Mira Corpora by Jeff Jackson
Mira Corpora is part bildungsroman, part survivor story. The protagonist, Jeff Jackson, runs away from home early on and begins a transient lifestyle - from the woods to the streets. In the face of this seeming absolute liberty, the narrator finds solace in some form of constraint, often physical. The first chapter (one of the most lyrical parts in the book, and perhaps my favorite chapter overall) recounts a hunt when the narrator was young and pudgy. He ends up being used as bait, "The siblings shake some rope from the bag and wrap it tightly around the slender trunk. I mean, they wrap the rope tightly around me… They smear my entire body with runny chunks of dog food and slimy kitchen grease." As night falls, he is circled by pairs of menacing green eyes and fur matted with blood gleaming in the moonlight…only to have them lick his face. He enjoys it so much that he returns several nights later, lathers himself in leftovers and waits.
Jackson is at his best in moments like these, moments in which he paints a haunting or tragic beauty. I say "haunting" and "tragic" because these images are often somehow associated with death. Perhaps most beautiful and most haunting is the narrator's attempt at suicide. After falling into the hands of a manipulative caretaker, Jackson finds himself naked, fatigued, and without short-term memory due to daily yellow pills. He stops taking the pills and begins to plot. A failed escape leads to another, more desperate, plot. He gathers rope, ties it to a chandelier and slips a noose around his neck. It doesn't work. The chandelier crashes on top of him, but he doesn't give up. "I focus my sights on the window, stiffen my neck, and propel myself a few feet ahead… The scraping sound of the trailing chandelier fills the entire room. The frame of the window is almost within reach, but the light keeps growing fainter." The imagery is absolutely fantastic. It doesn't draw attention to itself, it doesn't need too. It is both stellar and haunting and made me tremble.
In some ways, the plot of seems to distract from its literary merit. This is largely due to its compelling nature. Its incredibly suspenseful throughout, but some aspects are somewhat cliché (secret society of runaways in the woods). Jackson's artistic moves are subtle and fall into a complex network of interrelated themes, which are teased out in motifs and certain techniques. It is difficult to imagine how all these elements are structured and related, but floating in the mix are themes of memory, rewriting, gaps, constraint, openness, ritual, and death.
One of Jackson's most successful techniques is what I will call "zooming out" for lack of a better term. What I mean by this is the revealing of another layer, or transcending to a new level. This transcendence also comes as a sharp pivot, often as a single sentence. Usually this is done by giving something a kind of frame, sometimes literally. One instance of this technique comes early on in the society of runaways in the woods. There are always rumors floating around amongst the runaways of the treacherous truckers. Finally Jackson gives us a glimpse of what this terror might look like:
"They saw off a boy's limbs. There are faces without eyeballs, slick gray organs tumbling loose from chests, a human head planted on a makeshift spike. The truckers fuck girls in the ass. They fuck girls in the nose. They fuck a boy in his detached arm socket… It's a backyard holocaust. A bucolic apocalypse… At least that’s the story the painting tells."
Boom. Frame. I laughed at myself first time I read this. I was wide eyed, mouth covered in horror. But then, he casually steps back to show us the fiction. He smugly frames the horror, nicely distancing the reader from its imagined reality.
The frame works both ways though. It can distance nightmares, but also paradise. So it is with a photo of an orange tree Jackson carries around in his back pocket. "A breeze trickles the undersides of the leaves and the orbs of fruit can be seen glistening on the branches. They are ripe for the taking. But the boy has the uneasy sensation that if he reaches out to grab one, his hand will stab straight through the page." He finds solace in the image, something that vaguely alludes to home, but not quite, still ever so slightly displaced.
On the book’s construction, Jackson revisited his old journals, as told in the book’s author notes. Mira Corpora is the materialization of Jackson's own struggle to reconcile the continuities, discontinuities, and contradictions of his living/written memory and his unusual youth.
Perhaps the protagonist’s pill-induced memory gaps are what imbues blankness/openness with an aura of fear and, conversely, why constraint is associated with comfort (however deviant this comfort may appear to us).
Again, rope is used as a means of constraint and induces a distorted sense of comfort.
There was an orange tree in his neighbor’s yard that he'd stare at from his bedroom window.
Connor Goodwin is twitter's biggest fan. You can follow him @condorgoodwing. His work has appeared in Chronopolis. View more of his work at cgoodwing.blogspot.com