I love to read and write prose poetry, flash fiction, and microfiction—forms that can be interchangeable depending on your editor or audience. I am so very glad that my guest this month, Mercedes M. Yardley, provides us with her exquisite “micro-prose” (or whichever name you wish to give it)! In the following essay, she expresses how she has turned to poetry with a need to explore her deeply personal feelings. Yardley is a whimsical dark fantasist, who wears stilettos, red lipstick, and poisonous flowers in her hair. She is the author of Beautiful Sorrows, the Stabby Award-winning Apocalyptic Montessa and Nuclear Lulu: A Tale of Atomic Love, Pretty Little Dead Girls: A Novel of Murder and Whimsy, Detritus in Love, and Nameless. She recently won the prestigious Bram Stoker Award® for her story “Little Dead Red” and was a Bram Stoker Award nominee for her short story “Loving You Darkly.” Mercedes lives and creates in Las Vegas. You can find her at mercedesmyardley.com.
Note: Mercedes will be present at Carina Bissett’s tribute to Women in Horror Month. On Friday, February 14, 2020, the satellite chapter of HWAColorado will be hosting a Bloody Valentine event to celebrate #WomeninHorrorMonth. This event will be held at the Cottonwood Center for the Arts (427 E Colorado Ave., Colorado Springs) 7-10 p.m. This event is free and open to the public.
Poetry as Radium: Make the Horror Shine
Mercedes M. Yardley
One of my favorite things about poetry is that it’s one of the only socially acceptable ways to process the shadows we’d rather ignore. It is a deep exploration of both joy and loss. We use it to poke the soft, hurting, secret parts of ourselves, or to explore the bone protruding from those we love. So we feel and grope and probe and squeeze, and then it gently dissipates. The Universe is full of words wandering around in the ether, and there’s a sweet sadness to that.
I always expressed myself in poetry. Language is a lovely thing, and we create new words often to describe those things that were formally indescribable. Words flutter around like butterflies, and it’s simply a matter of catching them and coaxing them to line up in the proper formation. It’s tricky and sometimes frustrating, but isn’t that how art is? Isn’t that how life is? Nothing goes exactly how we plan, and when I’m busy trying to describe that dark hole in my soul via poem, I’m distracted from the pain. Healing through art is a true thing.
Poetry’s delicate touch is light enough that it’s a perfect way to uncover those inner horrors. It might be far too jarring for me to ask you straight out how you feel after a lover’s death. You ache and curl up at night and perhaps hold a loaded gun in one hand, testing the weight. You might be surprised to find out how many of us do. But in a poem, a safe place where words are only words and can’t hurt anything but your soul, you can discuss such things in an almost lovely way. You’re able to press the metaphorical knife to your vein and bleed but in a safe and nondestructive manner.
She was beautiful before she died, but afterward? Ah, she was exquisite. He couldn’t look at her enough, couldn’t touch her fingers enough. She was all hair and gentle silence and, after a while, ribbons of bones.
He carried her everywhere, dressed up in delicate dresses with a pink parasol tied to her hand. He told her stories about his childhood. He sang sweet lullabies. He set her in her favorite spot, the garden, and the vines twisted around her femurs and made love to her ribs. She was coolness and full of night blooming flowers. Her eyes shone Delphiniums.
(“Blossom Bones” was originally published in the 2010/2011 Binnacle.)
Through poetry, I explored the devastating death of my newborn daughters. I raged as I realized I was stripping myself down to bare bones in order to fit in with society. I wrote about love and loss and heartache and what happened when people I cared about faced life-changing horrors with strength (sometimes), and cowardice (sometimes), and abject fear (always).
The day that his eyes broke
it wasn’t so hard, really. To look at him.
Not as bad as everybody says.
The puzzle of his jaw didn’t fit together
right. Pieces were missing. Big pieces.
The touchable pieces.
“The doctors did their best,” he said.
Their best was a disaster. Godzilla invading
Tokyo, not prettied up with
stage makeup and autograph requests.
“I love you,” I said
and kissed the least ruined part of his face
I was only lying a little, but that came before this
and his newly broken eyes couldn’t
produce tears, anyway.
(“Remnants” was published in Modern Madness II by SPOOKYNINJAKITTY BOOKS, 2018)
Poetry gives us a way to break down the crushing emotions into bite-sized pieces so the horror is easier to swallow. You take an entire story and condense it down into something else entirely. Did you know that radium, once deposited in the bones, makes thousands and thousands of tiny holes? The bones become a beautiful latticework of catastrophe. The holes, as much as the bone itself, tell a story. This is how poetry works. The story becomes enriched by the void, by the things you leave out. Each word left is polished and left to stand as this glorious thing, while the holes, the pauses, the lines purposefully left out add strength to what is left standing. By leaving gaps in the storytelling process, you’re left with only the most concrete, most important images. It isn’t a flood of beautiful prose that takes up a novel’s worth of space; it’s a tightly condensed thing of perfect beauty. It’s possible to pop this beautifully, horrible thing into your mouth and chew it up thoughtfully, whereas you would have choked on the deluge of the entire novel itself.
Dustin LaValley and I put out a small book of poetry and microfiction together. It was titled In This Point of Stillness, and, while the book was divided into two sections (“These Words Are His” and “These Words Are Hers”), they wound around each other. We discussed life and impending death, murder, sadness, and gender politics. It was a strike/counterstrike project, with our pieces working together in response to each other. As I said in the book itself, “Now it is done, this exploration. You give me ribs and I wind around them like flowers, blooming in your hollows and giving your dust life.” (“Listen Girl … Part Three of Three” from In This Point of Stillness, DYNOTOX MINISTRIES, 2017). Dustin would write something, like his “Listen, Kid … Part One of Three,” and I would respond to it in my own way. What a dream project! What a chance to take each other’s work and build on it, to hollow out the bones, to inject ourselves into each other’s work like radium! We made each other shine. They were short, consumable pieces. We were able to act and react quickly, to build the pieces together with passion and anger and whatever we were feeling at the moment. It would have been much more difficult with a novel. It would have been a bit watered down with words. Poetry let the emotion show through because every excess had been stripped away. To this day, this collection with Dustin is one of my favorite projects.
I’ve written many poems and been fortunate enough to judge poetry contests, but I’ve yet to put out my own collection. It’s one of my dreams. I’m currently working on a collection where the poems intertwine with each other, referencing murder and death in the loveliest and most brutal of ways. I find the ugly makes the beautiful even more striking. It gives us something to compare it to.