Nod House is an epic poem, a surreal migration, an eloquent, fractured elegy. Its world and lyrics are volatile, traversing multiple landscapes, realities and bodies. Characters who start off as heads bobbing in a pond later turn bird:
on our perch, feathered arms,
feathered bodies, feathered legs,
ribcages birdcage thin . . . . We
This is just one transformation of many, mirroring the external transformation taking place in Quag, the city of sad children, Stick City, or any of the other mythic environments the book’s travelers find themselves moving through. It is sometimes hard to locate Mackey’s lyrics, in time, in space, in logic, but that is the beauty of his work. Often, when I felt lost, Mackey immediately swept me up again by reuniting me with an image, or with the lovers who flit in and out of the narrative. Other times, I was simply entranced by the rhythm of the words and the power of a fresh image that, while strange and opaque, was nonetheless radiant.
The book is in two parts, both titled Quag, which is a physical place in the book as well as an embodiment of the tumult present in the book. The beginning of the volume reminded me of Becket’s “Play,” with heads bobbing in a lake, in seeming desolation. Yet, these characters bear greater resemblance to their former selves, as they have arms, albeit without extremities: “Nubs what were fingers at arm’s / end, only knuckles to hold on with.”
There is later a transformation, as noted above, but this is still a dismal journey, lit often by music, sometimes by love, though more often by lust. This land is populated mostly by the dead, or the dying, or the living who were dead from the start, as depicted in the last lyric, at Stick City:
We knew we wore skeleton suits. We knew
we walked holding placards. “Dead from
Day One” they read, part requiem, part
Nod House is a tale of disintegration, or place, or self, of reality, and of dreams deferred, defeated, and re-dreamed. It is magical, it is inventive, it is a narrative that mourns, at the same time it celebrates, the ever shifting nature of the world.