Lit Thursday: These Poems Tackle Grief Using the Backdrop of a Strip Club
“I am not a murderer, even in the brilliance / of sleep where poems are three-dimensional.”
—Ruth Stone, from “The Möbius Strip of Grief”
*This book had started as a collection of elegies for my grandmother, the poet Ruth Stone, who passed away in 2011. I had been seeking solace in her poems, which meditated so powerfully on grief — namely for my grandfather, who committed suicide at a young age — and it was like I was being handed a torch.*
*A Möbius strip continuously loops back on itself, an ouroboros, a highway interchange you can’t ever exit. For my grandmother, that’s what grief was. In my new poetry collection, I wanted to get at a family’s epic dedication to trauma: the perpetuity of a certain darkly humorous sorrow, a mania I watched travel through three generations. But the more I investigated this grief, the more it expanded and complicated itself. I found myself writing about the grief of women and their suppressed genius. It went beyond elegy into the strangeness of our sexual desire, our ill-equipped reactions to death, and the clumsiness of the living. It all had to do with more than just ME.*
*Grief is universal, and all living things have to face loss — even if that loss is your own missed opportunities, your own mind, your love, or the way you’ve been treated. I wanted grief — women’s grief — to have its own habitat. What better place than a backward baroque hallucinatory strip club?*
At the Möbius Strip Club of Grief, come on in, the ladies are
XXX! If you want the skinny ones we got skeletons cracking
round those poles. And over at the bar — there’s Grandma, with
her breasts hanging at her stomach — gorgeous with a shook
manhattan, and murderous with a maxi pad. At the Möbius Strip
Club of Grief all the drinks are free. Grocery store rosé in gallon
bottles on every table. And the dead don’t want your tips. They just
want you to listen to their poems. Don’t do anything dangerous.
And call every once in a while. In fact, they tip you at the MSCOG.
With checks. With a sigh they’ll throw one down at your feet —
We make it rain with checks.
Then the dead are sitting at the back of the club, dying further.
Sniffing. Shuffling into the bathrooms, holding their skin in their
hands, farting methane and sobbing across the stage with their last
meal — it’s the raciest show in town. And ladies, there’s men too,
hanging themselves on the bathroom doors and from the rafters,
totally naked, with their cocks in their hands, tears coming down
their faces. Ladies, you’ll love how their feet smell. How their
bones protrude. How they leave no note.
At the funeral they carried boom boxes on their shoulders,
blaring Chopin, swaggering over the snow in sync,
in all black, the cloth of penitents and matriarchs.
A hole is free to dig,
if you know how to ask men with the right tools.
Funerals need not break the bank.
Through the yard
like a procession of Danes and Duchesses from *Hamlet*,
all hired mourners from birth,
punters of rough gods,
women of the salons —
our funerals are like poker games
in the back room
at the Möbius Strip Club of Grief.
The stakes are high.
You have to have pneumonia to get in.
You have to cough and gurgle.
You have to have a cat on your lap.
And refuse to eat.
After the funeral was out
the hors d’oeuvres came out.
Olives, pâté, sardines with soft bones and violent,
flushed organs — too much wine, slouched on a flowery chair —
aperitifs on the porch with the early moon —
I looked at the sky overhead where it said
in the white jet-stream cursive:
*dying is awful*.
And I lit my head on fire.
Danced a dance for the gods.
Mom pealed out, off down the mountain
like Mad Max
to sit alone in her house,
to play solitaire in the dark
because they’d turned off the lights again;
the pipes were frozen, the wood almost gone —
so solitaire on the floor beside the woodstove,
about money —
like a winter songbird
it sang in her head all day:
Who will pay?
Who will pay?
Who will pay?
*I think everyone’s glad I’m dead*, said the stripper
with the caved-in face. Her fingers were bone and no
sinew. She flapped her arms at the two wrens
caught up in the rafters, staring down
on the empty dance hall. Chirps rained like sparks
from the electric saws in their hearts.
No one here is glad anyone is dead. But
there is a certain comfort in knowing
the dead can entertain us, if we wish. We line up
outside looking drowned, telling whoever comes
our way that we are falling very fast. And that
we are fine. The dead as wrinkled as jet streams
cutting across the room with glasses lost on their
heads, vitamins dissolving like milk
under tongues, hair still growing, crackling
out of their skulls in time-lapse loops —
and we file in, in ones and twos, clinging
to our tragedies, finding our favorite face,
and it looks back at us with indifference, contempt,
chill disappointment. *You never came much
when I was alive*, says one with red hair, lying
on her side, a Botticelli on the stage;
*and now you want a piece? $20 for five minutes;*
*I’ll hold your hand in my own. I’ll tell you*
*you were good to me.*
*From* (1). *Used with permission of Tin House Books. © 2018 Bianca Stone.*