The Hush before the Animals Attack
by Carol Matos
Main Street Rag
Page count: 84
by Michael Wayne Hampton
About Michael Wayne Hampton
Michael Wayne Hampton is the author of three books. His writing has appeared in publications such as 3AM Magazine, The Southeast Review, and Atticus Review among numerous others, and has been nominated for or won several awards, most recently an Ohio Individual Excellence Award from the Ohio Arts Council. He can be reached via his website michaelwaynehampton.com
Carol Matos explores the multitude haunting pauses which rob language and make any spoken sentiment empty in her wonderful collection The Hush before the Animals Attack. The speakers in her collection do not reflect upon the chosen quiet instances in life, the deliberate silent states brought on by reflection or convention, but instead make vivid those vast in between spaces which singularly steal our voices in times of hurting or want, longing and memory.
Matos’ collection is broken into four parts. Through the first three sections readers witness the maturation of a speaker who survives abuse, longs for the freedom of animals and natural world, and grows to understand the power of her own sexuality as well as its inability to ultimately save her any more than faith or family.
The speaker of the first three sections relates the flashes of abuse and terror she suffered at the hands of her father. In “8MM,” the collection’s first poem, the she states:
so what are you going to do, hit me?
And he does,
Breaking open her lip. At twelve years old
The violence the voice endures is revisited often over the course of the first three sections in poems such as “Life Changing,” “That Summer,” and “Saved” which contains the lines:
not wanting to look at my father’s face or his mad man’s
habits. In a split second, some imperfection of mine
would electrify his anger, magnetize my blood.
In this passage general statements such as “habits” and “some imperfection of mine” reveal the breadth of triggers and failings which define the speaker’s relationship with her father. The spark of violence has no defining term, no specific words that fit, but is ever-present in the gap between last time and the next.
The lapse of language, the hush between the human heart and an animal exchange, defines this work. Animals set to pounce are without reason, driven lust as frequently by rage, and they surround the speaker. In the poem “Raw” she has a childhood desire to become a dog like her own and gnaws bones. As an adult in poems such as “Falling,” “Salt and Ice,” and “She Gets Her Kicks,” her primal nature to feel, control, and be controlled comes to light, as does her growing sexual education. In “A Pretext for Love” the speaker states:
...Drums beat. My advances flourish in the unspoken. Men succumb. Their girlfriends want to gnaw at my throat,
seek a second image of themselves.
The speaker explores her visceral power, only to find in the end it offers her no more salvation than the inert god she envisions in poems such as “Before” which ends with the passage, “for their lives to a god who never saves.” This leads her to return again and again to the natural world for the solace of the unsaid as she does in poems such as “The River Knows” which states:
emptiness spirals up our spines
weeds move around us
I want to exit this story
Nature in this collection is both an end and a beginning, another purgatory of unsaid thoughts which are destined to revisit regardless of whether they are invited or unexpected.
The speaker of the first three sections is sometimes transplanted by a new voice in the last section as it includes numerous elegies written from the perspective of the mother of Matos’ deceased niece to whom her book is dedicated. In this final section the hush takes the shape of the valley between the living and the dead, those gone away and those left with their memory.
The last section explores the tragic loss of a loved one, and presents grief and bitterness which mute any conversation with an eternal god. This is evident in the poems “On the Verge of Worship,” and “Without Reference” which ends “A flawed god carries my child away.”
Once the everlasting has been rejected, only the temporal remains to be trusted, even if that faith is only in its damnation to fall apart in the end. The poem “Roses on the Table” eloquently illustrates this, “Like a skeleton walking in sunlight, I find mercy in shadows, comfort in the half-dead trees of autumn. I am the arrow of time, entropy, moving from order to disorder.”
But even the natural world is given to shifts and untrustworthy in the shadows of grief and anger. Amethyst is used throughout the collection to symbolize the lost child, but it is presented as a green stone rather than violet which represent the failure of our expectations as to what should be. The fact that the stone’s name derives from the Greek for “intoxicated” also bears witness to how what we perceive is doomed to be only a misinterpretation, or a dream.
Matos success in The Hush before the Animals Attack comes in giving form to the events in life which seal our voices during the in between times where what we understand or expect is unreliable, left in the past, or impossibly in the distance. These moments visit in moments such as after love making, when alone on the shore, or on the verge of dreaming as in the poem “Right Before Sleep” which opens:
I’m between the unknown
and the sound of maps opening,
a former lover’s sigh.
I rub oil on my feet.
It is in these moments the voice of her poems lives and gathers what peace she can, rather than in the eternal, the expanse of nature, or the beating drive of animal wants. The hush is supreme and eternal.