Dorothea Lasky’s Wild-Ass Shout-Brain

By Blake Butler

The first time I saw Dorothea Lasky she was standing in the middle of a crowded living room in Brooklyn wearing a dress and shouting into a loudspeaker. Actually, I’m not sure if she was shouting or if her voice just comes out of her like that sometimes—like she holds onto certain words until they just come ripping out of her. Her poems often feel this way: like an extremely powerful child has been taken over by a shitload of wild colors and must speak. I remember I wasn’t sure whether to cover my ears or get on my knees. It’s somehow at the same time both calming and terrifying. Most anybody who’s seen Ms. Lasky read aloud in this manner could likely tell you how it felt, which is quite something considering how dull the act of being read to is usually. 

Even stranger is how on paper Lasky makes what she has written go kindly for the throat in the same way. Whether writing about blood or going to hell or friends or fucking, there is a simultaneous sense of simplicity and urgency, like the kind of tone you’d use when shouting from inside somewhere on fire. I’m about as sick as I could be with minimalism, and this is no minimalism: it’s somehow thicker than that, allowing confession without the ridiculous indulgence, allowing butts and tits and plane wrecks to appear in the same sentences as god.  

Lasky’s third book, Thunderbird, released this week from Wave, follows her two previous works, Awe and Black Life, in an even more boiled-down, death-eyed way. As far as she had gone before in verifying there are still humans with blood and brains here on Earth despite whatever, Thunderbird is quite precise in the distance between those people and their communications. Here the child-voice is the strongest, in that it takes into its mouth things most children haven’t yet been hit with. “Writing is death,” she writes only a few pages after, “It is all so far off, I know / I know / I know it is 2015 when you are reading this / It is all so far off / I know we are dead when we are reading this again / I know it is all so far off / I know.” 

It feels good to read a book that talks to you like this. You get a little sick of all the preening and the dodging so much printed language tends to assume you’re cool with. The entertainments. You get tired of pretending that hope has to operate like dogshit, coming out because it’s squeezed. Nothing here is pretended. The jokes are always about death. There are no special times and no awards here because there’s no time for that, and there never should have been. Dorothea Lasky is a fun radical witch screaming real spells. 

“I Had a Man”
By Dorothea Lasky

Today when I was walking

I had a man tell me as he passed

That I was a white bitch (he was white)

And to not look at him

Or he was going to ‘fuck me in my little butthole’

I wandered away

Who is to say

I think I am a white bitch

My butt is big

But I believe my butthole is little

This violence that we put on women

I don’t think it’s crazy

Someone I know said

‘Oh, that man was crazy’

I don’t think he was crazy

Maybe he could tell I had a look in my eye

That wasn’t crazy anymore

Maybe he could feel the wild cool blood in me

And it frightened him

And he lashed out in fear

Maybe he knew I was the same as him

But had been born with this kind face and eyes

Doughlike appurtenances

What about the day I left

What happened then

Still I’m glad he said that to me

Still I’m glad he was so cruel to me

What bitter eye knew I had a voice

To say what men have done to me

What unkind wind has blown thru my brain

To make me speak for the wretched

To speak wretchedly about the ugly

To make my own face ugly and simple

To contort this simple smile into a haunting song

 

"I Like Weird Ass Hippies"

I like weird ass hippies

And men with hairy backs

And small green animals

And organic milk

And chickens that hatch

Out of farms in Vermont

I like weird ass stuff

When we reach the other world

We will all be hippies

I like your weird ass spirit stick that you carry around

I like when you rub sage on my door

I like the lamb’s blood you throw on my face

I like heaping sugar in a jar and saying a prayer

And then having it work

I like cursing out an enemy

And then cursing them in objects

Soaking their baby tooth in oil

Lighting it on fire with a tiny plastic horse

I like running through the fields of green

I am so caught up in flowers and fruit

I like shampooing my body

In strange potions you bought wholesale in Guatemala

I like when you rub your patchouli on me

And tell me I’m a man

I am a fucking man

A weird ass fucking man

If I didn’t know any better I’d think I were Jesus or

something

If I didn’t know any better I’d sail to Ancient Greece

Wear sandals

Then go to Rome

Murder my daughter in front of the gods

Smoke powdered lapis

Carve pictographs into your dress

A thousand miles away from anything

When I die I will be a strange fucking hippie

And so will you

So will you

So get your cut-up heart away from

What you think you know

You know, we are all going away from here

At least have some human patience

For what lies on the other side

Previously –  Michael Chabon’s Dream Journal

@blakebutler

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