Mass for Shut-Ins is the 117th volume of the Yale Series of Younger Poets, in which Mary-Alice Daniel confronts tricontinental culture shock and her curious placement within many worlds. During Poetry Month 2023, enjoy excerpts on our blog from a variety of poets published by Yale University Press.
MUST BE SOME KIND OF SPELL
Your favorite knife goes missing.
A guest stole something.
(Your house isn’t haunted—you’re just lonely.)
Walking through after the after-party,
see empty chairs in expert mimicry of human exercise:
assembling in conclave, two to four.
Facing conversation and cold cuts, policing every exit.
Sticky ring-stains sit beneath bottles all over your house,
concentric cones of hospitality radiating out in crop circles . . .
They are visual traps.
Also, they are sensory traps.
Also, they are fetishes.
They are effigy.
(Objects are animate.)
They want to return, like children or brides, to their owners.
A boning blade has vanished—the mojo in a home disturbed.
It turns up weeks later, under the precise center of your bed.
In that spot children hide from their parents’ frantic reaching:
pointing perfect, straight at your pillow.
Massive ships carry massive ships to ship
graveyards. Aircraft on back of aircraft.
Our construction of the Brooklyn Bridge,
cables eager to catch humans—
humans otherwise caught
in a net of telephone wire
humans assimilated into
the larger borg
A French Revolutionary politician gave
each day of the year its own true name.
Pitchfork. Maple Syrup. Silica. Scythe.
Barrel. Bedstraw. Dung. Crucible. Plague.
I’ve come to admire toned-down language
in manic habits of the monstrously lonely.
As I like the laid-back vernacular
scientists use for leviathan things:
VERY LARGE ARRAY HUGE LARGE QUASAR GROUP
THE BIG CRUNCH THE WEAK FORCE
NEWFOUND BLOB EXTREMELY LARGE TELESCOPE
SPAGHETTIFYING GREAT DYING
Nothing just IS anymore. Everything Super is.
On top of mainstream madness in planets:
Posthumans are more than biological.
Plushumans are typically 8 feet tall.
A billion brains symphonize in realtime.
Immaculate simulacrum of precisely one
cubic meter. And asteroid terrorism.
And slow-moving wall of ice.
Ice that overtakes some houses.
Perfect ice circle growing on some rivers.
Unusual snowing. Freak winter of terror.
Small mammals freeze where they stand.
In animatronic tones, Tina Luckless turns on me.
So she says to me, she says to me, she says:
I wanna hotwire a blue ’57 Chevy—but just to take it
once around the block before returning it where it was.
Tired of delusions, I say this is too specific.
We are driving down Main Street in my truck.
It hit 200,000 miles and takes a calamity to turn over.
It is the holiday season, so trees dress in moonbows & firebows.
They glitter and shatter in a washpoint of starshower.
They surprise. They find me afraid.
How her voice turns metallic—Now her eyes are painted on—
black as oil spill or oil beetle. I am afraid if sanity’s a choice,
of what in this room I might use to hurt myself and others,
the lack of proper barricading between Us and Empty Space.
Early warning systems had a very serious influence
on the formation of my whole heart.
But what was it my mother always used to say?
Don’t whistle into the dark. You will surely draw devils here . . .
And what am I doing now but whistling.
Mary-Alice Daniel was born in northern Nigeria and raised in England and Tennessee. She holds a PhD from the University of Southern California. She is the author of A Coastline Is an Immeasurable Thing: A Memoir Across Three Continents. Rae Armantrout is the award-winning author of eighteen books of poetry, most recently Finalists, Conjure, and Wobble.