Meet the wolf. Seductive. Dangerous. In Darren Demaree’s Two Towns Over, drugs are the wolves that infiltrate and prowl the author’s home state of Ohio, turning the kingdom of his childhood into a fairy tale in reverse, haunted by lost dreams and lost potential. This collection, honored with the 2017 Louise Bogan Award from Trio House Press, delves into the minds of both addict and community, giving the reader a realistic yet empathetic view of the wolf’s kingdom.
Most of the poems in Two Towns Over are one page, and this short form suits both the documentary style and the keen, focused language of Demaree’s observations. The collection, although not technically separated into sections, does have three distinct parts. The first contains a series of numbered poems all called “Sweet Wolf.” The first poem in this series, “Sweet Wolf #1”, allows the wolf into the veins and makes it the alpha inside our own bodies. In subsequent poems, the wolf shows itself in different ways. In #4, it becomes undressed inside of us because that’s how real monsters operate. Questions are asked in the wolf’s presence: How much self is left by the time we’ve mastered the science? Regret is expressed: The children are ruined because they wanted to choose their own ruining. In this section, the speaker also articulates the poignant and realistic desire of anyone who longs for an easy escape: Demaree introduces us to the wolf’s charm and power without any condescension to or blame for its victims. As the book moves away from the “Sweet Wolf” poems, the inhabitants of the wolf’s domain take a stand by lying down. Where they choose to lie down builds the second section of the book.
Here, the poems are mostly titled with specific cities or townships. We learn how it is to live with the fangs of the wolf embedded in one’s neck, where to harbor its sweet danger. Here in “Hunt, Ohio” are those who need to be filled up/by anything that could be glory.//Fuck glory, fill me up. In “Pleasant Township, Ohio,” the fatal flaw of not feeding the dogs is committed by those who take more drugs than they sell. In “Monroe Hills, Ohio,” the reader receives a hard lesson in mercy and practical survivalism as Nobody tosses out the drugs of the dead. That’s not how it works. The reader meets an artist in “Morgan Township, Ohio” who peels wallpaper to roll into papers looking for the good glue on the paper to help him reach a new plane. Everything in these places feeds the wolf. In “Monroe Township, Ohio,” we discover that you can’t smoke a bible-that thin paper tears and won’t catch. And everywhere, there is loss. I find no fault in those that take drugs to escape but/miss so many people/that never came back to me, explains “Utica, Ohio” though the reader knows that this could easily be the case in any town.
The ubiquitous places that one could find in any state across the nation are also offered here as places of safety and sanctuary, perhaps a bit like the brick houses that hold off the wolf in the story of “The Three Little Pigs.” In “Chain-Store Identity,” the speaker shows great reverence for the off-brand, off-color revelries found within, for the bathroom to smoke in, for a place to belong, for A mountain of sugar/for a quarter/& a safe place to get//high, I name/you my naming,/a church of sorts. “You Can Do Anything in the Walmart as Long as You Don’t Touch the Bicycles” gives us another house of my belonging, the speaker wearing empty twelve-pack boxes as shoes, eating marshmallows, changing all the television stations, feeling safe and being left alone until committing the crime of taking down and riding a bicycle. This particularly poignant poem reveals both the desperation and the child-like wonder of someone with nowhere to go, one who can find joy in a place that just allows him/her to exist in the world of those who the wolf has not grasped.
The third section of the book focuses on why those moments of normalcy in the Walmart or the discount store matter so much. It takes us into the isolation of the drug house with a similar construction as section one. All of the poems at the end of the book are titled “Ode to the Corner of the Drug House Down the Gravel Road Off the Two-Lane Highway” and are numbered to distinguish them. This is a place where the real world does not intrude, where the wolf reigns supreme. Here the knots in the paneling are eyes, life is contained in four corners, and a fence made of dirty carpeting is enough to prevent escape. Even those who know this place well are bound more to the drugs than to one another as, in #18, we learn that alliances are worthless–I don’t even get a discount on the wolf. Those that live here are vessels: I am nothing being filled up with something from just south of your heavens. And #60 gives us this heart-breaking question: I feel loss will find me once this shit wears off then what will I get to look out of?
There are poems in the book that react with frustration or anger rather than give us the addict’s voice. In “Middlebury Township, Ohio,” the population longs for the days when drunks were sent over to pad the votes because We know what to do with drunks. These people are eating each other’s faces off. A parent raves about the midday robbery of his children’s bikes in the one sentence gut-punch of “I Believe in the End of Forgiveness.” But mostly, these poems give the reader a realistic yet sensitive look at the tragic ravaging of communities and individuals caused by drugs, the losses that cannot be forgotten. The seduction of the wolf is simply and elegantly shown in the lines of “I Got Lost Every Time”:
We all missed
& so I was trained
to forget everywhere
& I was trained
to fill light times
but most drugs,
almost every time.
We are all confused. Somewhere, some sort of wolf is inviting us into his lair. In this collection, Demaree has given us a talisman to ward off the invitation. He has inhabited his speakers with both light and darkness. He has given the wolf a name, and by naming it, raises the consciousness that is needed to tame it. The fragility of all lives is brought to bear in these deeply human poems– to read them is to recognize this connection.
Two Towns Over
by Darrren Demarre
Trio House Press, 2018
Paperback, 84 pp, $16
Donna Vorreyer is the author of Every Love Story is an Apocalypse Story (Sundress Publications, 2016) and A House of Many Windows (Sundress, 2013) as well as eight chapbooks, most recently The Girl (Porkbelly Press). Her reviews have appeared in The Rumpus, Quarterly West, Sugar House Review, Cider Press Review, Tinderbox Poetry, and other journals.