The urgency: Trenchant, dexterous, and intensely lyrical, Journey’s essays anatomize and alchemize their subject matter, piecing the author’s personal experiences, family history, and eclectic—frequently macabre—fascinations into a tender and nuanced investigation of our relationship to the stories we inherit and construct, inhabit and revise, inscribe and transmit.
How I felt reading it: Like I had crossed into something luminous and intricately patterned—think the jeweled reflection of a rose window. Of a cross-sectioned heart.
Where I read it: My bedroom, whispery with leaflight, in which I’m currently warehousing a number of taxidermy mounts and Catholic antiques I can’t find room for elsewhere.
Lines that destroyed me: From the titular essay: “As I wandered the wonder-rooms of Deyrolle, I imagined the inverse of Rilke’s disillusionment in which moths flutter—terribly mortal—from the body of the shaken doll. I imagined each creature held a history inside it, the intricacies of a lived life, with its shifting landscapes and loves. I imagined the spiny anteater licking garnet clusters of ants, flicking its lavender tongue, and the yellowed ivory of a nineteenth-century fox skeleton in a bell jar beginning to shiver and plink out its story of longing for a red barn and a farmer’s chicken coop. I imagined the white peacock perfectly camouflaged on a blizzard-encrusted stump, as if the snow had grown a miraculous bird of power-white plumes, who now rises—resurrected—from the shining, winter ice.”
From “Retro Anatomy of a String Bass”: “Now it seems to me that my twenties were as disproportionate and hulking and lovely as Carrick’s upright bass, when he’d fit his endpin wheel into the bottom of the instrument so he could roll the whole thing down the sidewalk. The wheeled bass looked like a sumo wrestler wavering on a unicycle or one of Remedios Varo’s surrealist paintings of people with wheels instead of legs. Who knew some relationships are like this—a string bass rolling, elephantine on a single wheel, until a person lets go of the shoulders, releases the neck, lets the body drop?”
From “Modifying the Badger”: “Bringing a dead animal back to ‘life’ through taxidermy—by shaping confident details and lines, by conjuring a fantastic world in which this impossible form might exist—is similar to writing a poem, I think, and, significantly, both modes of art are acutely linked to loss. The lyric moment, frozen in an arrangement of raccoon hide or bird skin or within the precise imagery and syntax of a poem, creates an illusion for the viewer or reader that moves beyond reality: we’re offered a moment that testifies to the beauty, bittersweetness, and gravity of impermanence, and yet, paradoxically, that moment and its inhabitants are no longer mortal. They stand with the other shapeshifters, defiant, outside of time.”
GIF that describes this book:
Pairs well with: Trying on old furs, exploring attics and crawlspaces, watching time lapse footage of Dermestid beetles at work.
The final word: Reading this collection, I was struck by the relationship I perceived between Journey’s approach to essay-making and her background in the visual arts—I imagined her elbow-deep in her raw materials, whittling, welding, modeling, stitching and weaving these pieces into being.
Andy Nicole Bowers studies and teaches at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where she serves as the Juniper Fellow in Poetry. Her fascinations include still lifes, illustrated anatomies, cabinets of curiosities, dioramas, and reliquaries. Her recent work has appeared in Big Big Wednesday and Structo.