These two new little spell books are the right kind of messed up.
Why isn’t everything more messed up? Everything is always the wrong kind of messed up, tangibly messed up, like big-box stores or an entire television network dedicated to 24-hour-a-day celebrity coverage. When I was in second grade, this kid Cory told me his uncle had gotten his head cut off by a Ouija board because he wasn’t treating it right, and I haven’t slept well since. That’s the sort of messed up I want. I want to find art that makes that feeling seem like one of a million, not one in a million. I want a shitload of witches on my stoop with some candy and some diagrams of the insides of human bodies.
That stuff is still out there; it’s just not easy to find. Here are two new little spell books.
Scarecrone by Melissa Broder
If you’ve ever read Melissa Broder, or if you follow her on Twitter, you know her spirit is entrenched somewhere halfway between the club and the void. There’s an odd balance of metaphysical transcendence and material bling-brain to quite a number of her lines, and she is unafraid to have her idea of God bump shoulders with both blood and Tumblr.
Broder says shit like: “Nobody bleeds white like I bleed white / Into a ditch the shadow of my bloodbag is white / I want a darker aura, like I want to be gorgeous.” There’s a weird brand of inner loathing mashed with inner haunting lurking here, but what I like best about Broder, oddly, is her morality. As coal-black as her imagery gets, and as overriding as the sadness in her ongoing personal desolation might be, there is an unrelenting sense that there’s a reason for it. That humans, perhaps, carry hell because they are hell, and that really the self is just a vessel toward something no one really has a name for.
That Broder wields this, and isn’t just pumping out poems full of wry cartoon loathing and social exuberance, shifts the center of the book not onto the self but onto something larger, undefined. I don’t know what a book is if not a latch to elsewhere, and Scarecrone has pressed its skull against the hidden door. It is neither drunk nor ecstatic to be here—it is a state unto itself.
SELF-PORTRAIT AS SATAN
My wings are made of garbage
At least they can be touched
I want you I want you
Especially the old and ugly
Take these bottles of soda
And tubes of cherry lipstick
These are my demon breakfast
And my red red hooves
It is better to be satan
With half-trash filling
Than try to stuff your holes with clouds
Lacerating on your nails
I once stuffed my holes with halos
Until honey dripped down
The honey smelled like village women
Full of want and feces
Village women screaming out for anything alive
I shut them up with jars of eye cream
And a plastic head
I gave them eggs of pantyhose
And a melting cathedral
I gave them black snakeskins
And menstrual sponges
I gave them sainted men
With semisoft dicks
Making it hard
To feel totally fucked
Niceties: Aural Ardor, Pardon Me by Elizabeth Mikesch
From the very first sentence of Niceties, Elizabeth Mikesch’s first book, you know you’re in for something Beckettian: “Would we say that we would go a ways to the place of the one who we could never name?” Among those who talk about the music of a sentence, there are at least two kinds: those who like the music to do all the work, to the point where you’re like, “Please, kill me, I want to hear no more,” and those, like Mikesch, for whom the music is just a cover for what is more like a series of hundreds of eruptions, one after another.
Like Diane Williams and Noy Holland, here is a person who can take any sort of world and make it work. Whether it’s the complex image of a dad telling his daughter it’s time to shave her vagina, or kids picking lice out of each other’s hair, the context is like a gel—a thing in and of itself rather than described or played out for entertainment.
The subject matter floods past in currents that run deep as any corridor. “I got robbed,” one narrator mentions sidelong, before taking her roommate to task in the next sentence for leaving her panties all over the place, and then in the next to mentioning how she keeps a bunch of knives beside her bed. There is no whimsy here: Each paragraph is a slab of wicked meat. You might have only 87 pages, but each is worth at least a couple other volumes, and even if you’re not sure where you ended up it still keeps tingling, like getting a hex put on you. Or sleeping with a Ouija board.
“Under Doors of Foreigners” (from Niceties)
What I don’t know about a house is which dream I will have sleeping inside of its strange beds, above its pallets when I am guest again.
I know that my mother made French fries for father at four a.m. in her mother’s house, and it made her mother’s house burn down. She fell asleep and the grease burned up even the family photos.
I know there are houses I have slept in where I’ve been bitten by spiders for closing my eyes. People eat spiders in their sleep every year they say. I think that’s why I am always sleepy but never can. I also think a house can have a room that is so much of one person that you know them now so much you will finally sleep after all. Sometimes somebody wants you to be the room they fall asleep in so much that you never will.
I slept in a foreigner bed once, a mother and father’s. They had two huge crosses above their headboard. I had a new tattoo. Their son laughed at my arm during dinner but covered his mouth. I didn’t give more than one word before bed. Above where he slept, he had pictures of pigtailed girls and, too, of cartoons. I didn’t understand the soap there, but I wanted to wash around where I started to sweat. I was scared about the ink, and there were so many bloody statues that I stayed awake feeling their marriage all over me.
There were gold-framed photos of their loved ones on either side protecting them. I wrapped my arm in a scarf and watched until the son woke up.
Follow Blake Butler on Twitter