Me with my new blue jeans and t-shirt from the Gap; me with pink underwear and a goldfish shower curtain from Target; me with my full tank of gas and my recycling stacked. Me victorious in red, white, and blue, in clean socks and discount hair; me victorious and tummy full. Me about unconditional market rules. Me about not caring whether our socks are made by infants in Bangladesh, our potatoes sprayed on the outside, or encoded with pesticides in their genes, because who has time to worry about that? Who cares if companies can own our DNA just as long as we don’t have to read that fine print, and hey, if they’re encoding pesticides in DNA why not antibiotics in us? Why not Valium or Prozac? And while they’re at it, why not do away with the gene that makes some of us gay, funny, serene, artsy, bohemian, overly or underly enthusiastic, doubters, promoters, bad joke-tellers, union sympathizers, shamans, men who clean. Whatever makes some of us lean the opposite way—whatever opposite is this week. Just as long as I don’t have to think about potatoes in soil: I prefer to think of french fries all golden and salted, so far removed from the earth that I believe they are a lab invention, shot out of a potato gun at one hundred fries per second. I mean I’m okay with that. I’m okay with unidentifiable transactions, the elimination of wild unless it’s between the sheets and involving me, oh, me oh me victorious. Me about owning stuff. Me about buying power and income security. Me victorious over slippages, over fractures of wonder, over instances of compassion. Me only concerned with interest rates, credit card limits, cheap flights to hot places where the sun oh, oh sun, oh sun shines twenty-four-seven and water is chlorinated, contained in cement and plastic, trucked in from places where other people have to endure rain. Me victorious. Me such a fine citizen, such a good statistic, such a humble consumer, I vote with my fashion sense, with my belly, with my God—and he’s mine, all mine only listens to me—turns his back on you other types. Me, oh, me victorious with my credit card, with my well-heeled acceptance, with my condoning and tolerance, my blind eyes, my skill at skirting you on the street, my ability to step over, to go around, to sink lower, my cavernous depths of denial. Me victorious over sleepless nights. Over worrying. Me Nyquil, me Sleep Ease, me Johnny Walker, me Budweiser, me Imitrix, me a totally hot babe. Me laser aerobics, me a new Volkswagen Golf, me googling, me googled, me full of the best intentions, me a suicide bomber with a long, slow burn, me just want the Dream, me want the lottery, me want that chance, me just want to believe the only thing holding anyone back is their own lack of hard work.
Queyras divides her time between New York (where she teaches at Rutgers University) and Toronto. So it’s not surprising that her work is thoroughly urban and cosmopolitan in sensibility: her focus isn’t nature “red in tooth and claw,” but human nature, which can be crueller and more destructive than any fanged beast.
In the powerful opening poem, Queyras is tour guide to a streetscape of bleakness and environmental blight, eschewing the city’s other, more pleasant possibilities (“I can give you the insides of books, take you through the shelves / of the New York Library”). That choice reflects the collection as a whole, which bristles with the energy and chaos of urban life and seldom backs off.
Stylistically, Teethmarks is a mongrel. Queyras shifts from long loping lines of acerbic litany to terse, fragmented narratives whose incompleteness seems to mirror the disconnected lives of the characters they describe.
The collection isn’t all snap and snarl. For instance, a poem about coping with moths attracted to a bedside reading lamp has a rueful (though pointed) humour. At first, the poet captures the moths and sets them loose, not wanting to kill them. But such humane scruples fall away and she undertakes a campaign of elimination, “until the house is wingless … all the dark fluttering / of the night safely contained.”
In fact, there’s “dark fluttering” of various sorts in Teethmarks, and an urgent sense that things are not safely contained. This tough-minded collection is disquieting, but it’s also compelling.