Wood Life: A Poem

As a serial killer, Daniel David Silvestre has memory problems. He can’t recall why he kills people or why he is constantly compelled to spill blood with the edge of his knife. He cannot even remember most of the names of his victims, and he takes no joy in his actions. As a way to make peace with himself, he must first learn to take responsibility and gain control over his actions.

This book length poem was written as a fake journal that took inspiration from Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s “A Coney Island of the Mind.” It is filled with intentional typos and fragmented lines, as this poetic sequence actively tries to mimic what an ADHD-addled psycho might have jotted down on scattered bits of paper.

“Much of what gets published as ‘horror poetry’ is, alas, neither horrific nor poetic–but Rich Ristow’s Wood Life stands as a darkly triumphant exception. In this astonishing long poem Ristow takes us into the mind of ‘Danny Boy,’ a prolific serial killer. We get to know, in often graphic detail, of his obsessions and his crimes; but we also see the bewildered, tormented human being behind them, as Danny Boy reflects on his ‘congress of the killed’ and finds himself haunted by the ‘ghost hatred’ of his victims. Here is a poem of tremendous cumulative impact, with a main character as memorable as Robert Bloch’s Norman Bates or the psychopathic Quentin of Joyce Carol Oates’s Zombie. But make no mistake–Ristow is a true poet, and Wood Life is not only frightening, but frighteningly well written, with language and imagery that will haunt you long after you’ve closed the book. Ristow’s Wood Life is the real thing. I stand in awe.” –Christopher Conlon, author of Starkweather Dreams and Midnight on Mourn Street.

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Excerpt:

1.

Out of the woods, numb

and not thinking, I walked

half crumbling county roads

through mountain towns,

not stopping to shop or sleep

on a stiff motel mattress.

I stayed off barstools, away

from taverns televising

Pirates or old Penguins

games. I will not remember

the remains, what I buried—

willing amnesia, forced

forgetting is an anesthetic

needed for new beginnings,

a new life free of old haunts.

So, I let cars pass, refusing

to thumb a ride and hitchhike.

One foot in front of the other—

it’s been days since I dreamt,

and as I sweat in September,

under overcast skies, away

from those terrible hills,

valleys, and hollows, specters

of Appalachia are behind me.

2.

 

Home

 

is where moss covers the walls

from floor to ceiling. Slanted

light is not a certainty, the drapes

are tattered and frayed. The end

is not an inevitable outcome here

and sleep is but a dirty mattress

crowded by the brittle husks

of grease stained take out bags.

3.

 

This morning, I woke from dreams of a deserted street,

where men with halos of flies walked, and the women

all sat on park benches and read newspapers. Headlines

taunted “The Forgotten Son Returns,” but none of them

seemed to care about the picture: me with my messed-up

face, a large scar parting my hair right down the middle.

So now, naked, I eat donuts. It seems like a harsh riddle,

as I search for my socks, my shoes, and my coffee cup.

Dressed, I surf the internet for stories. Once again,

there’s nothing I’ve foreseen, not even government fines

imposed on dreamers. There was a drunken time when

I found this amusing, but these mornings always repeat

where weakly, I crawl and claw my way out of my bed,

and it feels like skyscrapers are crammed inside my head.