A review of Nancy Mitchell's The Out of Body Shop

Nancy Mitchell’s The Out of Body Shop, from Mad Hat Press, creeps like fog, and is humid, fat, and hot. It’s dangerous, Mitchell’ s America, haunted and beautiful, and crackling with wit, verve, and grit.

Framed by both the epigraph, “The key no longer turns the lock/of the mysterious door of bodies”, by Robert Desnos, and the opening poem “The Past”, Mitchell sets up Body Shop as an exploration of humanity’s frailty and the toxicity of past trauma. Acting as a kind of abstract Joseph Cornell box that encapsulates some of the major themes in the book, in the opening pages Mitchell offers up reminders of history’s toxicity, and cuts up language in a sparse tight lyric that showcases her craft.

The Past

If we have to bring it

up, we’ll need gloves

latex pulled elbow-

high. a mask--gas--safety

glasses. We’ll take it

outside, spread the decades

In the sun, burn

off the mold, the stink.

The danger of the past is illusory. At a glance you cannot see the mold, the asbestos, the egg sacs of black widow spiders in the corners of the boxes. The mold of regret, past indiscretions, and the everyday cruelty people inflict on each other, particularly family, can create a dangerous environment. It is the acceptance of the frailty of both human nature and the human body that Mitchell brings to The Out of Body Shop.

For much of The Out of Body Shop, Mitchell uses “I”, a personae, a masque, for most the poems. It’s effective; the “I” cuts to the chase, allows the poet to adopt masques to suit content. The speakers of the poems chase personal problems, face them, and sometimes even win, but in this sensual collection, death is always lingering. There’s a southern gothic charm to Mitchell’s collection. I’m not talking about affectation for dramatic flair; Mitchell’s south isn’t so much haunted by Civil War, Jesus, and colonialism, but rather generational poverty and white privilege, not to mention cancer, illness, opiate and meth abuse (on top of garden variety alcoholism), and a shrinking economy. It shows up in an incident report of sexual abuse, a drunken vehicular manslaughter, dead chickens, a pill taken by iphone light. Danger is pervasive, perhaps more so in the southern states, where globalism has left a hole in middle to high wage jobs.