I have published a new collection of poems, prose-poems, fiction and assorted oddities. The book gathers together writings produced over nearly three years, and I consider it the sequel to Head Traumas, which is my best-selling book so far. Like Head Traumas, the new one contains several 13s and poems about the Bird King. It also includes a lot of material about mannequins (as you’d expect!) and pieces inspired by Graeco-Roman, Norse and Biblical mythology. The tone ranges from the whimsical to the nightmarish.
1. His mouth opens and a red spider crawls out, followed by another one and another one and another one and another one and another one…
2. Her body is no longer her body. It looks exactly as it did before, but it is strange, wrong. She looks at herself in the mirror and weeps.
3. The sound of machinery wakes him. Iron grinding iron, shrill whistles. After a few seconds, it stops. When he sleeps it starts again.
4. The street is quiet. A few cars, people ambling along. A woman crosses the road, pushing a pram. Inside, there is a severed head.
5. Night. A luxury apartment on the 33rd floor. A bed, a man, a woman. The harder they fuck, the more horrible their deaths.
6. A man sits on a stool at a bar. He doesn’t know there is something in his whiskey. The barman knows. All the other customers know.
7. The suburb looks much as it did before, except there are no people and dogs roam free and windows are smashed and the flies are God.
8. They laugh. Life is easy. They’ve never had it so good. An ocean sunset. Meanwhile, in the cabin, a shadow twists and lengthens.
9. Their bodies are placentas, feeding something squalling, ravenous.
10. At school, the children sit quietly at their desks, devising a thousand parricides.
11. The camera was left running, by accident. He reviews the footage. Then he goes into the basement and shoots himself.
12. A spiral staircase leads to a corridor she doesn’t remember. She feels compelled to explore. Water drips from the ceiling.
13. The light is poor and there is smoke, but it looks like a large bird or a man dressed as one, tottering, lurching, shrieking, laughing.
1. The house, stamped white on slate sky. Behind the windows, all the rooms are filled with water. A drowned man in a dinner suit floats by.
2. The revolver lies on the pillow of an unmade bed. The revolver is not just an object. It is the man with the scar, his fear and impotence.
3. A hand on a door handle, hesitating, unmoving. The shot is a close-up; we can’t see if the door is open or closed.
4. An oblong mirror returns the gaze of an anxious woman. She hates the world. Her eyes are crystals.
5. A room on fire. A laughing man sits on a smouldering sofa.
6. A succession of corridors. We glide along them like ghosts.
7. Outside, there is a dark forest. The story will begin and end there. The beginning will mimic the end. The end has already happened.
8. “I’m sorry. Please leave me alone,” whispers a mouth tight with pain. Blue light reveals a knife in a drawer, a torn photograph.
9. The walls are bleeding. Blood collects at the feet of a naked woman. She’s standing up, eyes open, but she looks dead.
10. The curtains are closed, but this looks like a study. A shaft of light shows us a letter-opener. This is an invitation and a threat.
11. The corridors again. They link up, double back, double cross us, never end. Doors are closed or ajar. Music is playing. No one is there.
12. A bath fills with hot water. We expect to see blood. Someone has written the word MANNEQUIN on the steamed-up mirror.
13. A stone through a window. Flying glass, a cry of surprise or horror or delight. The moon is full. A blade of cloud slices it in two.
For Viviana Hinojosa
1. There is no point trying to look beyond the surface. The surface is all.
2. The House of Mirrors appears to contain a dizzying multitude of rooms, but in reality there is only one: your bedroom.
3. Visitors to the House of Mirrors are asked to leave their dogs, shoes and heads at the door.
4. The House of Mirrors has several residents, including Eve, the Bird King and a gang of feral children.
5. I left a poem in the House of Mirrors. When I went back for it, the words had multiplied. Stanza breaks were pregnant pauses.
6. Meals and sleep are not permitted in the House of Mirrors; the dreams there depend on your hunger and insomnia.
7. In the House of Mirrors, the concepts of reality and unreality are irrelevant.
8. Many enter the House of Mirrors, expecting to find themselves there. Instead, they are presented with voodoo dolls of themselves.
9. The House of Mirrors is more prison than playground.
10. All roads lead to the House of Mirrors.
11. The House of Mirrors smells of lavender, cinnamon and burning plastic.
12. The House of Mirrors is more theatre than domicile.
13. Windows are mirrors, in which you see a reflection of yourself.
House of Mirrors is an ongoing collaboration with Viviana Hinojosa. You can see some of it here.
Imagine a chessboard made of an infinite number of squares, in which the pieces are locked in eternal stalemate. The Mannequin is white to the Bird King’s black. Where he is broken, mad, risible, she is perfect, glacial, sinister. She is the mask Lady Macbeth presents to her haunted husband. The Bird King is, in part, me, by which I mean that his nest is somewhere in me, between memory and imagination. Although he is a tyrant, he is also vulnerable and silly. Aren’t we all vulnerable and silly? The Mannequin, on the other hand, is totally alien to me. She seems emotionless and inscrutable. I find her mesmerising and nightmarish. What is she thinking? Like Lady Macbeth, she reveals nothing to me. She tells her secrets only to the night.
The Bird King and the Mannequin do have one thing in common, however, which is that it is impossible to attach to either of them a stable mental image. If we see either of them in their entirety, in the glare of the sun or a spotlight or headlights, what we see is provisional, a brief phase in their constant mutation. Despite this, the essential identity of each of them is fixed. They are both trapped by who they are.
The Mannequin started out as the mannequins, a collective entity appearing in several poems and In the Dark Room. I associated them with the act of writing. Their presence seemed a condition favourable to creativity:
When the mannequins
possess my hands
I tap out little poems on my phone
The index finger
of my tweeting hand
pecks the touchscreen
like a nimble bird
in the kingdom
of their cage
But the hand
holding the phone
is made of fibreglass
(From “The mannequins”)
Now, the mannequins are crystallised into a single being, albeit one comprising thirteen separate anatomical parts. Susan Omand has interpreted in paint the text I wrote for each of those parts. I see the book we made as a result of our collaboration as the flipside of The Madness of the Bird King (illustrated by Diana Probst), or, to put it another way, as a view of something at once alive and inanimate, human and monstrous, that exists on the other side of the mirror.
1. Jesus made the United States of Chimerica from the hide of a gator he killed with his bare hands back in the winter of ’81.
2. The people of the United States of Chimerica are watched over by a straight-talkin’ angel with hillbilly eyes and a crown of nuclear missiles.
3. Chimerican iconography 1:
Ronald McDonald smiling beatifically whilst firing a shotgun at a spinning globe.
4. Chimerican English is the language of commerce, war, touchscreen dreams, charity, love, power, landscapes, mindscapes and escapes.
5. God told Abraham Lincoln to establish the NRA. When the End Days come, the Statue of Liberty will hunt down those who won’t kiss the gun.
6. The flag of the United States of Chimerica is usually referred to as “the Scars and Stripes.”
7. Chimerican iconography 2:
The all-seeing eye, held in the teeth of a piranha.
8. On Independence Day, George Washington gave birth to the Empire State Building and a plague of dollars descended on the USSR.
9. The Boston Tea Party was orchestrated by Jesus, disguised as the Mad Hatter.
10. The Chimerican Intelligence Agency has exterminated all non-human animal species and replaced them with Simubots™ equipped with cameras.
11. Chimerican iconography 3:
A bald eagle crucified on a pylon. In the background: a burning bush, in the shape of a man.
12. At night, Ronald Raygun delivers triumphal nightmares in the subterranean maternity ward of the Pentagon.
13. We all live in the United States of Chimerica.
1. On the morning of her eighteenth birthday, Eve woke to find herself transformed into a gigantic chess piece made of zeros and ones.
2. Eve gazed so long at her smartphone that she found herself falling into it.
3. She fell for a time that may have been short or long or infinite. During her descent she became conscious of her nakedness.
4. Finally, when all the numbers had run out, she landed in a pool of herself. Her lungs filled with the words that made her story.
5. The words rearranged themselves and became other stories. Eve’s head popped off, revealing another, smaller, younger Eve inside the shell of her body.
6. The younger Eve was a child. She kept a secret: her twin sister was coiled up in her head, like a snake.
7. Eve (a child pretending to be a woman or a woman pretending to be a child) stood in the House of Mirrors. Even when standing still she could feel herself falling.
8. The mirrors gave back her image, augmented, altered. Her eyes were magnified. Her mouth was a red contraption that exterminated wolves.
9. Something like a plucked turkey followed her. It wore a broken crown. Whenever she turned to look, the shadows shielded it from her gaze.
10. All of the voices in the House of Mirrors belonged to Eve, though she didn’t recognise them. Most were in a language she had forgotten.
11. Many of the objects and creatures Eve encountered in the House of Mirrors had no names. They blurred and warped in her gaze.
12. Deep underground, hidden from Eve in a room with no door, a man and a woman were exchanging gifts. The space around them vibrated.
13. In Room 13 Eve found the architect’s plans. The House of Mirrors seemed to have been modelled on a bird cage or a construction site.
This piece is dedicated to my collaborator on the House of Mirrors project, Viviana Hinojosa.