Chapbook Review: Believe what you want to believe
Your Daily Horoscope by Nik de Dominic
Reviewed by Anne Elizabeth Weisgerber
Well, Stargazer, today is your day. It’s the end of one year with a new one beginning. Time to think of your future, but how to keep the charlatans at bay? Read this book.
I’m quite fond of this chapbook of poetry, organized around a central conceit: horoscopes. The key, de Dominic seems to say, is for “you to be everyone in your dreams.” I love that the whole collection kicks off with the memory of someone who used to be able to have “keys cut to VIN numbers” that started Impalas and adventures. Can horoscopes be keys?
Generally, I only look at a horoscope in hindsight. If I have had a spectacularly unusual day, or have made some path-altering decision, I will look at my daily horoscope to antagonize myself. And I come to believe, after reading this fun collection, that de Dominic understands how hour-watchers are easy marks.
I like how the collection dips into New Orleans, the crescent and star city, home of Dr. John, unusual cemeteries, known for its psychics. I like how the muse of these poems sums things up, at times, in the bluntest way possible: “People are dicks.” A Katrina dog with aggression problems has had its life completely disrupted by stars and planets (a flood), and yet the unreliable narrator (a horoscope himself) assures me that the stars and planets “will not affect (my) life in any way.”
I love how the constellation here includes infamous Internet sensations and radio talk show hosts, the Sons of Anarchy and Ellen, how sometimes the true horoscopes of our lives come in the forms of lease agreements, want ads, pumpkin spiced lattes, and .gifs.
On the whole, I like de Dominic’s thesis. Too many people waste time looking for supernatural insights over drivel – who will win this week’s competition on The Voice? do I know my own friends and family anymore now that all I see of them is their social media postings?
Wait, woah woah woah. He kind of slips that last one in there, like the kid in American Grafitti who wants to order some booze by hiding it in a long list of sundries. Remember that scene? The underaged kid is like: Let me have a Three Musketeers, and a ball point pen, and one of those combs there, a pint of Old Harper, a couple of flash light batteries and some beef jerky. Well, de Dominic is like that. And I think you need his whole list, the whole megilleh of Your Daily Horoscope, to appreciate how he slips in your request for the booze of truth.
In life, as in “Today, Stargazer,” the predictor controls the mark. In efforts to appease others, selfishness is rewarded. “Bring those peanut butter cookies I like,” says the gypsy psychic, “the ones from Trader Joe’s.”
I do like being addressed directly as Stargazer throughout the collection, I like sitting across the page from the mountebank de Dominic. Here’s a few particular poems I really liked a lot.
The mid-point of the collection is a skinny column of a poem, “You build.” After its opening Eschersque imagery of endless stairs and doors, all that remains is
a shotgun shell
or the castoffs of those who came before. It’s interesting to think that we are part of a succession of things not only of place, but of time and effort.
After this midway point, there are two strong prose-poems, and “The men take us in the forest” is my favorite of the collection. Belying the breathless repetition of its rhythmic and looping phrases is the underlying theme of the whole collection: people are under attack and will remain under attack because they do nothing to prevent the assault. What assault? I do believe it comes from the crystal ball of tech and screens.
In the very next prose poem, “You will wake up today,” the subject sloughs off scripted verse, and says “I am for real. Thank you for your time. Good bye,” but that break from the scripted telemarketing pitch is in fact an Outkast lyric from years ago. Are we nothing, therefore, than a dictionary of feathers, fingernails, and teeth that reassembles like some teratoma? Or do these phrases only matter when, as in “The Chinatown Bus today,” we believe they matter? Has life become so orchestrally random that social media status updates give us, at any given moment, all the words we need to know to belong?
People might fade at their own peril for not participating in social media; or, as di Dominic posits, is it the other way around? In “There is a beach,” a person desperate to belong, to remember others, reduces himself to pixels, “tiny black dots like fossilized sea creatures in the grit” as the ultimate sacrifice for others.
Finally, on a personal level, I’m a moon child, a.k.a. Cancer, and we crabs often take a beating in the horoscopes, so I laughed out loud with de Dominic’s Cancer listing under, “How Long Can Your Sign Hold a Grudge.” He says I can hold a grudge for the time it takes “a sapling, shipped to Shanghai, cultivated, grown to maturity, harvested, made to paper (+ or – freight logistics).” That’s about right.
Read this collection, and get what you need out of it. I’m sure your experience will be just as entertaining as mine.
Your Daily Horoscope by Nik de Dominic (New Michigan Press 2015). $11, or $5 for PDF only, at New Michigan Press
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars