Corrina Wycoff Reviews Crysta Casey’s “Rules for Walking Out”

This review is forthcoming in Raven Chronicles Journal, Vol. 24, HOME, out July 7, 2017.

Cave Moon Press
P.O. Box 1773, Yakima, WA 98907
ISBN-978-0-6925831-9-7
2017, paper, 86 pp., $12.95

Rules for Walking Out—Crysta Casey’s second posthumously released poetry collection—chronicles Casey’s life during and after military service. Her poems stretch from the Parris Island boot camp where her enlistment began in 1978, to the Seattle Veteran’s Hospital where her life ended thirty years later. She rarely editorializes. Instead, with journalistic distance, Casey juxtaposes her experiences, revealing their complexity, and creating a deeply authentic, poignant memoir in verse.

An enlisted woman in the 1970s, Casey lived the sexual politics of Marine culture. A boot camp poem quotes the chaplain, who derides the all-female troop as “lesbians [and] whores” while the drill instructor asks, “How many of you joined because love is a pain in the ass?” This ambiguity between exploitation and agency recurs in several poems written about her time in active duty. In one, Casey’s “legs [are] spread open to officers who . . . ask [her] to suck / them like a cherry popsicle, only hot / like corn on the cob.” In another, she confesses, “I needed the money. They tipped well. I only knew them as fellow Marines; I had my own male friend off-base.”

Casey serves under Captain Bowman. It is Bowman, ultimately, whose false allegations of Casey’s suicide attempts result in her commitment to the military hospital’s psychiatric ward. His authority as a male officer means more than the inaccuracies of his accusations. The volume’s preface, “A Curse—for Captain Bowman,” explains: “You told them I was slitting / my wrists . . . . You said, ‘In the bathroom / in her room . . .’ The toilets were down the hall. / You didn’t even know / how enlisted people lived . . .”

While his mendacity seems clear, Bowman’s sanity does not. Casey and other female lance corporals clean his office. One poem describes discarding plastic spoons they find in “coffee cups, where dried noodles / claw the sides like ivy,” only to be shouted at, via intercom, “Where are my spoons?” Bowman “orders a detachment . . . to find some spoons.” A prolonged scavenger hunt ensues for replacement spoons of the specific weight and thickness Bowman requires. Not long afterward, still on base but threatened with commitment to the psych ward, Casey aptly claims, “I am on the psych ward . . . The truth is, I am.”

Once literally institutionalized, Casey receives a schizo-affective disorder diagnosis and begins “writing furiously in a new notebook” about the fellow soldiers she meets on the ward. Like Casey herself, they seem no more insane than the uninstitutionalized Captain Bowman. Anne, a fellow Marine, refuses to take the prescribed medicine. Casey writes, “I already swallowed mine. / Anne is sure I’ll die.” And Anne’s worry isn’t wholly wrong. Casey writes that her “thoughts are more exciting when [she’s] not on meds.” The meds trample and circumscribe her imagination. “On medication,” she writes, “I think of vacuuming the carpet.”

Casey relocates to Seattle in the 1980s after her honorable medical discharge. She is an indigent military veteran struggling with mental illness, yet poems about these post-military years remain keen and clear-eyed. One wryly describes Jim, the homebound, depressed Vietnam Vet who one day decides “to go downtown to the VA Regional Office and make sure he was going to get an American flag on his coffin,” only to be told, by the clerk, that military records already list him as dead. Another observes a five-year-old boy playing by a fountain, pretending to have been shot in the head. She writes of a Marine killed in Iraq and of a middle class civilian woman who, when asked why a nearby flag flies at half-mast, suggests Orville Redenbacher’s death. She writes of her friend Kim, a cross-dresser and former bomber pilot, living in shoddy transient housing, directly across the street from the municipal campus where the courthouse stands.

Casey, also a self-taught painter, overlays these baldly rendered situations with deliberately colored images. One of her active duty poems mentions a visit she makes to her family during a Christmas leave. There, she receives a gift of acrylic paints: “red, yellow, blue, black, and white,” all the colors needed to replicate the American flag and the Marines logo. Casey employs this palette as a central motif. On the psychiatric ward of the military hospital, she writes of living among “black sheep, white artists and poets.” There, she will sit in the dayroom and “stack white, / blue, and red poker chips / into a tower, knock it down with dice, then pile the chips again.” She writes of a Black female Marine found murdered in the barracks.

Sometimes, she mixes pigments. Writing of a literal self-portrait, she describes: “I wear a camouflage shirt . . . Only black nylons cover my legs . . . My feet are partially covered by black, open-toed high heels.” She writes of the “green cammie shirt” she buys at a garage sale when, as a veteran, she finally declares herself “Private/General of [her] own Army.” Finally, at the VA hospital, in yet another dayroom, she will “refuse to paint green or gold” on the paint-by-numbers set. She paints another self-portrait instead: “pink cheeks, red lips.” She paints a hand below the portrait, paints numbers on its fingernails, “each with purple hues.”

Describing her expression in this self-portrait, Casey deems it “sad as a baby’s hunger.” But a baby’s hunger cannot always be assuaged by bottle or breast. The keening continues without protecting the listener’s comfort, without assigning any blame, and without offering any advice. Rules for Walking Out is just as unapologetic, as innocent, and as discomfiting.


Corrina Wycoff is the author of two books of fiction, O Street, a novel-in-stories (OV Press, 2008), and Damascus House, a novel (Spuyten Duyvil, 2016). Her fiction and essays have also appeared in many journals and anthologies. She lives in Seattle and teaches English at Pierce College.

Art at the Hopvine Pub, Nov. 1-Nov. 27. Reception Nov. 3rd.

Hopvine-fall-winter_poster-2016

Curated by Les Morely;
Co-sponsored by Raven Chronicles.

Hopvine Pub, Capitol Hill Neighborhood,
507 15th Avenue East, Seattle, WA 98112

 


John Dlouhy, “Lost Time,” Digital Prints. 11/1-11/27/16. Artist Reception: Thursday 11/3 at 7:00 pm

Dlouhy sifts through art historical references for images that resonate and then processed these images with digital tools to achieve a layering that speaks to memory, distortion, pattern and color.

And (this is a double exhibit):

Maggie Murphy, “Sea Knots,” Linocut Relief and Reduction Prints. 11/1-11/27/16. Artist Reception: Thursday 11/3 at 7:00 pm

Murphy’s process involves developing personally-charged, symbolic images, or, sometimes, images that provide spiritual refuge. These intricate prints are created using a multi-layered, multi-plate process and reductive printing methods.


Daniel Michael Viox, “On Nature, Time and Patience,” Acrylic on Wood. 12/1-12/31/16. Artist Reception: Thursday 12/8 at 7:00 pm

Viox is inspired by patterns of nature, geological formations, precious stones, topographical maps, and satellite imagery of the earth. He believes in the transformative power of art, myth, and metaphor.

 

An Unevenly Distributed Future

Matt Briggs discussing writers and technology, on 2/4/16 at Seattle Central College Library
Matt Briggs discussing writers and technology, on 2/4/16 at Seattle Central College Library

by Matt Briggs

It is hardly news to anyone in Seattle that humanity over the entire planet is experiencing an unprecedented rate of technological change. In Seattle this is visible in entire neighborhoods replaced in the last ten years. According to Governing Magazine, Seattle has experienced a 50% gentrification rate since 2000, compared to a 40% rate in the 1990s. Cleveland, in contrast, has experienced a 6.7% rate since 2000. In Seattle, to travel to a new city, you only have to spend an afternoon watching a movie. You will find a new skyline when you go outside. Major shifts such as the movement from stone to metal tools, from hunting and gathering to agriculture, or from human labor to mechanical labor, once took place over millennia or centuries. Since the end of the 19th century, however, we have experienced a continual and increasingly rapid succession of equally large technological shifts: the internal combustion engine, the rise of machines capable of computation, nuclear power, global communication networks, the spread of pervasive data collection, and automation of complex information and physical systems.

Continue reading An Unevenly Distributed Future

Patrons, Revolutions, Romantics, and Boarding House Reach:

Paul Hunter discussing writers and technology, on 2/4/16, at Seattle Central College Library
Paul Hunter discussing writers and technology, on 2/4/16, at Seattle Central College Library

Pursuing a Life in the Literary Arts

by Paul Hunter

During the last four thousand years, where art existed at all, for most artists making a living meant begging from those in power. Historians call it patronage, though most of it went without saying, part of the facts of life absorbed by osmosis. Some rich person, king or noble, bishop or abbot, cardinal or pope would be approached by an artist, a painter or sculptor or poet, and if the rich person liked what he saw, the two might arrive at an understanding whereby the artist would be clothed and fed, perhaps given supplies and a stipend along with a series of commissions which were really command performances. He might also sometimes be given a tedious, responsible job as personal secretary or teacher of the rich man’s kids, in return for his work being sponsored, tacitly approved, owned and enjoyed by the wealthy man and his family. If the artist remained properly subservient, the arrangement might be lifelong. To some extent patronage still goes on today, politely veiled through a couple of mechanisms I will come to in a minute.

Continue reading Patrons, Revolutions, Romantics, and Boarding House Reach: