Basement Gemini by Chelsea Margaret Bodnar
Hyacinth Girl Press, 2018. 28 pp.
Reviewed by Donna Vorreyer
People have long loved a scare, particularly on film. From Boris Karloff’s portrayal of Frankenstein’s monster to Ari Aster’s 2018 supernatural horror film, Heredity, a good fright has long been a popular American pastime. Chelsea Margaret Bodnar, in her Hyacinth Girl Press chapbook Basement Gemini, obviously shares this affinity for the scare. Bodnar references multiple horror films and their time-honored tropes to explore the nature of trust, ritual, the roles of women, and personal trauma. Through the recreation of horror movie scenes injected with humor, sarcasm, wit, and flashes of personal revelation, the reader is drawn through the untitled prose poems almost as a director carries a viewer through a film scene by scene.
The popular girls “didn’t mean to do that thing they did last summer, but it happened.” Somewhere in the house, symbols and strange markings appear. “Artifact ties to exotic religion–please interpret this “Not Christian”–burnt sage and sigils’ strange recurrence every x amount of years.” Bad things happen in the forest. “Good luck getting out of here; the small town surrounded by miles of woods…” These familiar grounds are a pleasure to tread as a reader, playing the game of recognition. But there are three repeated tropes throughout the chapbook that are particularly compelling.
Trope One: No one believes the heroine who insists that something is wrong.
I am suspicious that I’ve been infected, taken over; you attribute this to some past trauma, carry on like normal ‘til the lights dwindle to nothing and my eyes go black forever.
This common theme not only exists in most horror films, it both reflects and mocks the historical view of the woman as over-reactive, too sensitive. The woman who is not believed. In horror film, the price of not believing the woman is often her life. But here, toward the end of the poems sequence, the speaker takes back control, regaining agency of her own lengthy, terrifying plot.
Something’s not right, Five hours in and it’s still going. You reach toward the screen–it’s just too real for you, your hand goes through, you push the man aside and you fix everything.
Trope Two: The most frightening things do not always appear that way on the outside.
If the killer gets your boyfriend then at least that means your boyfriend is not the killer.
I am the whole small town with its cover-up, and this is sometimes not a metaphor.
The importance of the ordinary in both horror films and our daily lives is inescapable. In these poems, terror comes in the most simplified forms. Things are done because that’s the way they have always been done. But the mundane has its own pitfalls, its own way of trapping the speaker and the reader into a lulled sense that all is well even when it isn’t.
The backwoods keep their dead in plastic wrap[...] They keep their houses neat, their vices in the standard places, in closet, under mattress, underground, a root cellar with meat hooks glimmering in the beams like shooting stars.
Trope Three: The scariest part of any person is her own thoughts.
Listen, what’s really scary is how I don’t know what to do without you, I’m one metaphor away from giving it all up and getting personal, one line that shows these eyes are real.
Finding the killer comes down to facing things that haunt you, some fear that’s fast-established then hushed for a hundred minutes before returning, asking “were you watching? did you pay attention?”
These explorations of a person’s own frailties amidst the horror movie imagery are the most striking parts of the chapbook. It would be easy to enjoy these prose poems simply as homage to the multiple recognizable plot elements that have delighted and startled audiences for years, woven together to create a sort of superscript. But the vulnerable moments where a reader glimpses, sometimes uncomfortably, her own weaknesses, her own bad decisions, are what make these poems really shine. After all,
Who needs a word besides the certainty that when a thing is bad, you burn it down, your body or the world. That when it hurts sometimes you don’t bounce back and take the hand that reaches out to lay your bones to rest.
Donna Vorreyer is the author of Every Love Story is an Apocalypse Story (Sundress Publications, 2016) and A House of Many Windows (Sundress, 2013) as well as eight chapbooks, most recently The Girl (Porkbelly Press). Her reviews have appeared in The Rumpus, Quarterly West, Sugar House Review, Cider Press Review, Tinderbox Poetry, and other journals.