The following poems come from Brenda Mann Hammack’s neo-Victorian fantasy in verse, which revolves around a twelve-year old girl, Victorine, and her companion, a chimerical creature forged of cat, owl, and dragonfly. At the beginning of the narrative, the duo resides in a manse that is part museum, part mausoleum. Fearing that adult caretakers will make a morbid exhibit of the Humbug, Victorine decides that the two must run away. In her ensuing encounters with human children, the girl finds that the outside world is far stranger than she’d realized—and even her own nature is not quite as natural as she had believed. In the following selections, the residents of the manse cope with Victorine’s absence. The adult figures include: Herself, a spiritualist, who remains in perpetual mourning for her stillborn daughters, and Himself, a teratologist, or a creator of monstrosities. Scritch, Vesper, and Hob are a trio of excitable gargoyles.
The shadow is a moving bruise,
the path like skin when arsenic stanches hue
Nerve betrays her as the crunch of cockle shell
perturbs the garden’s argumentative polyglot.
Requiescat won’t soothe them now the child has left.
They clamber on the turret: a copper-colored eft with wings;
a bent Methuselah without pelt or even flesh
to keep its insides to itself; a Celtic curse,
or, else, a feathered elf so fast one cannot tell its shape.
All three give meanness something else to gape
about besides itself.
Both near and far, Herself hears branch-slither:
“Whisker went that pretty maid who scold us stories?”
They listen for that soft, clipped cadence of a voice.
Waylaid, Herself cannot defray the cost of consciousness
now bent on hearing chronicles at bedtime.
She only knows a few, and those, like birdlime,
are loathed by flying things for sticking
so to rote, to rhyme that never varies from its pattern.
In sum, she can’t extemporize, and ever-afters
provoke barks of something turpentine
They can’t be sanguine in the face of zealousness,
and can’t abide a moral if it sounds like one.
Denied, they unwrench form from shadow,
and fill the air with pain, appassionato.
* * * * *
Brenda Mann Hammack is Associate Professor of English at Fayetteville State University where she teaches creative writing, women’s studies, and Victorian literature. Her poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Toe Suck Review, Gargoyle, Mudlark, Caveat Lector,Otoliths, A capella Zoo, Bull Spec, Steampunk Magazine, and Arsenic Lobster. She currently serves as faculty advisor and managing editor for Glint Literary Journal. Her contributions to Dr. Hurley’s Snake-Oil Cure can be found here.