Mutant Neuron Codex Swarm by Juliet Cook and Robert Cole
Published by Hyacinth Girl Press
Reviewed By: A.J. Huffman
Mutant Neuron Codex Swarm, a 27-page chapbook by Juliet Cook and Robert Cole, is a self-portrait of a relationship as a bad acid trip through hell. It is brutal and honest in a way that can only come from an almost after-life-like separation from the self. As readers, we are hovering above the carnage with the speaker, looking down on a train-wreck of a situation with a disdain that is anything but disconnected.
Cook and Cole, two obvious masters of macabre surrealism take us on an imagistic roller-coaster journey through the blood-soaked progression of a transgressive nightmare, drowning in an over-abundant amount of love, lust, hate, sweat and tears. They open doors -- revealing wounds, skins and private atrocities – that should probably have been nailed shut and abandoned in the deepest bowels of memory, but by doing this they force the reader to not only journey with them through these horror-soaked pages, but also to journey inside themselves as the cataclysmic scenerios begin to seem all-too-familiar. This bawdy collection of expositions erupting with expletives of lust and frustration born of a stereotypically mundane obsessively co-dependent, self-destructive relationship is as intoxicating as opium, and just as addictive.
Fearless of judgment, Cook and Cole actually welcome the readers’ theoretical commentary. In Bang It Until It Explodes, they blatantly pose the question: “Are they human? You decide.” This strange awareness of and interaction with the readers subconscious forms an immediate connection, forces more squeamish eyes that might prefer flower-covered denial, to not only engage, but to focus on base-level debauchery splayed in the following pages.
In a mere 23 poems, Cook and Cole manage to weave a portrait of gravitating build, an eruptive explosion, and a settling into almost sadistic complacency that is beyond impressive in both its uniqueness and its universality. In Stop the Madness!, we see the point of initiation: “You know how pussies purr/and then turn into explosive devices.” At this moment, even though feminine pronouns abound, gender disappears, and male or female, a uniquely human understanding of what is about to happen emerges. That moment when amazing sex clicks something in the brain screams this is worth any price overrides common sense. “The telegraph reads DON’T/stop DON’T stop DON’T stop” is a testimony to the over-riding confusion that occurs when the body and the mind get lost in intense physical sensation. “The aftermath/is never good enough.” drives the duplicitous point home – the absence of such amazing sex is a level of down that causes a craving need for duplication, repetition, and the realization that this consuming coupling can only end in something less than the euphoric Xanadu it is held as.
In Induction Obscura, we begin to see the beginning of the ups and downs that can be the only reason even Shakespeare referred to love as “merely a madness”: “They dig themselves out of the loam. . . down the toilet again.” As the intensity of the relationship grows, so does the imagery of these emotional potholes: “where the light at the end of the tunnel/is another tunnel smoldering beyond control.” (Churning Codex Portal)
Coagulation Served Cold With Lemon Zest reminds us again of the consciousness of our speaker, the awareness of the torturous destruction that is both being inflicted by her and is being inflicted upon her: “Allow me to place the napkin just so/upon your lap, around your neck,/the blade tip trained to your ear.” Even worse, we begin to see the speaker’s awareness of her own helplessness: “Tied down, hacked off, so much less to potentially love.” While grisly and grotesque, this awful moment is still completely relatable. Have we not all tried to metaphorically cut off pieces of a significant other in search of a reason to extract ourselves from a bed relationship, often to no avail?
And when extraction fails, what is the next human reaction? Blue Flames in the Nest tells us: sex becomes a weapon. “A robe falls to stand up straight/brimming with teeth.” This idea of the body as weapon is taken one step further in Contamination Ward: “too drugged to mutter an evocation . . . The doctor waters his perennial scourge . . . Continue the retinal collapse in sub-level three.” This image of a sexual zombie with intentionally induced blindness flashes like lightning in a starless sky – illuminating to an almost painful extent. “Is his pen(is) a medicine bag or a blow torch?” The ugly face of addiction is beginning to emerge.
By the time we reach Swarm One, addiction has consumed both speaker and reader: “Lucid unrelenting pain proponent, we were somehow winged/with gigantic stingers all over our skin. Nobody can touch us anymore.” The emotions of the speaker echo what the reader is feeling. The scene is too painful to endure, and yet to alive to pull away from. We are completely consumed.
From that peak moment of unity, immediately we are plummeted into dregs if emotional despair. Swarm Two blast us with a scathing dose of realization: “Nobody can save us . . . Ashes ashes we/used to think we were interesting. Now we are nothing/but rotten fritters that would eat until nothing remains.” With that slap to our consciousness we are faced with a mirror of entrails that are both otherworldy and our own, and we think this must be the end, this must be where reality strikes and someone is saved. But no, Copy and Pasty My Eyes shows us that there is no happy ending to be found in this tale. Clarity is not to be found. “Here, at the entrance/exist, blinding dust is everywhere.” And in Final Swarm we are faced with the unwished for reality—sometimes there is no way out, and we see the speaker and her counterpart 10, 20, 50 years in the future still stuck inside this hellish hamster wheel, going nowhere: “we sit and buzz by an empty fireplace,/wishing the forest would be set ablaze.”
Finally, Cook and Cole remind us that they have been bleeding intentionally before us by posing just a final question to the reader: “when we lick the dirty mirror, does it make us more attractive?” This visceral duo, in all the depravity of the previous pages, shows that there is always a level lower. The need is still prevalent, but has now changed. The search for sexual gratification, for emotional sanity and a calmer co-existence, is now manifested in the need for any validation. Is this literary penance enough to equal a moment of beauty. Yes. Yes it is.