Autopsy Turvy by Thomas Fink and Maya Diablo Mason
(Meritage Press, St. Helena & San Francisco, 2010)
"The reverse side also has a reverse side."
Dr. Thomas Fink’s and Maya Diablo Mason’s Autopsy Turvy ventures to address a variety of sensitive topics in a subtle, cryptic style with an unconventional perspective, topics readily avoided, indeed evaded, by writers and readers alike. These issues by their very nature impose a stigma, perhaps initially deterring the reader from fervently reading through the book’s various poems, actively discerning its wealth of insight and perspective. For this reason, its audience must read with an open mind, receptive to the wisdom contained within the verses. The poetry is primarily a collection of free-verse lyrics, odes and allegories, simple in verbiage yet profound and provocative.
Lyrics such as “Preposterous” challenge the Eastern contempt for the ego, while “Destiny’s Day Off” poses a unique philosophical perspective advocating the concept of Divine intervention, conceptually synonymous with freedom’s enigmatic necessity for limitations illustrated in “You Have To.” “Soul Fumes” presents an allegorical, metaphorical viewpoint of the afterlife. Drugs and emotional anguish are prevalent throughout Autopsy Turvy in such pieces as “Now What’s for Dinner Tomorrow?” as well as the lyric bearing the book’s title. “Medicine” is illustrative of the Eastern concept of cause and effect or the Day of Judgment in Christian theology. “Halloween Tree,” “Interesting” and “A Huge Amount of Time,” although lyrics to be appreciated, may provoke feelings of despondency and embitterment for the reader who relates to lost love, rejection and abandonment.
The ego has widely been the object of contempt by Eastern theology while providing the sustenance for individualism and achievement in the West. But who are we in the absence of this identity? This question is addressed in “Preposterous,”: “I/won’t be/blanched” (lines 13-15). Is the ego the foundation for psychological integrity, or is it a phantom to be rejected?
Western ideology typically denounces the abdication of individual responsibility and accountability to a higher power. Yoga, for example, parables the higher source as a luggage rack to where the lone weary traveler need simply place his or her baggage or burden. But what if destiny ceased to assume authority and control over one’s actions and future? Imagine a life without predestination. These considerations are prompted as one reads “Destiny’s Day Off,” an ode to fate and Divine supremacy: “How/could we obtain/enough soap to/wash the ocean?” (lines 13-16).
What is the hereafter? This universally posed question is answered in “Soul Fumes,” an allegory symbolically depictive of an “[a]bandoned cigarette [fume]” whose light has ceased to glow, leaving its ember in the wake of its physical extinction (line 1). The cigarette and its ash are analogous to one’s mortal existence and disembodiment upon his/her passing, the metamorphosis from one form of life energy to another.
Substance abuse—an act of desperation, a destructive opiate for emotional suffering, a suicidal act and exemplary plea for attention, for help—this is what the speakers of “Autopsy Turvy” and “Now What’s for Dinner Tomorrow?” are expressing in these thematically comparable lyrics. The former “[makes] reservations at the graveyard” while the latter seeks notice by paradoxically starving her-/himself to demise, the only source of sustenance being a narcotic herb (line 2; line 1, 8-10).
Eastern philosophy terms it the concept of dependent origination, commonly referred to as karma. Dr. Fink and Mason call it “Medicine,” a free-versed, contemptuous assault on the avarice of the wealthy: “Others, paid in caviar, die tomorrow,” reminiscent of the Christian belief in Judgment Day (line 15; Mt. 12:36). But what is karma, Judgment Day? Is it a Divine or causal manifestation of reflection or retribution?
The rejected lover will appreciate “Halloween Tree,” “Interesting” and “A Huge Amount of Time,” three lyrics expressive of the abandoned and alienated forlorn desperate for reciprocated love and acceptance, contextually synonymous with author Sandy McIntosh’s “Among the Disappointments of Love”: “Mortified, outraged, I gorged myself” (line 38). “Unharmonized sentimentality becomes mutant concrete” in “A Huge Amount of Time” (line 11). “Interesting” expresses the discouragement of the forsaken, uttering a bitter and apostrophic “Take that, happiness!” (line 9).
“You Have To” poses a paradoxical notion of freedom, suggesting that liberation is ironically nonexistent if devoid of limitations:
no ‘have to’
existed would what
Dr. Fink’s and Mason’s ironical concept of freedom is reminiscent of Manhattan Man’s Jack Lynch’s allegorical “Evening,” metaphorical of the predictable and ultimate end of one’s plans, hopes and yearnings antithetically signifying the conclusion of freedom and the threshold of predictability, certainty and bondage.
Is the identity indeed an entity for one’s self to divest or cherish as considered in “Preposterous”? Certainly, its need for recognition if taken to the extreme may resort to self-dissolution and sabotage, as we see in “Autopsy Turvy” and “What’s for Dinner Tomorrow?” Is Divine intervention a belief to be condemned or appreciated, as posed in Destiny’s Day Off”? Is the afterlife another form of energy, as proposed in “Soul Fumes”? Is “Medicine” in fact a punishment, a self-reflective or Divine-authorial judgment?
Dr. Thomas Fink’s and Maya Diablo Mason’s Autopsy Turvy embodies reality and profundity and will be appreciated by a self-reflective, spiritually motivated seeker of insight and wisdom as s/he discerns a deluxe menu of entrées for deliberation.
Fink, Thomas and Maya Diablo Mason. Autopsy Turvy. San Francisco & St. Helena: Meritage Press, 2010. Print.
Lynch, Jack. Manhattan Man and Other Poems. New York: Reed and Quill Press, 2008. Print.
McIntosh, Sandy. “Among the Disappointments of Love.” Ernesta in the Style of the Flamenco. New York: Marsh Hawk Press, 2010. Print.
Nicholas T. Spatafora is an educator at Joseph Pulitzer Intermediate School in Jackson Heights, Queens and an English Professor at the City University of New York. He holds two graduate degrees from Hunter College in New York City and has enjoyed a successful career in education spanning twenty four years. Contemplating a life in Catholic ministry, he attended Cathedral Preparatory Seminary in New York. The author is a member of the Tao Society in Tai Pei, and prior affiliations include the Religious Society of Friends and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn. Spatafora is the author of Hurt, the feature article “Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha: A Fictional Account of the Life of Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha” and “A Review of Jack Lynch’s Manhattan Man and Other Poems,” also featured in Eileen Tabios’s Galatea Resurrects. He and his wife Hsiaochen (Judy) reside in Flushing, New York.