Tuesday, July 18, 2017

The Flesh and Mortar Prophecy

"The Flesh and Mortar Prophecy" is a relentlessly grim view of the entrapment of insanity through the institutionalization of the bloodless, heartless, soulless White Coats who "cast chemical magic" only to "discard their zeal" and "taunt the despondent." This unflinching, unrelenting horror story is told jointly through the verbal imagery of Nathan Hassall and the visual narrative of Rachel Tester, but it would be wrong to call it a collaboration. It is, rather, a case of separate sensitivities using different tools to depict the same unblinking, unfolding  nightmare. Hassall composed the tome in six weeks of feverish activity, alone in a windowless, white-walled tomb, alone, that is, except for two cacophonous companions, Black Metal and Dark Ambient, who work to provide the book's rhythms and tenor.  As Hassall remarks, "It was a writing ritual I do not wish to revisit."

The book begins, as worthwhile books often do, by introducing the subject, setting the scene, capturing the mind. The opening words ("Above damp grass, / I catch the glimmer / of dim light. / the stars coalesce with me, / the night whispers in tongues / and all around me, / visions shatter") effectively establish the tone.  But it is the fettered mind that tells its own ghastly tale; after all, as its condition relentlessly deteriorates page after page,  the "men are put away, / scarred from life's leash. // unable to control their beasts / they weep on their bellies.... / they whimper like padlocked dogs." And so the opening poem closes:  "I had planned an escape / determined to bring back the light / from disquiet skies. / now above me a frayed rope, / and a burn on my neck."

Despite the inevitable lynching thus foretold from the very beginning, the poems that follow nevertheless struggle to free themselves from their own  existence; after all, "depraved minds trick themselves / that sanity is beyond / the ruin." The human conundrum, though, remains:  How can they -- we -- cheat the delusions that form their -- our -- very composition?

Nonetheless, in the early going at least, the possibility of a possibility exists, leading to the most salvaging  poem in an otherwise dismal chronicle of savage breakage and disinterested sadism. In "Nature's Chains," relief is partially at hand: "the heart bleeds / like sap, / trickles to roots,  / awakens hope. // daffodils burst through, / stained grey with an amber hue, / they crumble - / return as you."  And on this seemingly optimistic note (not entirely optimistic, though, since it is carefully noted that "colours collapse from our sky"), the poem ends "you whisper // I am not here." Unfortunately, it is this very phrase that sets up the volume's title poem and reveals the inviolable enormity of fate: "At this desk, / a neck twists, / reveals sockets, / lifeless and empty.... // she turns to shadows and dust, / pours over my shoulders, / wraps around my heart and legs / and pulls me to this ghastly cell. // inside a familiar man / shivers / as vines twist / around his exhausted body // looks into me, / trembles, // welcome back."

And from this return forward, Purgatory shows it has outrun its pace and Hell takes up the anchor position. All the pain and despair that has come before are trivialized by all that comes after. "Light is sucked back up to the heavens, / Peter's gates shut.... // I rot on these clouds / to never fall as rain." Apocalypse descends "as the First Horn / of slaughtered rams / begins to cry"  and the Three Woes deliver their bleak judgment. "God wrings the Universe like a sponge / and, with the Earth, / bleeds the stars to death."

Until finally, at last, "A solitary chapel falls / into spirits and smoke..., / / the moon extinguishes her torch." The impaired is irreparable; the only cessation is the body's end, for the mental torment abides. 

No comments:

Post a Comment

Join the conversation! What is your reaction to the post?