Working Note: The Tales of Horror was begun during a residency in France where an estrangement from my own language & culture allowed me to encounter anew and askew the conventions of a genre I'd always felt a kinship for. (Almost literally: the sense of moving through a haunted and unstable house is all too "Heimlich" for the broken home & alcoholic family.) But diverse influences came roiling through me in a necessarily genre-blurring work where a reading of Bakhtin (how wrong he was about the lack of the dialogic in poetry!) mixed with Williams'Paterson and James'The Sacred Fount and turned back towards the feminine, indeed the maternal: the books my mother and I had read together, even though in separate rooms, those piles of library books knee deep by the side of each bed (the site of the guilty pleasure: reading...because it was selfish...). I speak, of course, if I speak (and still I feel--more so than with the dirty laundry of any mere disfunctionality--guilty, when I speak) of Renault, Stewart, Whitney, Heyer: novels with thinly clad women on their well-protected dust jackets, out in some storm in the middle of the night at the base of sheer cliffs on which a castle...--etc.. Oh yes, Radcliff, oh, yes, "Monk" Lewis, but I was going back to those modern gothics Tania Modleski differentiates from Harlequin romances by just this much: "the Harlequin heroine's feelings undergo a transformation from fear into love, whereas for the Gothic heroine the transformation is from love to fear." (Loving with a Vengence p.60) From love to fear and out again, and in again and out again and whew: a familliar story. It works, as they say, by breaking down. The failure of narrative (the narrative of the family just for starters) interested me, intensely, personally: I'd come to poetry as a site (articulated audibly for me first by Plath) of resistance to the social (cultural as well as familial) narratives in which women played such silent, terrified, confused and endangered roles, a site at which Lyotard's announcement of the end of the grand narratives came as a note of hope, for it was--as I more and more realized--not my house which was coming down, and just might come more obviously down if I stopped participating in all the rituals that helped to prop it up. It: "illusions of order congealed by fear" (Taussig,The Nervous System). Well out of it for a little while I became its entrance and exit, its wind tunnel, its open door: an aperture for what horror had, in a mutitude of tongues, to tell--and toll as still unspeakable.

from The Tales of Horror

by Laura Mullen

She touches me and takes her hand away abruptly, it's so clear that there is no one there.
"But it's always been like that!" Nervous laughter. The picture
Of a headless man falling headlong hangs at the head of the stairs.
"Why I must have been dreaming!" All this in the tone of one
Who desires to convince himself or herself. The maroon silk smoking jacket, the yawn,
The fists rubbed into the eyes. Sensuous detail is wonderful, wonderful,
But when the sheets twist themselves up into that slug-like form
In the sticky moonlight, becoming a lady who goes for the throat,
I check out of this hotel, apartment in a crumbling villa, mansion that no one...
Et cetera. "I won't stay another minute, I tell you!" Fireworks.
And if the marriage breaks up it's the fault of the house (the body
Goes out on a stretcher). "I tell you it's the same woman after all this time!"
There is a shocked gasp perhaps? Could you give us a, ah, yes--
Thought that was your tongue, no need to worry about that any longer.
"I say old chap, it didn't seem to you, for an instant, did it, that that choir
Of summer insects
was doing Verdi?" "On the contrary...." You have to wonder
Why he didn't just donate the goddamned (whoops, literally) thing to a Museum.
He put his head in his hands. "May I make a suggestion?" "We shall have to
Arm ourselves carefully for this deed!" And in fact he would not have lived
If we hadn't moved him here.
The thing, with a piercing shriek of unearthly laughter
Fled away. "Why it's been 'to let' forever...." You can tell that a beautiful
But evil woman once lived here. Well the house was thick with terror. ("I say,
What is this goop on the stairs?") Let's have another, shall we? I don't think
I could bear to be left alone just yet. I don't think I can stay here.
These candles have a habit of going out. Ah yes, here's that little something
I've been telling you about. There, do you see that? And it's headed
In our direction. "Why, I would have sworn, I'd better not have another--
Preposterous!...that those birds and insects (in the tall grasses and green-
Leaved trees at the beginning of summer) were producing a most sophisticated
Tune." Shaking his head as if to clear it. Gentle, slightly amused
Laughter, "in fact, I think I'll just turn in." Things are bound to look better
In the morning. (I believe you can shed a little light on this professor!)
Nothing simpler. The marks of teeth at the throat. But humming to himself
As he went back upstairs. Have you seen it? No, but I felt something, I distinctly
Felt some, as it were, breath of.... Yes, exactly: now you know I'm not mad.
I was just so grateful to find lodgings I could finally afford! As though her hand
Had frozen at the touch of my shoulder, she quickly took it--stiffened as though
Around an invisible...--away. Voices, voices, out of the walls
And the ceilings and floors. And then nothing stays where you put it.
"Why I would'na live thar sur fra hunert pound!" No Bill, nor I either--
This said kindly (condescendingly). "Tip him," this hissed out from, no doubt,
The Collective Unconscious. It had an unpromising aspect, but my funds were low,
And I wasn't, I told myself, lifting my head, one to be easily frightened.
"Just put those boxes down anywhere." And your name? Burning eyes, eyes like....
Ah yes, my name. I checked the mirror quickly, expecting--I'll admit it--
To find only one of us there.

Bio: Laura Mullen is the author of The Surface (U. Illinois, 1991) and After I Was Dead (U. Georgia, 1999). Tales of Horror is due out from Kelsey St. Press this month.

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