Lucy Mad Lib
Most horror movie fans know that the face half-hidden in shadow, hand severed from its body, the viscera trickling across the floor without its source, are more horrifying than torture put on full display. In the opening scene of the American version of The Ring, a girl’s mutilated face flashes on the screen for a blip then vanishes. The camera cannot stand the horror before it, the looking-away more terrifying than any steady gaze.
Silence is imagination’s mother—our minds can dream more horror than any cinematic or poetic image can give us. In other words, the worst monsters are our own: they grow in blank spaces. Lucy is monstrous and monstered; she lives in a world that so fetishes the teen-girl body it becomes a mockery of itself: it looks like a girl and smells like girl but see how it plastics and glitters on the stage of our desires.
The blank spaces in “Lucy Mad Lib” allow the reader to insert their own horrors. The last three blanks beg us to explain why Lucy sticks marbles in her vagina and crowbars a turtle from its shell and safety pins her thumb-skin. If you are white and middle class in America, Lucy’s your daughter your pathology your hurt and angry creature; it’s your job, as well as mine, to fill in her horrors.
Girlhood's Dark Energy
I had imagined Lucy as an amalgamation of me and my girlhood friends, though I don’t know anyone who tore her dog’s fur with her teeth as his yelps sequined the room, and I never met a girl who built a terry-cloth house and named it tumor, and I didn’t feed worms to my sister or tell her that six-pack rings murder sea turtles. After reading a handful of my Lucy poems, my friend Mike said that she “embodies the dark energy of girlhood.” Though many of Lucy’s thoughts and actions are based on what happened to us, just as much about her is invented. In other words, Mike’s comment was an “aha” moment.
We held a few drops of hope in our bodies but mostly we were made of hurt and rage: the usual culprits of white suburban girlhood—date rape, absent fathers, mothers who pause while chopping vegetables, stare with blank eyes out the window. We smoked cigs behind the tracks; hickeyed each other’s arms to “practice”; spray painted “fuck Jesus” on the front wall of St. Michael’s church in all our originality; drove past the strip mall’s neon glow and danced to strobe lights and techno.
Sometimes, Lucy seems 8 or 10; other times, as old as 16. Once, she grew horns from her forehead; another time, she became “the beloved blonde, a party’s favorite streamer,” which is to say I don’t know Lucy’s age or appearance, don’t know where her shame began or why she hates her mother. Her story doesn’t matter to me: it’s her voice, her energy that I am mining.
Like so many young poets in their twenties, I had been writing biographical, coming-of-age poems and they’d been mostly good, with some decent images and original turns of phrase, but the poems were nothing special. Then, while visiting my folks in Ohio, I sat in their parlor to write and a girl named Lucy started praying her mother would die in a car crash, and she pressed a Reddi-wip nozzle till her mouth filled with sugary relief, then went to bed where vampires raped her in her sleep. I had discovered a body into which I could pour the dark energy of my girlhood: I had found the voice. After that, the poems came quickly and easily, some only needing one or two drafts. Though my earlier, more strictly biographical poems, had needed 10, 15, even 20 drafts, Lucy often arrived nearly complete.
What no one ever said in the many workshops I have taken is this: the point of revision is not always to perfect that particular poem—it’s to develop a closer relationship with one’s aesthetics, which is a fancy way to say what you like and don’t like, which simply means what you keep and what you cut. Once I had developed that intimacy with my aesthetics, Lucy was able to arrive and stay largely unrevised and largely spontaneous. Yes, I make cuts and additions; I tweak or re-order the phrases, but the core of each poem mostly stays intact. She’s a whole voice, a finished girl—
Claudia Cortese has two chapbooks: a collection of Lucy poems, Blood Medals (Thrush Poetry Press, 2015), and a collection of lyric essays, The Red Essay and Other Histories (forthcoming from Horse Less Press, 2015). Her poems and essays have found homes at Blackbird, Black Warrior Review, Crazyhorse, and Sixth Finch, among others. Cortese lives in New Jersey and is the poetry editor for Swarm (swarmlit.com).
Other poems by Claudia: