Letter to Mary Shelley
Letters to the dead, or their conversations
No longer thrive among the literati.
We’ve all grown I-bound here, and no other demonstration
Is wanted, but only a sort of lyric potpourri
- which captures our moods and days
And is put quite nicely in quaint sachets.
I’m not complaining – I turn out my quire
And sometime make a little genius patter
Illuminating the soft and hard wires
That make up my neural personal matter
According to all the best popsci bestsellers
Apparently we’re just haunts in genetic cellars.
You were born to the royal anti-royal blood
the little red riding hoods of the revolution
but grew up, Gretel-like, to brood
on the wolf that might solve your family situation.
Then he came, dressed in robes of poesie
- which is how you eloped with the romantic agony.
I should tell you, Mary, we no longer brook
long letters written with that manual drolery
- letters as long as the chapters in your book
in the tradition of epistolary -
rather we jerk out an email or fifty
under the burden of being short and nifty.
But what is a poet if not an anachronism?
a creature lost among capitalist feeders
and accused of practicing onanism,
irrelevant, being at best a loss leader
a prestige item with a hushed voice
on NPR, bloodless and choice.
In other words, a downer. In other words, a monster.
so you see how much it’s in my line
to stir your shade, to disinter
you from the vaults of the gothic sublime
as you predominate in the culture
that has turned away from the bigwigs of literature.
You’ve had a husband. I’ve had too.
Why do we burn ourselves in the futile quest
to find a mate who is not askew
and will live and love beyond time’s test?
Yours, his heart consumed in a barbecue
and mine, who I would have liked to have done the same to.
But you are thinking, you woke me up for this?
Couldn’t you bitch to some living friend?
I have other fans, who follow their bliss
by dreaming up quasi-pornographic ends
for me and my creature, a jumble anatomy
all cooked up for fan-fic fuckery.
I dig your objection, or my projection
(shades and shadows, death and the double)
girl – aren’t we the girls who’ve made
our project to cause a lot of trouble
to nitpickers, naggers, and no-nothing butts
who tend to write letters addressed: stupid sluts?
But I have a reason – here we come
Into, technically, the finis of this discourse
this insinuato – for unlike some
I’m keen on rhetorical resource
You, who learned the ancient Latin and Greek
will recognize of what I speak -
Okay, enough, incipit the story:
A friend who is always discovering the bizarre-est
Paris, Fragonard’s ecorchés,
or sketches by some necrophile symbolist
invited me to the Hôpital St. Louis
where plaster casts from the nineteenth century
are exhibited to the select who ask
for tickets, a dwindling group it seems.
Physicians in training once had the task
of noting horrors that appear as though in dreams
of the worst that can happen to the human skin:
the 19th century payment for each sin.
The crowding, hovels, debauchery and then some:
Hence the lesion-ridden penis, tumerous nose
adenomas, sarcomas, in a waxy gum
painted then and signed – it’s art I suppose
from which I’m sure that you can learn a bunch
by peering closely – just ask Edvard Munch.
The painter visited here, with some acquaintance
In the 1890s, when nihilism was the rage
and then painted The Inheritance
where a syphilitic child lies like an open page
on his mother’s lap, diseased to the bone
- it obviously fed Munch’s misogynistic jones.
The modern Prometheus – we never got it right
did we? In each vitrine a tragedy
beauty and labeled deformity fight
out the issue of transcendent agony -
limits imposed by the messes we are
and get into, on this tiny star.
This agony, it isn’t romantic
- these casts do not display the noble body parts
that went into the making of your maniac
a monster science born of the modern arts
mixed with the superstitious – that was clever!
But these diseases are of another weather.
Frankenstein’s head – via James Whale –
would fit right in here: green skin, thick brow,
forehead scar, the morphine user’s pale
the doctors and the casters would have loved to see
Frankenstein in the clinic for an advisory!
Did you approve from your heavenly perch
The cinematic annexing of your IP?
I’m sure you recognized in the monster’s lurch
through that landscape your demi-divinity
- “so dusk, so obscene and blind”
this untrammeled product of the human mind.
Myself, my head would not fit here
- my fault is beyond this wax, God’s truth -
though I’ve seen diagrams that make clear
that the HOX proteins have failed to induce
the inhibition process that would lend opacity
– undermining the bod’s ombragenous capacity.
Yes, I’m the girl with no shadow. You missed
a subject so subdued to your dyer’s art,
no shadowless girl in some dying fire hissed
its matter into your gothic heart.
A monster me – and not a faker
writing lit’s greatest monstermaker!
I’ll wrap this up – it has grown quite a size
- just I thought the scene of me here was for you.
I’m sure it has given you a surprise
that out of all of Percy’s crew
You are the studied, the referenced celebrity:
Quite up there with Byron, Keats and Percy.
My friend and I left the hospital grounds
and went for coffee to dissipate
the horrors that made their circus rounds
in my dreams, which I won’t relate:
it’s morning here, time to work, and so
sincerely, Karen Chamisso.