“The Dead Sometimes Wander” in C. Cimmone’s Torn Up
Book Review by Kari Flickinger
(TORN UP, C. Cimmone, Femme Salvé Books, 2021)
The first sentence of the first poem of C. Cimmone’s Torn Up is positioned to assert the stabilizing element of most pieces of literature — scenery: “We come here when everything has left.” Except, what it actually does is proffer the destabilizing elements of the work as a whole — place and self. These were the questions I asked myself:
Who are “we”?
Where is “here”?
Halfway through “Our Town”, the voicing shifts, “I” and “he” walk into the shared space of the past, after spending some time in a reciprocal limbo “between wake and sleep.” However, this established separation of our new cast of characters, “I” and “he” soon evaporates when the speaker reveals, “maybe he didn’t know that I had made him up in a dream when I knew everything was ending.”
The second piece in the collection drives straight to the transfigurative element, drug abuse, specifically, meth. “What Meth Did” reveals a speaker wracked with the loneliness of loss. The wolf of the first piece is tabled for a moment, and we glimpse a mother who “sift[s] through photos of him. / His body, / Plump and peach.” The “kind and calm” eyes of the lost love interest shows the speaker’s tender state. Though the wolf quickly returns in “Crane’s Fencepost” where the speaker is torn-up, the other is torn-up, and the wolf is gutted on a fencepost. The crane of the title perhaps names a specific place, and a specific moment in time but also evokes the eerie scaffold of a winch or an oil derrick, or perhaps the lithe but ostentatious image of a long-necked bird. Or perhaps more fitting, calls up the folkloric “crane wife” who hides her identity from the man who saves her from death. This is a bit like how drug abuse can cloak or alter a personality. Either, and all these cranes exist in a moment that focuses on the smoke evaporate of identity, disguise, and drug use. The gutted wolf on the fencepost becomes a sacramental figure when the “I” and the “he” —sullied, smoke enough to figuratively take the wolf’s place upon the fencepost.
If a moment where two people hold themselves together, and transform through the violence of the outlying world, and the haze of drug-use is the ultimate measure of bliss, then what follows are glimpses of original bliss. The religious implications of this instance are important because the story that unfolds after this drags the reader along through more self-measured moments of the crane. In “Suicide Christmas” the crane is invoked specifically in what must be carried by the speaker through the holiday, “how you cried in that stiff hospital chair when our baby died; / the way you measured and leveled the curtains and the picture frames; / midnight — when we sat in your car rolling smoke / and staring at the dead wolves hanging on Crane’s fencepost.” A martyr was born, but “I” and “he” had a child that didn’t live. They sacrificed themselves upon the fencepost, but the ruminations couldn’t bring about a spontaneous reversal.
The crane is living behind every scene that follows. In “Safari,” the crane is the vodka the speaker has lied about. The wolf made tangible in “Wild and Filthy.” The hazy space of “The Affair”— perfect thighs, more vodka, the moment blown wide by feeling. The sobriety that is being played at never arrives because the crane is stalking time both past and future.
The crux of this displacement happens when the speaker explores motherhood through the relationship with their own mother. The foggy shower, and the box fan are breadcrumbs dropped in stories we now know, but that the speaker illuminates. The box fan is there in “The Affair” and the haze or mist of the foggy shower is there in “Crane’s Fencepost." It might make a reader wonder what moment was the catalyst or the “Crane’s Fencepost” in the mother’s recollective trauma. As the author asserts, “the dead sometimes wander.”
This collection weighs generational trauma, motherhood, the heft of recovery, and traumatic displacement — all offered in a direct voice that is authentic, weary, and bold. Read C. Cimmone’s “Torn Up” with Femme Salvé Books.
Kari Flickinger is the author of The Gull and the Bell Tower (Femme Salvé Books). Her work has been nominated for Best of the Net and the SFPA Rhysling Award. She is an alumna of UC Berkeley.
C. Cimmone is an author and editor, and founder and Editor-in-Chief of Versification. She has been creating dark literature since she was a child, asking her kindergarten teacher to scribe ‘I wish Sandy was here’ onto a purple construction-paper cloud, following the death of her puppy, Sandy. She credits her literary abilities to her father’s record player, which spun 1960’s lyrics every night after dinner. Cimmone enjoys dark comedy clubs, telling stories over chicken tikka masala, and New York City. She considers herself a recluse, is horribly afraid of flying, and hates to cook. To read more about her, please visit www.ccimmone.com or follow her on Twitter at @diefunnier.