After the Party, Ben Jeffery

Michael Diehl, Forceful


After the Party


After the party had started to wind down and the revelry had dispersed into the lanes, the moon begun to set and the fog begun to rise, some crocodiles came out of dark places to help clean up. The smaller ones went to the children sleeping on the lawn and the larger ones went to the exhausted dancers in the garden, and the biggest ones, with jewels inlaid in their backs, went to the silver-haired slumberers in the wicker chairs and their cummerbunds and tiaras. And to the dancers who were still awake and swaying quietly by the gazebo came three enormous serpents; one a great head with a hundred trunks trailing, one a great trunk with eight heads, which were all women’s heads, each with thirty-two snakes again for hair, and one a plain gray basilisk but for the markings on its back, a woman’s face, and the face was writhing in ecstasy. And they came to the edge of the light and swayed there with the dancers, and when a dancer would notice one of them, that dancer would become still. And when all of the dancers had become still, the serpents came amongst them and pulled them away and crushed them into gravel in the lane. And when everything was quiet again, then those that remained retired to their beds, wherever they had them.

Ben Jeffery


Review by Dave Mehler

The lack of context for this monster ‘after party’ at the close of the human party, the careful description without any human meaning imposed on the narrative aside from the bourgeoisie affluence of a garden party description, the notes of the fantastic, like the fact that the ‘biggest ones’ (crocodiles) have jewels inlaid in their backs or that a serpent can trail a hundred trunks (?) or that one of the basilisks has a tattoo (?) or at least scale design of a woman’s face on its back all points to the nightmare and quiet horror of the scene. In fact it’s the quietness and matter of fact details and the realization that no one is spared whether a child or sleeper or the still awake which makes this nasty little prose poem so chilling, understated and horrific; but also somehow not? How can this be? It’s dreamlike, but unlike a dream also high resolution and richly detailed and described. And very quiet and still: and in the final line since it’s clear there are no human survivors of the garden party, we are given to know by inference it’s the monsters who retire to their beds finally after everyone else has been crushed into the gravel. Since this is a dream come to life, and fantastically metaphysical, we gather this isn’t simply about animals seeking physical sustenance in a normal predator/prey relationship (nothing seems to be described as eaten) we are left to ponder what we’ve just read and are left with the question of why this malevolent killing, detailed description without emotion, and why the destruction is so complete with not one being spared? The only hint at an answer offered by the author is that they’ve been called in to come ‘out of dark places to help clean up.’ ? It’s dreamlike, nightmarish, horrific but also somehow not, because of tone and description? I find this horror deliciously mysterious and original, and also mythopoetic, archetypal, pointing to something subconscious, metaphysical, or almost extraterrestrial? Lovecraftian? Add maybe a touch of humor, a wry grin? Something other, and kind of like an original take?

As the editor, I find it interesting that no other contributor was drawn to comment on this piece. Not sure why, because this piece and the originality of this writer stand out to me. I often will privately note how interesting it is to see which poems in an issue garner commentary and which don’t. Some pieces stand alone unregarded usually for a variety of possible reasons. Most often because they are disturbing or difficult. This one has a wicked sense of humor beneath it, I think, but it’s indirect and subdued. This is how I read this piece but it could be I’m just weird. The wonder of poetry is that we can each be moved differently and by different things: so I say yay for poetry!

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