Lytton Smith

Monster Theory

I

It is always at the outset a displacement—
[the monster] is fragment, obscured glance,
suspicion, boneshard, is one town over
and can be seen footprint or silhouette
at the Gates of Difference, dependent
on their unlocking. It does not test
the height of the wall, try to scale it;
is bound to rules even in deformity.

II

All cartographers are men and all their wives,
all their thimble & needle wives, could not understand
the sense of scale that such men are born into:

how borders fit within the boundaries of a singlesheet,
how men are meant to region the diminished globe,
mark its latitudes. At the centre of the map they place

their town. Concentric from it, the foreign. The island
of only-women. The creatures with heads for stomachs.
[The monster] finely etched. Re-drawn. Drawing closer.

III

An imagination of cartographers
A fumbling of daughters An aloneness of [monsters]
A warmongering of sons
A body of woodsmen A liminality of [monsters]

A confusion of daughters An expectance of hermits
A body of townswomen
A luminosity of torchbearers An affection of hermits

A deconstruction of record-keepers
A secondsight of burghers
A hic est monstrum of [monsters] A faraway of [monsters]
A one town over of [monsters]


IV

Thumbscrew: would not compass thumb.

Iron maiden: the points bent on contact.

Cauldron of boiling water: stench, but not of burning flesh.

Buried alive: restored, [the monster] emerges from a grave.

Torn apart by horses: horses expired.

Steel chamber: [the monster] could not have escaped
more quickly.

Drowning: the haul dwindles; of the occasional trawler, no news.

Gaol cell. Handcuff. Bullet (silver). Banishment. Pleading. Offer
of Surplus and Fealty:
ineffectual.

Rendering as Myth: [the monster] never seen twice
in the same form.


V

The cartographer remembers the anniversary
of his daughter’s disappearance, redrawing
the map he made for her earliest birthday:

the town, its alleyways, and beyond the limits,
slant-script as she asked him, Here Be Monsters.
He colours it with petals picked and crushed

for dye in the nearby wood. He uses sapling
branches for its frame, gathered searching
where she must now be. Hanging it outside

for rain to loosen it, he mouths the old warning:
inter [the monster’s] corpse at a fork in the road
that when it escapes from the grave it will not

know the path to follow. His sleep is interrupted
by the open and crash of shutter on window:
his daughter taken, the town woken in light.


VI

“Inter my corpse where two roads converge
at the gallows: the monster always escapes
& I must not know which road leads to you.”
“...........................................................
..........................................................
...........................................................”
“The monster exists as harbinger to crisis,
devil’s advocate to the identity. I do not call
these limbs misshapen & yet my horns ruin
how you category.” “..................................
..........................................” “So be it. I am
lodging-house keeper to terror, I am host
to dis-ease. I consent.” “..........................
.......................” “In time, their summons:
come tempt, come captivate, come as what
we are not & how we will rise against you.
So it is I police the borders of the possible,
serve to remind how fearful exception is.”
“..........................................................
..........................................................”
“You of all should know fear of the monster
is a kind of desire, a way of loving without
the difficulty of touch.” “...........................
............................................................
...........................” “If your hands grant
a life I could not have imagined, the amber
of electric through the body, I have seen

also your weeping after.” “.....................
..........................................................
..........................................................
.........” “No. Your presence threatens a chaos
beyond my means: when I allowed you here,
trusted to you quill & the mark of my skin-”
“...................” “I was mistaken. Monster’s role
is to reveal; if monster becomes progenitor,
what then?” “............” “I am made uncertain
by you-” “...............................................
..............................................................
..............................................................”
“They will arrive to find me & you tearful.
It does not matter you are unharmed.
One of their youth must kill me, his wounds
not mortal but legendary. He must become
hero & I allowed to go. Inter me as I asked.
My survival is to emerge from a grave, await
summons. You to the hero’s bedchamber; I
to brief solitude. There is some peace in life.
I remember you.” “..................................
...............................................................
...............................................................”

Lytton Smith

"Monster Theory" first appeared in Monster Theory (Poetry Society of America, 2008); and is from The All-Purpose Magical Tent (Nightboat Books, 2009).

First posted on January 2, 2009 2:30 PM