If an eye, an eye, a hand, a cheek, a beam, an ember. And ion, an operon, a photon, an aria, a crystal, a salt, a grain, a spore, a pore….
Concern for burial rites manifests almost immediately in Brenda Sieczkowski’s stunning debut Wonder Girl in Monster Land when Yomi, the heroine of Monster Land, plants spurge that turns out to be highly toxic to rabbits in her garden, turning all of her potential flowers into “rocks” (gravestones): “Come morning a mouthful of gravel; rabbit corpses stiffening in the grass. Could she bury them all in one mass grave, or did etiquette demand the minute shoveling of separate resting places? But rabbits have more kinds of sense (“In the Rock Garden”). How to bury the dead? That is to say, how to lay the dead to rest with kindness when one has been deeply wounded by the death(s) in question and by one’s part in the events that lead to the death(s) in question? How to categorize losses abstract and concrete? How to carry each loss in a way that attends to its distinctions and map each as a part of a schema of loss in a way that allows us to continue to function? Beneath these concerns are questions about authorship, conduct, crime, and culpability. Yomi has, of course, planted the spurge herself in a moment of blindness—spurge will irritate her neighbor because it “sounds like ejaculate” (“In the Rock Garden”). She knows the choices she has made are linked to actions at hand because her eyes and ears are tuned to interconnectivity and potential. She also knows that facts offer infinite possibilities because they can be read in many directions.
Yomi spent the summer of her tenth year recording license plates along with the exact time and location of each sighting. (She had a digital watch.) 1-CH356—4:38:25—60th and Underwood. Say the person in the random vehicle drove off into a sunset of crime, Yomi would be the girl providing valuable testimony. Only she doesn’t know any more if all crimes should really be prosecuted. Or which. (“On the Porch”)
How to bury the dead?
Paralyzed by the burden of this question and the questions that branch from it, Wonder Girl accumulates at the stammering hinge between wakefulness and sleep as Yomi lives her life in Monster Land, attends devastatingly cool klezmer band shows, watches videos with dear friends Bear and Red Rabbit, and spends time babysitting neighborhood children: “A blue car passes. Then a white. Rem! [Remeron] Cym! [Cymbalta] Must be suppertime. Yomi is never hungry, but she may as well go back inside” (“In the Rock Garden”). Retreats like these exist in suspension with hopes of rebirth and renewal: “Die Wildekinder, like Yomi, are reborn each morning swabbing away dream caul” (“A Freudian Interpretation of Yomi”). This dynamic is complicated by Yomi’s tremendous empathy as wakefulness is an exhilarating, raw, and painful process that grates against her tenderness: “May be that her sleep gills grew in crooked—daylight crashes in all athrash and gasping. Never a proper exchange between the sleep-wake barrier” (“A Freudian Interpretation of Yomi”). Presence is coupled with loss that accompanies a sharpened awareness of temporality: “‘To Loss,’ Red Rabbit raised a glass,/ And Bear replied ‘Here. Here.’” (“Little Song (11:00 PM)”).
bird creak, brown bottle—
Little flares of nerve burst popping along eye bulbs. (“In the Mangrove Grove”)
Working against the shattering call to wakefulness is the desire to withdrawal, to forget, to numb oneself and sleep: “to dub a/ new lull-/aby, lull-/ a baby” (“On Fridays”). “Yomi could use some induced stupor" (“In the Mangrove Grove”). Unfortunately, neither is sleep restful as nights in Monster Land give way to the disintegrative effects of psychic distress and terrifying nightmares that last “until the alarm” (“A Freudian Interpretation of Yomi”). A visitation by the “serial killer [who scrawls] blood across the motel door” and “mutates into a [Kraken]” is particularly telling because it underscore the compulsory nature of trauma. Literally and metaphorically “serial,” Yomi’s losses happen again and again; the “killer” shifts through distortions opening a tunnel of frayed nerves and endless reading (“A Freudian Interpretation of Yomi”).
Attempts to lay the dead to rest are increasingly problematic as Yomi’s dream-life and reality bleed together because her experience unsettles the dead: ‘Still, dead people are most clever’ (‘On Halloween’). The fact that Yomi often “counts Mississippi,” in attempt to gauge the difference between the imaginary and the real is also tricky because Mississippis are seconds (beats) and rivers—a state of activity that erodes the shoreline and keeps the story “current.” The dead don’t rest; they thread sleep and waking moments together, especially on Halloween. They show themselves through veils and layered hallucinations until even loved ones begin to appear in monstrous disguises: “Doorbell. Dr Octopus.// But Yomi spies a last year’s Bruce Springsteen ‘Bruce Juice’ pin glinting from one of the creature’s mechanical tentacles, so she knows it’s Remeron” (“On Halloween”). Reality is a dark dream in Monster Land and “all resemblance to persons real or imaginary is not to be taken as purely coincidental” (“10 Amendments (An Erratum)”). Left to acknowledge the possibility that Yomi is a “ghost town” (“On the Conditional”), Wonder Girl returns to counting pills and traffic: “A red car passes. Then a brown. She tunes her buzzy ribbon of brain noise in and out” (“On the Porch”).
As the shoreline of Monster Land erodes, we find wrenching departures that cut in both directions. Loss leaves us alone with ourselves (no one to help us read it): “By June Moon, the fur in the broom straw has turned white as dandelion seed. Bear hobbles away one long tunnel of night. Propped against the bathroom mirror, a single tarot card, translucent with grease: La Luna” (“All Through”). Beneath the lonely desperation and prismatic edges of its departures, Wonder Girl always evidences tremendous empathy, bravery, and fierce loyalty as Yomi attempts to reach out to others—to help her loved ones and keep them safe. Escape routes are planned “In the Event” of etcetera: “Remeron knows to meet her at the trefoil placard five paces west of the rabbit warren” (“In the Event”). Bear is warned to “lay low” as Yomi does (“Thought Balloon (Mind of Winter)”). At all points, the “I” gives precedence to the “you”: “Mix Tape (Hypothetically in Love)”: “14. I Bought Seven Goldfish and Named Them All You.” Faced with warnings about Mushroom People, mushroom caps “made out of orange craft foam,” and poems that look like mushrooms: “Don’t dare to lick or/ eat ‘em” (“On Fridays”), “Yomi prefers to imagine a lickable world” (“On the Advisability of Phage Therapy”). Postcards that friends send across their isolations replace or, at least, sit next to the tarot card on her mirror (“On Summer Solstice”). These talismans remind us to see ourselves and each other with kindness. Releasing her “Thought Balloon (Mind of Winter)” to Bear, Yomi encourages us to press “Play on the boombox” and release 99 Luftballons into the warmth and activity of summer outside.
When the La Luna card’s prophesy comes true, there are “milk-tooth” rabbits to be saved. Thank God for Yomi as “she crouches back under the smoke tree until night begins to rust at the edges [to draw] the rabbits back into day’s black, multi-chambered heart” (“The Backyard”). The last of the wonderful illustrations that Chad Woody supplied for Wonder Girl taps into this awful paradox with deft insight. In it, we see the grave that is considered at the opening of the book in “In the Rock Garden”—an open grave full of dead rabbits that is marked by a rugged stone with a rabbit symbol chiseled into it, edged by a solitary mushroom. This image reverses at horizon and we see a beautiful and sad Yomi with smudged inky eyes and branches and tentacles for hair gathering what appear to be animated rabbits around her. Here we seem to get the heartbreaking answer to the questions that exist at the center of Wonder Girl and its deconstructions. Rather than be an agent who decides how to bury the dead, Yomi has buried herself to be company in sacrificial action. She has buried herself with the dead, with Bear, and with the innocence of the rabbits. Turn the page over and they are living again, standing over an emptying grave: “Where text says song, read ghost. Where text reads ghost, see further (“10 Amendments (An Erratum)”).
Wonder Girl is a powerful and harrowing experience perforated by risk and generosities that I can’t understand: “But Rabbits have more kinds of sense” (“In the Rock Garden”). So does Yomi and so does Sieczkowski behind her. Stay tuned for Sieczkowski’s first full collection, Like Oysters Observing the Sun, forthcoming from Black Lawrence Press.