Review: The Maggot on Maple Street

By Paige Johnson

"I come from the unhinged fringe of the universe."

If Maggot hatched from a wriggling slump, you wouldn’t know it, the diction is so highbrow on even the most low-strung nights. From larvae to Monarch, Gray threads taxi spill Saturdays into lingerie leers made sticky-sweet by twilight. Porcelain plates shatter on ashen grass to sparkle under pulpy moonlight.

These poems are like picking from a crystal candy bowl beside manic-depressive Sylvia Plath's typewriter, the sweeties exotically bitter or spicy hot. Blood-stained knickers and bleach-drinking mothers, asylum-disorienting imagery, whimpering glass, wrought iron Gothic prose, steeple sharp. A few unforced rhymes and refrains. Feminine depression, lust-drunk on wanting more out of life, soot-and crème-stained fists raised to settle a score, “hushed hemorrhaging.”

This is like Templeton The Rat smorgasbording on small, syrupy delights and savory hunks of despair, admiring Charlotte’s web but preferring the honest imperfection of his own inky pawprints.

There's a surprising speculative element to many of the poems that will invite horror fans, with all the talk of screeching birds, neck-gnawing spiders, pre-partum ghosts, and the mystery of life/braving who you're meant to be. A very abstract style with vast references, from real poets to Greek myths, this sounds like it could be from another century if not for the occasional computer mention. “Charge of the Revolutionary Gun” seems it can tiptoe any of these avenues.

"Mill of Silence" seems to be a call to martyrdom, a sardonic Jesus asking the onlookers to fling a few more stones. "Folded like caramel" is one of my favorite bite-size morsels, calling to mind layered ribbons of self-indulgence to seep into like saccharine quicksand. "Don't Say Goodbye" seems most cute and modern without being jarring in departure or preciousness. Best stanza: “With starry thighs and coal miner skies, I languor/ With Bambi eyes all aflutter, I drink / from the well of men."

There’s the ironic juxtaposition but unabashed self-assurance of buying commercial coffee from a Parisian streetcorner. Shortbread, fishies, sleazy au pairs: these are a few of my favorite things. Though I prefer the straightforwardness of the last couple poems—dressed down but still pretty like a slip with moth-bitten silk you can mistake for eyelets—It’s less guarded, more accessible and confessional this way.

Paige Johnson is the author of Percocet Summer: Poetry for Distancing Dates and Doses and contributor to Anxious Nothings an illustrated collection of ironic, erotic short stories, poems, and essays.