Blot Lit Reviews: Drink by Laura Madeline Wiseman
Drink, Laura Madeline Wiseman
Reviewed by Kayla Greenwell
Drink is not your typical mermaid tale. Laura Madeline Wiseman ditches Ariel’s “dinglehopper” hairbrush for sharp teeth and empty bottle collections, and she uses a mixture of ethereal imagery and cutting realities to refocus some of the more painful parts of human experience. Madeline and her mermaids tease out negligent mothers, poverty, domestic and sexual abuse, and alcoholism and drag them down into the depths so that we can see them for exactly what they are.
I am familiar with Wiseman’s writing, but every time I think I know what to expect, I am always proven a fool. Drink is no exception. There is a heaviness to this work that is not felt even in her previous work Wake, a collection about monsters and the female death. In Drink readers will explore feminine bodies and experiences through the eyes of a child and her sister growing up in poverty with an inattentive mother. We see some of the harsher truths of their relationship in “Four Walls”:
She never looked at a map,
We never asked where we were going.
Instead, one place to crash after another:
A man’s trailer in his mother’s yard, a shelter,
A motel with a drained pool, a scrim
Of rusty water, empty bottles…
There was a duplex for a while.
The outlets sparked blue. We shot
A bb gun into the corrugated metal
Of the garage. At night she said, stop
Hitting me. That man pissed
In the corners of the room. She made us
A bedroom by tacking sheets to the ceiling.
Wiseman’s words create delicate complications that must be carefully undone. It takes attentive reading to fully unpack the intricacies hidden in the crux between the wild and mercurial world of mermaids and the harsh “rectangles and squares” of our world. Madeline uses this juxtaposition to drag the unpleasant reflections of our world out into the open for readers to feel for themselves. We see this most openly in pieces like “Pariahs.”
“Because when we moved there were always others,
Men who wanted to feed us hot apple slices
From their fork, or who rubbed our thighs inside
Our Disney sleeping bags until we awoke, or who slid
Their hands into our underwear, we grew teeth,
Sharp and mangle-mouthed, beyond the help of braces…
…we grew scales, bone hard and jagged, and armor
That nothing could penetrate, not even kind touch.
It’s ferocious and emotional imagery like this that really stands out throughout this book. You feel it seep into your bloodstream and change the rhythm of your heartbeat. Take “Rock Fight,” for example.
The mermaids gather rocks—small ones,
Large ones. They drop them into piles that
Grow from the bottom of the ocean… They
Like to feel where well and sluice has made
Them round, where quartz edges scratch,
Where pockmarks and scars soften, rocks
Like the faces of adolescents, the jaws of
Drinkers, the rough underside of what we
Drag as if we could force pain smooth…
If only we could force pain smooth, or let what hurts us sink to the bottom of the ocean to be lost forever. Wiseman leaves us with these thoughts as she continues to push forward through rough waves of Drink.
Drink is an incredible collection of heartbreaking imagery and mysterious fantasy. They blend together to create a powerful work that comments on a wide-scope of harsh realities of the human and female conditions. If there is a sea witch in this world, then Madeline Wiseman is the sea queen, sitting atop a coral throne with a squid ink pen in hand, waiting to tear open the shadows of our world. “Note how every path ends in drink,” she says. I’m listening.