In Christopher Morgan’s Fables with Fangs, (Ghost City Press, 2016) a micro chap of eight poems delivers us into the inner workings of the home, the symbolic place of safety, but there are no picket fences here. Morgan’s poems weave surrealism, fear, and humor into a classic tapestry that reveals how unsafe we all really are. The definition of a fable is a concise tale that intends to reveal a moral lesson by the end. Morgan tips his hat, signs off a good luck in those dark woods, friend, and leaves it at that. The lesson learned is watch out.
In the poem, “The Bear,” A bear literally walks through the hallways of a home, pauses outside a sister’s room, her door ajar. Morgan writes:
“I’m opening my door just a crack.
I’m looking down the hall. My sister’s door is open.
And nothing else. Of course nothing else. Then
I stop. Something in the dark. Large. A couch,
slowly moving toward me. Two reflections.
Looking straight at me. Now I’m already inside
my sister’s room locking her door. But what can
locks do against a bear?”
Morgan notes the speaker says “Of course nothing else.” Just a door is open. When a danger is present all we want to do is seek out our loved ones and make sure they are safe. He does not see his sister, just a gateway to a violent attack. There is also a potent surreal element with the “two reflections.” Morgan sees himself and the bear looking back—he sees the bear in himself . The lumbering imposter in a childhood home, a seeker of trouble and blood.
Morgan’s poems get to the point quickly. Common visuals that exist in our every day, like a furnace or items that you wouldn’t give a second glance too, become threatening and terrible. When I mean common, I mean things you ignore because they are everywhere: walls.
In Morgan’s poem “The Wall,” a woman’s husband is eaten by the wall and it is gruesome. It is not cartoonish but breathing and horrific. Morgan builds tension slowly though. The house exhales smoke but there is no fire. There is no warning. It’s like the woman senses something is wrong and goes to look for her husband who is already being eaten by the wall.
“His body’s upright, immersed high.
Like the kitchen wall’s eating him. A leg dangles.
His warped lips stretch like taffy. Eyes puff, bubble…
She tries tugging his body back
from wherever it’s going—it tears.”
Like people who are taken from family members suddenly and without explanation, Morgan’s prose poem is a terse example of this helplessness. There is pure trepidation on the page and the husband does not even get the chance to say good bye or scream. When there is a scream, it comes from the wall: angry and bottomless.
If we are unnerved by adults getting eaten by walls, adults who have a remote sense of control and power in the world, even if this is a delusion, it is even more unsettling to read about the shadows who run amok at a children’s playground.
In “Under Control” It is Morgan’s speaker who claims “ I set my shadow loose on the playground again.” Not only is he the boogey man or pulling the strings of the darkness like a marionette, but this isn’t even the first time he’s done it. We get a sense of a dark habit-like game almost like portraying an addiction.
He makes this humorous excuse: “ I’m sorry—never been a winner.”
It is when we are at our most vulnerable, our most lowdown that base human emotions rear their ugly heads: the ability to hurt, to lost empathy. The mothers and fathers try to grab their children up before they are eaten, but it is a losing battle. Morgan softens the blow with this:
“But the children thought the whole thing was a hoot.
Can’t blame them.
This poem is a monster playing with other “little monsters.” This “scary” is more tongue in cheek but also like a warning.
The poem “Omen” feels more like a traditional fable with birds falling from the sky, deer “shrieking” and even a cast of mob mentality filled “villagers,” who hammer off granite from a mountain and carry it back home in suitcases, literally attacking the earth.
I’m not going to give away what happens in this poem but just be warned “It was a bad night for sunsets—that night it almost didn’t happen.” There is humor in these lines as well a perceived uneasiness.
The last poem of the collection, “Georgia” is very lyrical and different than the others. It is almost a place personified. If Morgan states that we cannot feel safe in traditionally safe places (the home, the playground, etc) the solution is: internalize the place you want to be. Let the wholeness reside in you. Safety, after all, is a state of mind.
Here is an example of Georgia’s transient soul and personhood:
“Georgia dabs its neck and wrists with sweet tea cologne, then enters a bar to find a friend.”
“Georgia sits in a Denny’s at three in the morning, weighing out good and evil.”
“Georgia has a coral snake on one shoulder and a king snake on the other.”
No one is going to mess with Georgia— yet Georgia also seems alone, mingling with snakes and rats, the rare friend. There is a warning at the end of Georgia, however, sort of proclaiming Georgia was hurt once and learned the hard way. Georgia, Morgan promises to readers, “will never be that fellow.” Georgia holds the snakes but knows how to avoid a bite. We should all be so lucky.
Jennifer MacBain-Stephens is the author of two full length poetry collections (Yellow Chair Press and Stalking Horse Press.) Her chapbook “Dixit: Every Picture Tells a Story, or The Wrong Items,” is forthcoming from White Knuckle Press in 2017 and “She Came Out From Under the Bed, (Poems Inspired by the Films of Guillermo del Toro)” is forthcoming from Dancing Girl Press. Recent work is at Lime Hawk, concis, and Inter/rupture. Visit: http://jennifermacbainstephens.wordpress.com/.