Spitting In Your Face: David McLean's laughing at funerals
Reviewed by Wolfgang Carstens
why can’t Wordsworth be right
for once after his life,
and you just stand there,
a dog and his boy
surprised by joy, surprised
by resilient unreliable life,
and try to remember
how to smile?
(from surprising joy)
When McLean begins laughing at funerals it is not because he’s suggesting that we should celebrate these loveless minutes we share here under a dying sun, but rather it’s because McLean genuinely doesn’t care. Not only is McLean cheerful that we die, the acceptance of this fact is a prerequisite towards any semblance of happiness.
we are not a substance
but a state,
a state of dirt evolved by chance
to be a woman or man;
we vanish and are that nothing
we do not understand
(from we vanish)
what i see in others is not the skull as such,
but precise images of eyeballs falling in,
the cheeks and hands first covered
with fungus, just as soon as the lid shuts;
i can smell them rot always already
beneath their stinking perfumes,
death present in their futile lives
(from seeing skulls)
David McLean’s new poetry collection laughing at funerals is the literary equivalent of spitting in the face of humanity. Not just spitting, but reaching deep into the branches of his lungs to hawk up a long, greasy booger. Rather than merely plant that booger on the tip of our sharp noses, McLean digs his fingers into our face, peels back the flesh to expose the glistening skull, then digs even deeper in search of that mysterious “i” that animates this ghostly flesh trap.
“i” enters my body like a knife,
a nightmare, an incisive
it is a lesion in me,
it is not at home in the blood
that loves, it needs to use words
to refer to “love”
(from “i” enters my body)
i am blind to names
and the beings in them
we are, needing to dress
our selves in scrubby
lonely cloaks called sexuality
and identity, gluing together
dead men to be devils
(from i assume my name like an obligation)
One of the traditional metaphors that McLean has centered his new work around is the contrast of sunlight (day) with living, and darkness (night) with dying. To complete his metaphor McLean has children playing in the sunlight and adults wandering in the darkness – which is fitting because as soon as the innocence of childhood is lost, our slow crawl towards the grave has begun.
when we died we noticed
after clutching at living so long
we had forgotten to be alive –
and now it was night
(from when we died)
tomorrow smells like murder
but the sun is shining here
and nothing is interested
in the coming slaughter
so we sacrifice ourselves
tonight to life, but breathe
a minute here under the loveless
The first step towards good living is to recognize the nothingness that not only we will become, but the nothingness we already all are. For McLean there is nothing but “... death and the expectant stomach.” It is pure folly to imagine that humanity exists outside the animal kingdom and that our hopes, dreams and expectations are somehow not subject to the instincts and vegetable law that governs the “lower” animals. As McLean puts it:
we need no nation, and nor have we ever done so.
we need the sun and we need water and warmth
and blood beating in the obstinate body,
bodies free to murder obligations and duties and gods.
(from we need no nation)
Here McLean strikes a chord with Friedrich Nietzsche, whose revaluation of all values certainly resonates with McLean. Life is fucked up already; from the moment we emerge from the womb we are nothing more than “worthless carrion”; the greatest insult to our brief minutes alive is to be bound by another’s values. To deny our instincts is a crime; to hold ourselves up as the pinnacle of existence is not only false, it’s insulting to the flowers and trees.
i look at the trees and hills and animals and think
“i am less than this”
existence in me is an index, a token
that pins a name on a body
(from “this art thou”)
McLean finds comfort and brotherhood within the natural world. It is here that McLean looks towards some better model of humanity.
we are earth and blood,
no soul or heaven or stardust
and when time comes to rot,
if we before have resented our eternity
lying in the soil,
then may the earth spit us out
as unworthy her. i love my animality
and my animal mortality,
and when the trees, and the loving slugs who dwell
under them, carry the sky like a burden tonight
their burden i willingly share.
(from we are earth and blood)
Like Nietzsche previously with his eternal recurrence and rant against the despisers of the flesh, McLean climbs out of the murky ooze of resignation and nihilism with re-evaluation.
if you really must kill children
then leave the corpses arranged exquisitely,
as if you were commenting on time and nonentity,
not just throwing away sacks of inconvenient meat.
(from ethics and aesthetics)
they dislike life because of mortality,
and think what ends is valueless
which is phenomenally illogical.
no body thinks badly of a fuck
because erections are relatively temporary
(from because of mortality)
a few years extra
can be a temporary resurrection
precisely as good as forever used to be –
time just to see the snow again and love it
(from the cold is a tender knife)
remembering your mortality
is not to act dead already
but leave the hours
behind and be
(from wu wei)
all suffering is good –
nothing looks sexier on skin
(from skin stretched)
This book is not about gloom and doom, nor is it about rainbows and lollipops – this book is a cold splash of water in our face. It is the two hands of the gravedigger lifting us up, shaking us and screaming “stop taking yourself so seriously.” By the time you’re done with this book you’ll be laughing at funerals too – not because you’re happy, but because you’ll be ready to face tomorrow with a smile and one foot planted firmly in the grave.
heaven is here inside us, white
and impartial and timeless:
we never needed it, never asked for it
and its burning. we need demons
to turn into, moralities to fall
apart through us, to be new;
every sin they ever knew
futile and renewed
(from this we said)
David McLean's laughing at funerals is an honest and sincere attempt to communicate with us. If we can't accept our insignificance and laugh and dance and celebrate - we're fucked.
looking at Cambodian skulls
stacked in black and white
some things seem rather empty –
bitching about life or death
seems pretty unnecessary
(from Cambodian skulls)
McLean`s laughing at funerals is available through Small Press Distribution, as well as part of The Lucky Bastards Club subscription through Epic Rites.