May 09, 2011
One of the first things to get my attention as I held the slim chapbook Cowboy Maloney’s Electric City (Dark Sky Books) by Michael Bible in my hands was the blurb on the back from Barry Hannah. Why? Because it’s Barry Hannah, that’s why:
“Michael Bible may have hit what a lot of us were trying, a singular new voice for CEO’s to slackers. He’s so open, so easy, so fluid, you’ll smile with joy turning every page.”
Fluid is a good word. Hallucinatory, poetic, lyrical, ethereal and amorphous work too. This collection of moments, these vignettes, are connected flashes of experience—wandering and longing, lost amongst the dunes and canyons of the new West. It’s Hunter S. Thompson and William Burroughs on a road trip, high on peyote, their hearts broken, Denis Johnson looking to get naked in the sand.
There is Cowboy Maloney of course, “just trying to make good”. And there is Kelly Kelly, his love interest, “a magic lantern”. There is Mrs. Kelly, the mother, a temptation as well, who has taught him many things. And Dugan Kelly, “an asshole enjoying the sunshine.” There is the liminal Princess, a dying ghost. Charlie West with his “Quiet Riot hair.” And of course there is Forever, Maloney’s trusty horse.
Out in the sand, there is trouble. It is not just heat and desperation:
“There is an illness in this part of the country that makes happily married men get up and leave their houses. Sometimes they walk to the next town, forget who they are and start new families. Once, after a sledding accident, I saw a man dying in the waiting room. He got off the bus by himself with an awful head wound, blood down his face. There was a magazine with a tiger on the cover. He picked it up. He set it back down.”
Michael Bible lulls you into a dream state, and then lays some wisdom on you. Often, it is the words of the Princess that echo across the desert:
“When a snake is born with two heads, Princess says, it fights itself for food.”
And you stop for a moment to consider this fading apparition, and her observation, picturing for a moment this serpent battling itself for a mouse, instincts fighting logic, as all meals are headed to the same place. You nod your head and mutter, “Yes, yes. Very true.” And there is more:
“Princess sighs. Every human, she says, spends half an hour as a single cell.”
Again, you pause. This time you are transported back to the womb, to your own creation, that moment when we were all next to nothing, an amoeba, not long from that glint in the eye.
There is a mixture of the benign, simple images like a horse drinking water, or a woman gazing off towards the horizon, and these picturesque moments are hypnotic. And there are also times when everything gets strange, the outcasts exposing their damaged roots, the experience tilted and skewed:
“The ladies with braces are laughing on their phones. A man with a priest’s collar reads Mien Kampf. Kelly Kelly is wearing a beret.”
Between the flashes of humor, sexual escapades, hazy observations, and the unexpected is a melancholy thread that ties it all together, turning when you least expect it, the silence of that echo deafening:
“I have cunning, slyness and craft. I practice knavery and guile. I’ve got every house on this block rigged up with tiny cameras. It’s not always something sexual. Sometimes I just watch them doing nothing, chopping onions or taking out the trash. Sometimes I watch empty rooms and picture myself in them.”
Where do you find family when you have none? Who do you turn to when you are abandoned and lost? You make do with what comes your way, and in that creation, there is a filling of a void, the old death gone away, the new death come to rest:
“In the Kelly house the family is seated for dinner. Kelly Kelly’s hair is in a single long braid over her chest. Mrs. Kelly looks like she’s making a wish. Dugan moves his peas with his knife. If you listen hard enough you can hear Glen Gould from the speakers. The ghost of Mr. Kelly whispers, This soup is cold.”
This short, thin collection of stories is closer to poetry than prose. Every word, every sentence takes you a step further out into the barren wasteland, these moments in time captured like a Polaroid, slowly developing as the wind and the howling fills your ears. You slow down for a moment, and enter the nostalgic world that Michael Bible has created, and wonder if there is any way to stay there.