The Poetry Project

Unsolved Mysteries by Marie Buck

Review by Jo Barchi

In Unsolved Mysteries (2020, Roof Books) Marie Buck asks us to consider a moment after revolution where all we will do is “document the lives of the dead,”

 not the dead we already know about, but the dead we don’t know about.

We’re going to take Jeff Bezos’s money and we’re going to document ourselves and our pets, all our affections, our quotidian habits.

We’re going to document the street cats that we didn’t take in because we already had pets.

We’re going to document, on behalf of our pets, all the toys that our pets liked and accidentally destroyed.

And maybe socialism will unveil something. Maybe Jeff Bezos’s  money will mingle with his blood and create an effect.

Buck’s choice of prose and essayistic style is an interesting one. It brings to mind Bernadette Mayer’s journals, or Chelsey Minnis’s style of blending the dialogue of classic movies into her poems. But instead of opting for Minnis’s style of the apolitical, Buck’s poems are fiercely political, invoking socialism around every corner.

Buck posits that one of the purposes of a show like Unsolved Mysteries, from which the book takes its title, is to highlight the deaths of people whose passing would rarely be highlighted. The shitty deaths. Capitalism dictates the importance of the deaths of famous people, of CEOs and actors, but Buck asks us to consider the shitty deaths of the average person. Buck brings in metaphor, currently and heatedly discussed in the moralistic circles of poetry social media, and uses it to give us a push towards developing and maintaining an imagination for a socialist future. Buck foregrounds metaphor as a way to invert the relations of power and resources in this world that make the deaths of famous people famous and leave the shitty deaths of everyone else unremembered.

So we should, I think, invert it and force the rest of the world to be a metaphor for the dead of Unsolved Mysteries: the world as a series of red stains that can help us think about the thousand or so people, I’m guessing, who appeared on the show.

For instance, if we wanted to remember Dottie Caylor, we could think of Jeff Bezos smeared with blood, lying outside of his patrol car, with the lanyard of his handgun wrapped around his ankles, handcuffs on his left wrist, the name ‘Robert’ written on his hand, his unit’s radar cable wrapped around his neck, and a bullet wound to the head

Buck never claims to have all the answers. They do, however, write effusively about sex. This choice is striking, and at first a little jarring. It’s a choice and maybe even a perverted choice to link mass death so directly with intense sex.

I’m picturing the world not being garbage, me and my lover in the non-garbage world feeling not like garbage, grinding our clits against one another’s knees and thighs and worrying about nothing, simply coming up with questions: can I put my hand in you, can I put my hand in your mouth, how many ladybugs are moving through the air around us, which tomato vines smell the strongest, can you fashion a dildo from just anything, let’s make this one garden themed.

Bernadette Mayer once asked her young daughter to describe utopia and she answered: “I’m going to make dinner for all the people in the world, the sun will come out but it won’t melt the food and the clouds will sit quietly at the table without raining, and the moon will come out but it won’t get too dark.” Buck continues this vision of utopia here. Our collective clits will be stimulated and we will enjoy all of the fruits (and vegetables) of our labors. Buck points out that it is impossible not to imagine this world while stimulating the clit of another, or having your own clit stimulated, without also considering the mass death taking place in the streets of this world.

Okay. You lie in this bed letting people stroke your back while the people with the hardest lives die first; their deaths are the shitty kind.

Buck argues that sex and mass death will always be linked in this world. That they run parallel to one another, and that talking about either is a way to talk about socialism, to talk about collective action. In a poem that heavily references Frank O’Hara’s “Personism” manifesto, they walk us through the phenomenon of the Lucky Pierre. The Lucky Pierre is of course, the person lucky enough to be in the middle of a threesome. The person who is both fucking and being fucked. Buck is reminded of this in a church during an experimental music show. They write:

Your experience of the Lucky Pierre 

Is itself mediated by this 60s gay male term for it;

You can’t get to the fucking without going through

‘Lucky Pierre,’ without going through poetry, without going through 

Frank O’Hara. 

So that the term ‘Lucky Pierre’ from the personism manifesto, then,

Is placed between yourself and the experience of the Lucky Pierre, the conduit for thinking 

About how hot it is to be a conduit, so that your physical body is in the middle, doubly gratified, like the poem is, but mentally, you’re behind, topping Frank O’Hara’s notion of the poem, which is gratified, while it tops the physical scene

The scene in which you are topping and topping simultaneously.

The reader then becomes a voyeur, for both a poem being written, a poet being fucked and fucking, and for an experimental music show in a church. The Lucky Pierre metaphor forces the reader to take on all of these roles, even the role of the person dying a shitty death.

Elsewhere, Buck reminds us of the deaths of those lost before, documented on the tv show Unsolved Mysteries. Buck walks us through the deaths or disappearances of Dexter Stefonek, Jeremy Bright, Dottie Caylor and Kari Lynn Nixon, among others. Buck charts the disappearances and murders of these people with care, seeming at times to almost be speaking of a family friend who died before they were born. At times, they inject humor and their own experiences into these poems, imagining the sex lives of the victims. The tragedy of a lost life is never removed from the poem. They position this loss front and center, while still hoping that the victims enjoyed pleasurable bathroom sex at rest stops. If the bodies were never found, they imagine instead of death that an escape took place. That the victims got away from a dickhead husband, or ended up in New York City, surrounded by queers.

Buck’s book doesn’t act as a how-to guide for fixing this world. We have many options for how to go about achieving our goals, but this book does not offer a single clear path for how to go about beginning. It instead reminds us that this world is not the only world. It offers us an argument for using sex, and our imagination for sex, as a way to combat the suffering of continued mass shitty death. It argues that our imaginations cannot ever become as depleted as our bodies do in a capitalist world. Buck imagines the death of Jeff Bezos repeatedly. The death of Jeff Bezos—or for the more soft of heart, “redistribution of his obscene wealth”—has become so popular on most social media platforms, so well-liked and overused that it has started to feel slightly hollow. Posting about wanting Jeff Bezos dead is an easy, and to use a popular term, sometimes cringe way to signal that you care about wealth disparity. Buck, instead of falling into cringe or ease, wants you to feel it. They want you to feel the rage and pain; they want you to imagine the JOY that will course through your body when he is dead. They do not go the route of Diana Di Prima and offer you a step-by-step Revolutionary Letter on what to do if you were to, hypothetically speaking, violently murder and steal all of the money of the richest man in the world. Instead, they instruct: “Let’s take Jeff Bezos’s money and use it to live forever.”

#263 — Winter 2021