On reading Dylan Krieger’s "The Mother Wart"

Dylan Krieger portrays the rituals of contemporary life as disguises for deeper things we too often refuse to face. In The Mother Wart, sex becomes the only justifiable reason, the only biological fact to latch onto, the second most substantial thing to the fact of death, sex miraging as death’s healer and catalyst. The idea of any victory becomes a masquerade, a cowardly—albeit, at least at times, necessary—way to avoid death.

The book is written in a punk-rock, no nonsense, right-on-the-edge-of-the-precipice, viscerally sarcastic syntax. It’s an animal of its own, a place where theory meets fear and loathing. The book can make you cry, need a drink, duck under the covers and sleeplessly ponder alternative possibilities in its unbridled acknowledgment of instinct and decay, its dissection of our games and rituals, and its absolutely reductionist intentions. This piece of merciless, unfortunate and irrefutably beautiful literature makes for a great read, packed with philosophical bravado, grit and insights and wonderfully woven short prose.

Nearing 2020, the context of sex oozes chin deep in a soup of advertising, pornography and Hollywood glamour where fantasies and a tyrannized attachment to popular molds have reached galactic proportions of absurdity. The fact that we live in a giant ball floating in outer space makes me think we need some occasional reminding: between a meteor striking this place gone and buying the latest gadgets, gear and clothes or looking like what some magazine told us, what’s important? The duality inside us weird primates will always be our compass and truth, not pre-conceptualized images of success. Moments make a life for the consciousness that describes them with both reason and feeling. Our unlimited access to the digital landscape continually metamorphoses our consciousness, for better or worse, and at that rate of change, our objectives, the purpose of our species, if there was ever any, will surely obscure itself further, also for better or worse: a collective meaning, or its idea, slipping farther and farther away. Our freedom from old feudalities is something to embrace, and yet, the old instincts persist. Dylan Krieger’s The Mother Wart reminds us of the cave, of these origins we can’t finger, of the rituals not-so-obvious in meaning that stemmed from these origins, and of the violence they hide or seek to control.

The implausibility of a world without power structures holds certain; the un-caged animal harbors greater destructive capacity. Besides, these power structures seem more like propellers, co-evolving with our changing needs and beliefs, though they may often seem antagonistic. The rebel and the anarchist do need a model to go against, and the nihilist, air to breathe. This is not to say that a world with more mercy is inconceivable. The Mother Wart reminds us of the human mistake, the omnipresent failure and flaw that takes organic roots in insides doomed to rot.

The description of organic matter and the resulting sexual dynamics take a focal point in the book. From the first poem (“do you dig anal” [from chapter 1, “Mouth East” p4 {the book is divided into four chapters}]), the popular and rosy cultural portrayal of sex dissolves into a world of flesh and fetish:

“a ball-up man-boy in a beanie boldly asked me at 16. i didn’t skip a beat. ask me in, say, five more years. as if that’s where I saw myself in every internship or college interview. howling at the stuck-pig moon as if my skull might come unglued. as if the honey pot of front-to-front was just the breeding stage of a much larger-lurching harlequin mating game.”

The set-up in this introductory poem is to rip apart any false notion of romance or nostalgia one might have, and prime the reader for the surgical table. “the painted toes” of barbies “morse-code the saddest stories. and we can’t go back to before the gory avalanche of fat, when both the forest and the oceans churned their biomes under the skirt-homes of mama vallhallah alone” (“barbie fever” p8): the book’s favorable descriptions of sex and fore-fronting of new carnal kinks as byproducts of the contemporary liberal landscape flip a finger at sexually-conservative mores:

“slyly remind them slave lives invented insurrection, and in no time our queer tears will drown the whole marooned platoon of blue-black pigs and brigadiers, priming our assholes for an age of aquarius where spreading our queer cheeks means centuries more to the wind, sand, and seas than to breed” (“reciprocal kill switch” p11).

Krieger’s prose creates a domino effect on outdated, rigid philosophies of procreation and suggests a better pleasure in kink and choice “pleasure beyond censure, beyond the prison sentence of procreative surrender to a biological endeavor no longer peddled by the sentiment before it sucks your puking sacrum underground” (“ally lever” p12).

In the second chapter (“Bastard Astronauts” p19), the instinct of warmth, dug out, exposes animal designs and purposes “the night i find a cockroach at the end of the orange juice, i get curious: ‘why did you even decide to have kids? i ask her…’” (“nothing else to do in the midwest” p24).” This revolver aimed at creationists does not trivialize motherhood. On the contrary, Krieger’s problem is with specimens “once marked extinct” that “just keep coming, farming a mother’s horror out to pasture before it even hits the floor” (“Kermit the cur” p25).

Following this scrutiny of motherhood, the theme of abortion surfaces, through a personal experience of the author. And considering the hard theme, the chapter reads with a dualistic freshness on the issue, a position not so obvious. Though pro-abortion, it is a considerate position of grief with choice, a position where one handles the emotion of regret after the chosen gesture “i remember holding my abdomen like it might come apart while standing motionless in the rain…” and how it “stains my underthings with matchsticks just for the slow stench of the takedown” (“all black on a louisiana tuesday” p33). An abortion is also a loss of self.

Chapter 2 deals with these issues, birth and abortion, and questions the necessity of the responsibility of birth giving  “so i drive 900 miles home too soon after the surgery, just to bleed on sheets I’ve never seen before… all for an autocratic demiurge whose grumbles i know not, the deadbeat daddy behind Hiroshima and cancer ally… if you think april is the cruelest month, baby, you ain’t seen nothing… nothing of the shotgun highway i’m fish barreling down right now just to stay alive…  where the bioluminescent bacteria floating surfaceward form words yet unknown to the drowning below” (“spring broke half a notion-state away” p 34). These poems add a quality and responsibility of choice and a freedom of voice to motherhood “because i want to show you how even a wordsmith can stumble on mother” (“infanticide in outer space” p35).

Rituals quell the unknown and the overload of possibility; they are physical gestures that wax a peace against reasons that always fall flat. Any advantage is an animal advantage and poetry is the best we can hope for the spirit. All mysteries uncovered reveal the selfish gene “no-one will mourn your absence, nor anyone else’s outside the all-seeing, still beating, heart-gorging warmth of cups passed around fire…” (“tribal immersion” p43)… “even before I found a star of david pinned to my lapel…” (“subconscious kosher” p47). “At some point out of fear or lies, the old tabernacle of ethics, the ‘commandments’ will hold up, there is no other cooperative way, no real reason behind the void. The tower of babel of the mind, this spinning cyclone bumping into islands, keeps the instinct from showing. Jesus again, ‘he without sin may cast the first stone’, all in the name, and because of the mechanics, of the flesh. The worst human-being, is only the worst in us… “break the baby’s foot open and make soup! a fast-acting coagulant stew, witch’s brew of the third kind, the other white meat steeped in congenital disease and suckling cream… to spin your sibling on the spit that takes her home a different road all the way down to the bone” (“babes taste better” p40).

In this third chapter (“The Long Pig Lives” p37), the verities of cruelty, pleasure and advantage come to play and make me hope that our ethics raise us above human sewage. Ironically, these seemingly cynical poems invite us to dig under the rainbow and see the flesh, the teeth, the hard truth of death; and the result is a beautifully complex twister of problems I want to solve.

The final chapter (“born for formication” p55) crashes into the issue of mortality with a thicker layer of gravity. Here the excavating of instincts and dualities of the former chapters reach a peak. When eating, killing, bonding and fucking remain the four given roads of behavior and meaning, the only real choice is suicide. The viscerally intuitive language used throughout the book takes a darker turn here and a deeper look into choice, the possibility of freedom, ideas and themes the author explores in other works as well. The chapter begins with a poem about a near death encounter (“flip your own floatie” p57). It deals with a child’s premature disillusion occurring after a drowning incident and the child’s waking up to adult indifference “filled with chlorinated water that laps away first rainbows and floods my toddling body with twin suns: one above, the other down a fledgling tunnel to a different kind of growing up.” If there was ever such a notion as honorable pride, this chapter does away with it and transfers the idea to right of choice, suicide, the only guarantee for a say in the matter “i swear there was a word for what the so called holy men of every age can’t hold, but until we remember it we remain doomed to bruise our shins on the mini-trampoline in grandma’s basement and inquire of our parents, what makes a man like that so tragic-sounding? and the resounding answer—suicide—will turn our paper skin a different shade of craze at night…” (“curb cocaine” p58).

Nothing is trivialized here. Suicide as fact or metaphor becomes not only a delivery but a way to preserve freedom. “noble roman” (p59), a fictional account of the Roman rape of Celtic women embodies this choice “they say the noblest of roman centurions gladly ‘fell on their swords’ upon failing the emperor, as if it weren’t fully on purpose… the celtic damsels of my ancestors are raped over and over by roman soldiers folding to a different sharpened mettle, and the weight of the ancient multiversal what if pulls their footfalls past the concord past the sandbanks—to the cliffs.” Once the choice of suicide is bridged, nothing is forgiven or forgotten. In the muck, an identity surfaces from the death of its surrogate; suicide is also a choice in identity. Krieger’s The Mother Wart reminds us that “the punchline to this suicide is it happens more than once… harold’s only here to hum along to the funeral march, to eke some measure of pleasure out of another’s punctured heart, spook his hippie peers on horseback with the convertible he personally converted to a hearse…” (“harold kari” p60).

Albeit tough subject matter the titles of the final chapter give a good laugh, and societies’ bullies are given a mighty ‘up-yours:’ “your scars might look a fresher shade of plum than mine, but what rumbles underneath remains the same: a patient in a paper-gown, mouth agape, but nothing coming out” (“house of a thousand-pound scar” p61). The idea of suicide frees and elevates in terms of personal philosophy vis-à-vis one’s quest for meaning. Fear shies one from considering this idea, but Krieger boldly promotes this contemplation. The result is not an emo-gung-ho-go-kill-yourself book, though one title humorously suggests this (“suicide assistance hotline” p67), but like Camus’ The Myth of Sisyphus, it shadows how the idea, the behavior, both here for a reason, parallels to euthanasia (the book also references the Church of Euthanasia: “how many see the throughline line from dr. kervorkian to mother Theresa” [“thanatotalitarian” p66]), and contributes to the addition of living values, however ironically.

Freedom of choice, the possibility of suicide, is what equalizes us as strongly as death itself. It’s the one decision we can all make, regardless of circumstance. It is the line, the moment, the limit, the adventure we cross, risking our lives knowingly, intentionally, for whatever reason: revenge, grief, belief, dignity, misery, pleasure or pride; this decision we cannot look back from, and rather than a negative, it becomes a source of, and resource for empathy. Suicide modified coagulates into levels of self-deprecation, and in the context of culture, self-image becomes entangled with the issue “like you’ve never stood in the mirror-scrutinizing long enough to fantasize it: to unhinge your ribs, pry back the skin, and suction out all that fat the world says makes you sick” (“DIY lipo” p62).

Women are of concern here. The duality of the pressure put on women by society, to be beautiful yet fit and good mothers, to be strong yet desirably sensual, to look perfect and act perfect, the fat, skinny, capable and dumb problem they face regularly, is a suicidal duality, the problem of hating the mirror. And in this self-conscious landscape of image-for-capital causing self-loathing, authority given an agreed-upon context becomes a parent, an object of desire, a predator or even a toy given the face that it assumes. The poem “the medical fetishist” (p63) unearths this idea through the dynamics of a young woman and a doctor. Sex, health, and intimacy interplay in this visit turned queer “i just it up here on the paper-lined table, where someone cares enough to press whatever i’m not able, and my family fades into a long-forgotten fable…” The flesh, dying, yearns for what it knows, flesh, no matter how strange the context, in our finite scope of time:

“your body born for formication that all-excoriating itch that no gas bomb or poison spray exterminates without a hitch, without tracing the infestation back to the orificial egg-nest of your face, the mothership” (“how the insects get in” p64).

“that’s what the doctors call it when the first mover of our mutual malady at long last manifests itself in all its messy flesh, its gory glory. left dripping liquid nitrogen and bartering bandaged neuralgia… when we ask and point to what’s been lurking underneath our warping nailbeds, there’s no mistaking the quick flash of revelation on his face: the mother wart, like finally  a cauliflower face to match the name, the silent force gorging unnoticed on your lymphatic cell membranes, hereditary codebook metamorphosed into infectious strains of shame, and when it’s over, whose to say where the next outbreak will claim its monstrous terrain? whose to say the monster isn’t you, when you share its very DNA? (“the mother wart” p68)”.

The Mother Wart is a book of broken fairy tales unraveled and reduced to slimy neurotic pathologies left flushing down the toilet, these dear protective mechanisms of ours, bargains with cowardice and vice, ice cream dreams left melting on the hard concrete never to be cherished again “here flies my flood of deadly sins, the only rainfall i revile, the only costume i feel comfy in” (“mine to cast aside” p71).

 

 

Darryl Wawa

Darryl Wawa is a Port-au-Prince born Haitian-American who studied Photography and Creative writing. He enjoys chocolate and good books. That said, maybe a movie is a good book. He loves to work with images and words and their pairing.

 

Edited for Unlikely by Jonathan Penton, Editor-in-Chief
Last revised on Thursday, September 26, 2019 - 22:33