brother Gary Made a Movie and This Is What Happened.” Like her poems, her tale is almost impossible to paraphrase, it’s the beautiful lovechild of Maya Deren & Bruno Schulz.
Mark’s debut, The Babies (Saturnalia Books), a collection of numinous prose poems, is one of my favorites. Does it pass Seamus Heaney’s jealousy test—that is—do I wish I could have made one of these black feathers—yes, ah yes.
Here is “Transylvania, 1919”:
“It’s good to be back,” they say, lifting up the trap door and peeking in. It is early, I was not expecting visitors. I slip off my grandfather’s dead lap and smile shyly. Holding hands, they tiptoe down the stairs. Like a long dark draft. Like a century. They are wearing my galoshes. They push their thumbs into my cheeks and pinch my wrists. “Isn’t it romantic?” they hiss, pointing at my grandfather until his mouth opens. They circle him and pull the dark zippered stitching from his arm. Upstairs, Mama is ashamed. Mama is shouting at us to go home. Her glasses are mended with string… which reminds me: I climb the stairs. My grandmother coming loose in my arms. I climb the stairs to where Mama is sweeping the swallows into her large brown skirt. She is very old. I kiss my grandfather and gently place him down. As Mama once had. When I first met her. Among the gravel and the circus trailers.
A perfect piece to read to children to prepare them for the visitation of… relations.
Kara Walker? Walker is, of course, a big-deal famous artist, and deservedly so. She’s “best known for her room-size tableaux of black cut-paper silhouettes that examine the underbelly of America’s racial and gender tensions.” (Walker Art Center bio.) I remember watching a documentary on Walker where she showed the filmmakers an artist’s book she had constructed. Her book’s silhouettes popped and moved and implored. I wanted it! But, of course, it is, I’m sure, a bit out of a poet’s price range. But if Walker joins with Mark—I’ll have one! I’ll have one.