The Next Monsters, by Julie Doxsee. Black Ocean. 78 pages. $14.95, paper.
Doxsee’s poems are shattered mirrors; they are fractured, jagged. If you stare at them long enough, you’ll uncover patterns in the chaos, hints of a larger image that was perhaps banished to a new and frightening dimension when the mirror was broken—like the big moment at the end of Prince of Darkness that leaves you feeling unwell. They are also beautiful, filled with fog and wild animals, magic 8 balls and fish guts, the achingly sad sounds made by empty houses. Doxsee never limits what her poems can do. And this is what I love most about poetry: the way image can coexist with sound, or the way the smallest detail can rip holes in the universe, or how sometimes an unexpected word, a loosely associated turn of phrase or sonic inversion, can change everything.
Of the six sections that organize The Next Monsters into distinct yet complementary parts, I found the second section, “Cabin,” to be the most successful. For lack of a better word, it’s also the “spookiest.” The first poem in “Cabin,” also titled “Cabin”—all five poems in “Cabin” are titled “Cabin”—opens with the lines, “I notice a mist at the door. He removes the door to suck my breath from the idea of entrance.” A doorbell rings throughout the poem, perhaps signaling that something unexpected—and unwanted—has arrived, making its presence known. The poem contains repeated references to broken lighters, breath, fireflies, and various body parts: lungs, fingers, ears. And always the resounding echo and dread of death. Still, the doorbell rings. The narrator hides him or herself away in the closet. “I am in the closet in the cabin. In it are: a jar with a baby sweater stuffed inside, three-dozen broken lighters, and the feeling of the door.” And then, “I am separated from my lungs. Time goes by. I notice a mist. I notice a firefly crawling over the eave.”
The feeling of “spookiness” that comes through so strongly here works because Doxsee is careful to balance atmosphere—the notion of oppression not dissimilar from fear—with more tangible, textural details such as sounds and familiar, though well-chosen, images. It’s a method that is employed throughout the collection, a method that allows Doxsee to keep things feeling tightly focused and controlled while still maintaining a sense of spontaneity, such as in this excerpt from “October”: “I found in my prison a dream, I found a dream that was extra ghoulish. There were howlings and I think about them ever day with skin buzzing insanely. This week is as big as a city. I’m here and will shatter 100 airplane windows before I emerge.” Or this line from “The Key to Moving Correctly Without Running Into Obstacles”: “Silence is all I know. But when I reach inside I feel my breath turn hairy and my bones turn wool. It is rainbows, it is angel fumes, and I own them all.”
Like shards of so much brokenness, not all of these poems—or even the individual lines within each poem—fall into place easily. Reading The Next Monsters, I felt urged to watch black-and-white movies that take place inside drafty and cavernous mansions, places out of the way out in the country where rain never stops pounding on the windows. Instead, I settled for YouTube videos of cave divers, men and women who risk their lives to navigate hidden and inhospitable spaces. The very idea of it is enough to quicken the heart, to pull more and more oxygen through your blood.
David Peak’s most recent book, Glowing in the Dark, was released by Aqueous Books in October, 2012. He is co-founder of Blue Square Press, and lives in Chicago.