Sunday, November 01, 2015

Review: Making Maxine's Baby

There’s something preternaturally “New Yorkish” about the poems in Caroline Hagood’s collection Making Maxine’s Baby that I can’t help but think I’ve passed her main character on the sidewalk. At least once. And if I’d spoken with her, I’m sure I would have both liked her and wanted to help her, though I’m not sure I’d have been capable. Indeed, I might have had those feelings and still followed my own path.

The highly readable collection follows the mental meanderings of the nomadic Maxine. Though the character is clearly well read and intelligent, she chooses to live on the streets and in the subways of the city, sleeping on rat-pee-saturated mattresses. Within the collection, images of mermaids, horror movie intestines, and zombies are interspersed with real-life horrors of murders, sexual abuse, and gore.

While at times it is hard for me to believe that a creature like Maxine could exist – how could such an insightful, intelligent woman choose to live such a life of instability? – I suspect it says more about my ignorance of the thorough damage that abuse and neglect can deliver. At times, the collection reads like a fast-paced novel, and I needed to slow down, as there was so much going on that even now I feel insecure and inadequate to describe. Hagood’s deft writing takes classical and contemporary imagery and weaves a poem in danger of being a page-turner.

Beneath everything is lust
for the slurp and suck
of changing molecules,
extreme makeover shows,

the lure of the beyond. It’s why
Maxine hitchhiked America the summer
after freshman year, but now she lives
in a subway tunnel, simultaneously seen
and unseen, an undetectable horse leaving
mysterious tracks in the mud.

She used to be on the honor role
but now she does Dante in different voices,
had to go down, ask the dead for answers.

Throughout the collection, Hagood sprinkles common images, themes, and mythologies. Mermaids, internal organs, blood, bees, duality, horror movies, trauma, and, of course, children populate her world of ideas and metaphors.

Perhaps my dual comfort and awkwardness in Maxine’s presence is summed up in Hagood’s description of her as

the kind of person
who’s always ripped open.

She knows no other way.

Indeed, if I had passed Maxine on the streets of New York, I’d have felt guilty for both looking to see if I recognized her and for avoiding her; I’d pray the poor creature could find solace and safety and I’d hate myself for being incapable of offering any. And had she read my mind, perhaps she’d have spewed scorn upon me for thinking any of her troubles were about me, per se.

Screw you and your credentials.
I have an MFA in vapor and urban
reek, have been featured in anthologies
of knock-knock jokes and engine
sounds, have a degree in failing
spectacularly, won a Pushcart Prize
for blowing a man in one of the last
subway bathrooms. Oh the faces
he made, like a Halloween mask.

To me, Maxine is not an every woman. Whether the quest for motherhood is universal among women is not a topic of debate in this collection. Rather, Maxine explores herself, her world, her desires. It may indeed be hell this “Sorceress, scullery maid, poor excuse for a mer-thing” walks through, but her story draws me into a quest that may be my ruin.

I look forward to more from this talented writer.

No comments: