A Human Voice Would Scare Us: A Review of Jessie Carty’s “Shopping After the Apocalypse”

In Jessie Carty’s Shopping After the Apocalypse (Dancing Girl Press, 2016), the speaker doesn’t really shop as her money is no good in abandoned sport and tackle stores, but she accumulates objects that she thinks she will need for the foreseeable future: she makes lists, she gathers, she stows.

One notices immediately that information is not disclosed on how this apocalypse came about and it sort of doesn’t matter. There doesn’t have to be an end to the world to possess neurosis, to want to keep moving, to question, “Should I walk on the open road or stick to the back woods?” The brain patter of Carty’s female-identified speaker is similar to any overactive, adrenalized thinker. Her inner thoughts and plans could resonate with anyone hiking around the world today or tomorrow and makes them ponder how safe they are. How much time do we spend alone, planning our next move, or thinking about our security? Sometimes it does feel as if we are the only person alive in certain places. We hear the quiet. We see the woods through the trees. A human voice would scare us.

In section II – each poem is broken into numbered sections – Carty explores travel paths, and these explorations trigger bigger questions:

“You aren’t sure if you should cut through yards or stick to the roads. You aren’t sure if you should travel at night. You wonder if you should be concerned with what parts of town are good or bad anymore?

Your neighborhood has been so quiet. You have no idea who else is left, or if they’ll care that you are ready to move on.”

Again, we don’t know what happened to the world. We know the speaker is alone, that she must keep moving, that she chose to take a switchblade from a drawer and various snacks and vegetables. She still hungers to plunge her hands into soil, however, to plant roots and watch them grow. But she has to keep moving. She is displaced. And we mourn this need for her to move. We want her to take a nap at the Target. Instead knows she just needs to grab up a bicycle.

There are hints that she might run into other people. For example, in section IV, Carty writes, “You consider grabbing the painkillers: a possible item to barter.”

But the only other people are the ones in her memories. In her traveling, walking, or pedaling, she encounters an elementary school and thinks about the makeshift basketball “court” of her youth at recess, or how volleyball sessions in middle school always had too many kids crammed on each team. She thinks about the permission slip (that she ripped up) to shoot a bow and arrow in one gym class – even that plays into the theme of solitude. The speaker never even got the chance to use it.

It is through the speaker’s memories that we hear crowds but also witness warmth. Section IX serves as a reminder of joy, even the small kinds. This joy might be a boring trip to the post office or mall made meaningful by the fact that it’s now impossible. For example:

“You need clothes.

You pull up to the mall…You used to love the mall. Not for the shopping, because it was often hard to find your size, but for its climate controlled hallways. For knowing how many laps it would take for a mile. For the ease of exiting if you were too tired. For the number of locations where you could buy a drink. For places to sit. For the warm lights. For the smell of cinnamon rolls.”

Here, the mall is a relic of human creation and convenience, all of the services and actions that create this infrastructure. There are electrical systems and businesses, and gift buying, and capitalism, and people watching, and sugary treats. The unsung accoutrements of an old life.

But all the speaker has is the present moment because nostalgia will slow her down or even get her killed. In this tipping point – wanting the societal comforts but experiencing a true “wakefulness” in separating from them – we feel Carty’s struggle and release in these poems.

It isn’t until the last section that Carty’s speaker “might be ready to know someone else’s story,” and we are genuinely excited for her.

Jennifer MacBain-Stephens lives in the DC area and is the author of three full-length poetry collections: Your Best Asset Is a White Lace Dress (Yellow Chair Press, 2016), The Messenger Is Already Dead (Stalking Horse Press, 2017), and We’re Going to Need a Higher Fence, tied for first place in the 2017 Lit Fest Book Competition. Her work has been nominated for Best of the Net and the Pushcart Prize. She is also the author of nine chapbooks. Her chapbook She Came Out From Under the Bed (Poems Inspired by the Films of Guillermo del Toro) recently came out from Dancing Girl Press. Recent work can be found in Dream Pop Press, Prelude, Kestrel, Yalobusha Review, decomp, and Inter/rupture. Visit her website here.

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