Sticks for the Roasting
Novica Tadic’s collection, Dark Things is an ode to Memento Mori. His collection reads like an old German woodcutting from the 15th century come to life in words. But Tadic doesn’t just remind us of the death that awaits us all, he presents a world of utter hopelessness where to survive is to somehow be complicit in the miserable world of his wandering speaker.
Perhaps my favorite poem and the one mentioned by Charles Simic in the introduction, “Armful of Twigs, Dream,” exemplifies this idea of complicity. The speaker carries an armful of twigs to a communal roasting of someone he can’t see, and “doesn’t know who is being/burnt alive or why” (5-6). This kind of involvement is evident in my poem, “I am Birdshit and Bits of Twine.” It is in one sense becoming the thing it detests while critiquing it. The speaker is BP, the speaker is the bird ingesting the oil. But what Tadic is able to do with this collection is much more refined. It is the difference between a pelican’s gawky plunge into the ocean to catch its prey, and the osprey who glides down feet first, snatches its prey and flies away all in one great swoop: Tadic naturally being the latter of the two.
Tadic’s speaker is tormented by the “Midnight Lady” who sits on his bed “as if it were her work table” (21). The poem offers the picture of a someone almost paralyzed by fear, reading the piece, one can almost taste the metal of fear in one’s mouth. It is true that the end of Tadic’s poems may offer a kind of “silence” as Timothy Henry points out in Verse, but for this reader, at least, the silence is almost always pregnant with the possibility of violence. It will not be quiet for long. At the end of “Midnight Lady,” is the beginning of the horror.
This silence/violence dichotomy informs my poem, “Night Noise and Rabbit Twitch,” which was inspired by my reading of Dark Things. I am working on this idea of writing a collection on gender-based violence. “Night Noise” chronicles the terror of the victim who knows what’s coming and the inability to do anything about it save wait. There is no “gun to start a fire” nothing to defend against the predator at her door. She can struggle and fight, and will—but ultimately, I think the poem shows she will lose this battle. The speaker is left to the mercy of her tormentor, or as Tadic writes in “About the Knife,” “mercy walked away from me/now, quickly, you do the same” (10-11). There is no god of redemption, what is crucified in the poem “Soldiers Song” is “nothingness” (13).
Tadic’s speaker may identify himself as “god’s messenger” but after reading the collection one must ask, god of what? What this reader came away with is that there is true evil in the world. In “You are Mighty” a title reminiscent of something one might find in an Evangelical hymnal, the thing that had no motherly birth is also the thing that would rip out human flesh “with pliers” (10).
There is much beauty in Tadic’s poetry too, if one takes Keat’s notion of beauty into account. It is a world devoid of hope, a kind of existentialist dream filled with “bottom creatures and venomous stars” (“Hatred” 10). I return to my 15th century woodcuttings and engravings. They are beautiful--even in the terror they evoke, and there’s no question these are responses to a Christian god of love. What the 15th century Europeans knew and what we sometimes forget in our shiny world of material things, is that the world is full of pain. Tadic’s collection seems to posit that there just might be something out there keeping a record of whate we do and we will be punished—here or hereafter. The only hope present here is that of the existentialist—that there is nothing after, but I am not convinced this is Tadic’s message. Pain and suffering seems to be the norm here, not the exception. The final poem offers us “the Lord’s breath,” but this is not a rope from which we can climb aboard a boat safely, it just may very be the rope the lord of dark things will tie into a noose.
photo credit: Stewart Ferebee