Considering the Wasteland: Margo LaPierre's Washing Off the Raccoon Eyes
Margo LaPierre's first poetry collection, Washing Off the Raccoon Eyes (Guernica Editions, 2017) walks the landscape of mental illness and addiction with a focus on the journey forward. These poems illustrate a process of returning to oneself after a long and destructive vacation. “The body knows/I don’t live there anymore,” Lapierre writes in “Amulet.” These poems are a brave attempt to order both horrible and beautiful moments of a chaotic past.
To arrive at an honest conclusion
about the nature of the space you inhabit
it is necessary to attempt objectivity.
It is valid to question the possibility of objectivity regarding oneself, particularly as mental illness and addictions bend perspective. These poems are unafraid of shining light in all corners; LaPierre shows us that beauty and ugliness hold hands in the wasteland and, though acknowledged, both must be left there.
If I ask you to consider a wasteland, I must be careful.
A wasteland is not an area of nothingness;
it does not echo.
It’s a place where things are discarded,
where everything must be.
— “Soft Edge of the Square”
While society at large often views addiction and mental illness as moral failing, LaPierre resists that lens. This book is the stark beauty of bones. It doesn't care about our normative judgments because it's too busy resisting its own. It’s not a book that wants our pity.
Would you shut up about drugs already?
Can’t you think of anything else to talk about
and spare your reader
the endless self-indulgent spiel?
and we said,
Shut the fuck up, this is our poem.
— “Junkie Poem”
The absence of sentimentality in these poems is a true blessing. The speaker holds herself at arm's length, her observations unforgiving as licking a knife. There is little mercy and we are not warned of what’s coming any more than the speaker was. The facts are laid out like short, sharp breaths.
He lifts me
by the nape with one hand and breaks my wrist
with the other, pressing me against a wall.
I scream and he rubies my
mouth, mashing tongue and lips and teeth.
I think about your lips, your tongue.
A bit o' something special.”
These poems ease toward a conclusion, and it's one in which the past can be contained and the future stepped into freely. Scenes of apathy, abandon, and ecstasy are laid out like gleaming dental instruments, numbered and labeled. Eventually, however, we must “rearrange the stars, head to where [we're] heading” as the third section of this book announces.
LaPierre's first collection lays bare an essential journey—that of saving ourselves from our own history. Steps forward are steps away from the darkness, but we can still keep a few treasures secreted in our pockets to remind us of who we've been.
It was my right to fail
I climbed out, studied the nature
of obligation and returned to my old job.
I'm one of those women who is always chilly,
but I learned to put more clothes on.
—“Washing Off the Raccoon Eyes”
Jennifer Pederson is a grandmother, poet, musician, and teacher from Ottawa. Her poetry has appeared in In/Words Magazine and in the battleaxe press anthology the bird philomela as well as online at newpoetry.com and bywords.ca. She directs the Sawdust Reading Series and released her first solo album, White Chalk, in August 2018.