Vulgar Remedies
Anna Journey
(Louisiana State University)
One of the quotes at the top of a poem in this collection states that "the past needs somewhere to go" and in Vulgar Remedies it often manages to find how and where to do just that. Ms Journey is entranced by folklore, intimate objects, farming, dreams, an aunt who cares for prisoners, a now dead uncle, and Ambien® ... to which she dedicates three sonnets. The inscription before sonnet #1 notes that it "may cause hallucinations and erratic behavior," and there have been reports that some of us who use it so faithfully may sleepwalk, carry on conversations (although asleep) and even "sleep drive." Which I suspect I've been doing all along, especially when I arrive in Burbank while I'm attempting to get to Bell or Signal Hill. Ms. Journey reports in the second sonnet to Ambien that her "snack at three a. m." consists of

                         buttered cigarettes
    in a Chinese noodle bowl. A frieze
    of blue mountains along its lip. Sleep's
    porcelain borders. Next a salt sandwich,
    a slice of raw bacon.

Like many of the other poems in this collection of thirty-five, there is a taint of mystery, an otherworldliness, a "central black pond" with

                                    a circle
    of faces from which whispers rise like
    scavenger birds.

In addition, there is a bit of folklore which might possibly give a sleepless night or two to those in the medical profession who willy-nilly hand out 3,554,659 or so prescriptions for zolpidem tartrate every year to sleepless Americans:

    After the car wreck, the cops find her
    in the middle of the intersection pissing
    the shape of the Land of Insomnia,
    which steams as it spreads, which freezes, fixed
    to the crosswalk's bars.

§   §   §

"The Land of Insomnia" could well have been the subtitle for Vulgar Remedies, but, along with sleeplessness, the dreams and folklore are recurrent, strong. What to do with a tooth after extraction? Smother in salt and burn it, because if a fox finds and gnaws it, you'll grow "a gray fang" in later life. If chewed by a bear you'll develop a "yellow snaggletooth." And, if, during your childhood, you hold a dying creature, "you'll have shaky hands all your life." (Ms. Journey thought it was caffeine; no, it was a cardinal she rescued when she was seven.)

So there's a fair mix of mystery and nature and mid-American angst throughout, along with a now-dead toothless old uncle who swam with her in the warm gulf and asked her "where'd you get / those boobs." However, he returns from the dead, "sheepish," such that he glows

    like a grilled sweet onion with one side
    charred from a fire. He asks me to retrieve
    his coffee can stuffed with an ounce of Mexican weed
    from the garage before my aunt finds it.
Being dead, he tells us, "takes some / getting used to." I'll bet.

Ms. Journey is snippy, funny, waspish, mostly lively, although some of her poems do trail off into sartorial mysteries, such as bedcovers with

                                              faceless Dutch girls
    in patterns on the quilt, swallowed in bonnets, each one distant
    from the others, as if lost ...

But her ability to capture memory snippets of childhood is original, singular, funny, strange, lively, often lovely: "the boy from down the street who often begged / to suck my eyeball.

                                                 My pupil
    rolled under his tongue, the one
    whose scent was clove smoke and a soft brie

    winging after a blinding light,
    I must've singed the buds

    in his tongue to desert thistles ---
    left a taste like a saint's

    charred footprint.

Her shaping of family memories is touched with a gentleness that can be as beguiling as otherworldly. An aunt who works as a prison nurse, who

                        might wake
    one man with the kiss

    of a needle and another with the firm

    boa-squeeze of the blood pressure meter. She might
    hold them each

    a little longer, before she lets
    go, before the rest of the men know
    her neck's

    slow tobacco scent, the way she gazes out

    the picture window while unstrapping
    the machinery

    until the blood
    comes rushing back.

--- Lolita Lark
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