In Sea Witch, Never Angeline Nørth assumes the position of Plathian monster, theatrically breaking rules of decorum left and right in order to create a vision of herself as a gay monster whose excesses reject the gender politics of heteronormativity. As in Lowell’s vision of Plath, Nørth’s identity feels “wholly herself” but that identity is also incredibly fluid as she constantly changes in and out of names and figures. The book begins with a “cast of characters” (viii–x). We might expect from this an authoritative guide that will help us read the book, but the list is itself so long and at times highly incomplete and full of questions. The protagonist, Sara, we are informed to begin with is “only one of many Saras”; “Leg-witch” is “literally another witch’s leg”; and the author is “not sure” who “Dead-Jellyfish-Witch” is (viii). This profusion and confusion of identities is enacted in the prose poems of the book, where some characters come out of other characters or live inside other characters. At one point, the speaker notes: “I don’t know who I borrowed this voice from” (41). Voice is supposed to be the great connection to interiority (The Voice That Is Great Within Us was the name of a famous workshop anthology), but here it is another layer to the costumery that is both “herself” and something “imaginary.” If the New Critical paradigm demands an impersonal persona-mask in order to properly communicate a stable interiority, Never Angeline Nørth rejects this model of authentic interiority, finding instead layer upon layer of masks—masks that may be as authentic to the person as any idealized idea of interiority.
-from Johannes Göransson’s “Bad Plath: Excess and Theatricality in Contemporary Poetry” (Spoon River Poetry Review 43:1)
TOO MANY BIRDS
Sara was in a hole with too many birds. They pressed on her sides and back. When she moved she felt their flapping silky feathered wings and soft heads and scratchy feet scratching. She tried to stand and heard crunching of toothpick bones like walking across brittle shells on the beach.
There are too many birds in this hole, she said. Too too many too many.
Please stop, cried the birds. Fly out of this place.
Sara looked up and flew high, high into the sky. This was the first time in her life she flew. She looked at the bird hole from above and reflected upon her time there.
It was okay, she said as she flew. But there were too many birds.
Sara left her home to find the big cave rainbow in the woods. She climbed the side of her house and went up on the roof and sneezed in the air and the air blew her to the woods. There she climbed to the top of the tallest tree and lifted her dog over her head so he could see. When he saw from there he could see just about everything. It was beautiful. The clouds drifting pinkly overhead and the sea of green around him. He saw that the cave rainbow was deep, deep in the woods. It would take them a very long time to get there. He looked at Sara under him and sighed. Things take so long. Why does everything take so long? Life just wears on you. They climbed down and began walking.
Sara’s dog was feeling wolfy and went for a night run. He saw shapes all around him that emerged and disappeared, terrifying, from the static of the shadows. The shapes looked like fears. Sara’s dog became determined to get wolfier, to fade into and out of the shadows himself, to become scarier than anything scary could ever be. Sara’s dog got so wolfy that he became unrecognizable. His teeth got sharper and his snout more pointy. The night ended and he slept the day away in a cave, which felt extremely wolfy. He did not miss Sara because that would not be wolfy enough. Wolves did not miss people.
The next night Sara’s dog went out to fade into shadows and become wolfy again. He came across an old daddy wolf deep in the woods and stalked him from the shadows, hoping to scare him. Scaring a wolf would be the wolfiest thing I could possibly do, Sara’s dog thought.
As he circled around the old daddy wolf from the bushes, the old daddy wolf began to glance around him from side to side. What is that terrifying thing in the shadows? He imagined the old daddy wolf thinking.
This was not actually what the old daddy wolf was thinking. The old daddy wolf was thinking how much he missed his daughter. Her name was Sara and he had not seen her in so, so many years. In fact, he could almost smell her and the scent brought back so many emotions. The old daddy wolf laid down and began to cry.
When Sara’s dog saw the old daddy wolf there crying, he didn’t know why, but he began to cry too. A door opened up in the ground and swallowed them both. They fell and fell in the blackness. They cried and cried and their tears merged together into a giant watery salty hand that scooped them up from below. It held them and stroked them and their fur got soaking wet.
The watery hand set them down on a large mushroom. They were on a hill on a great lawn and it was nighttime. They could not see the edges of the lawn, and the stars were bright against the dark black of the sky above them. They slept and slept and when they awoke they held each other and licked and groomed each other’s fur. They were gentle and tender with their touches and made soft love there on the bed of the giant mushroom’s cap. Sara’s dog nuzzled his face deep into the fur of the old daddy wolf and reflected on the events of the past few days. It can be hard to know what the future may bring. The old daddy wolf was nearly asleep again, and he began to dream that his face-fur was wet with warm sheep blood.
Sara and her dog came across a beached whale in their house. Her dog sniffed it up and down and Sara touched its face.
You’re warm! she said.
The whale looked at her, with its eye the size of a grapefruit. The eye seemed such a small lost thing in the ocean of this whale head on this whale body.
With great effort Sara climbed to the top of the whale. There she found a map. It seemed to be directions on how to get to a green and white room somewhere. She spread it out on the whale’s skin but it just broke apart. Oh no, said Sara and tried to piece it together but the map was no longer usable. Sara made up her mind to help this whale get to where it was going. It took a very long time, and keeping the whale alive during the process was the worst part. She called in the fire department but they just set things on fire and then left and Sara had to put out all the fires. She called the water department and they came with hoses but the hoses shot sand and paint and it took forever to clean up. What a mess. She called the horse department and a pair of nice horses came over and helped her remove the paint and sand by scraping it off with their hooves. It took a long time but they were very sweet and helpful.
Do you work for the city, Sara asked the horses. The horses replied by rubbing their rubbery lips along the side of her face, leaving a slime trail. After this they left, leaving Sara and her dog and the whale, who was more beached than ever. After this she called the beach department and they sent out a beach that Sara put the whale in and then put the whole thing, beach, whale and all, into their pocket. It was dark inside the pocket.
Don’t judge me, Sara said into the darkness.
I’m sorry, Sara said back to herself. I’m sorry I judged you.
Every time Sara fell asleep the Nightbear would be there to ferry her into her dreams. Hello Nightbear, she would say to it, and it would say Hello Sara, are you ready to be floated off to Silvermore, the Land of Asleep? And Sara would say, I am, thank you Nightbear for asking.
Sara never remembered what happened in Silvermore, but she did remember one time when Nightbear held her and kissed her hair like a parent would do to a child, saying I’m here now, Sara. I’m here now.
Never Angeline Nørth is the author of the books Sea-Witch (Inside the Castle, 2020), Careful Mountain (CCM, 2016) and Sara, or the Existence of Fire (Horse Less Press, 2014). They live in Olympia, WA and are online at undying.club.