Meg Tuite’s latest collection, White Van, has foreboding, danger, and violence from cover to cover. Even the haunting cover with lightning striking a black van, defies our expectations and turns things upside down. Tuite’s collection is a series of poetic prose entries; some of the sections seem straight micro-fiction, while others appear more like poems. They defy easy categorization, just like Meg Tuite. What draws each one together is the brutal energy of a world of serial killers, pedophiles, pornographers, kidnappers, suicides, prostitutes, and loners. Tuite’s dystopian landscape is one I remember well from my Brooklyn of the 1980s. Each kid on the block was told to watch out for the infamous white van because you didn’t know what would happen if they grabbed you and threw you in there. Did it mean death? Dismemberment? Sexual exploitation? Rape? Drugs? Prostitution? Your imagination and nightmares were left to sort the dark, twisted possibilities. Tuite plays with this fear and journeys readers down the rabbit hole into this unnamed, but presumably American, hellscape of torture and brokenness, and she does so with a jarring style of brutal intensity as she bears traumatic witness to pain, suffering, abandonment, and forgetfulness.
Meg Tuite spent almost thirty years as a hospice nurse. She’s seen death and understood its variations and permutations. It’s also clear that she’s seen enough of the world to understand and report on its jagged and dark edges and that’s what makes her writing so raw and unique. White Van brings you closer to the stories of women who are brutalized, often murdered, buried, and discarded, and cast far outside from our collective memory. In “Remember What?” the singular plural echoes through the story: “We walk the streets of cities. We run through subways and catch trains to somebody’s house, not ours. We stand outside liquor stores and badger strangers to buy us beer. We lay out at a beach laden with old men in speedos and hard-ons….We beat each other up….We disappear.” Stories like this give voice to the forgotten. They never sugarcoat the harsh realities of the myriad cold cases of missing women. Each of these stories forces the reader to look a little deeper into an abyss, gathering strength from tough street corners and dark places not far removed from where we’re sitting. In “Fishing For Floaters,” we see the predator seeking out his prey: “No one knocks on George’s door. Some firing line of desire pulls him out of his trailer. Plans never manifest outside his van. Days crank themselves through heat. A temperature hits when it’s time to go. George answers to no one, can leave or not. He drives and drives until he parks. It is a color, a dimple, or a snotty nose that opens the hatch.” The rising tension and randomness unsettle to the core, just like when we see a pedophile’s rationalizations in “The Pedophile’s Test: Mutiny of Disturbance.” And then, in a few short pages, we meet a coffeehouse worker preparing for suicide in “Endurance.” White Van moves like this from menacing predators and creeps to countless, nameless victims, in and out of the van, stretching across time and place.
In “Where the Street Meets the Body” there’s a wonderful section about the streets and self-destruction: “The streets have had free rein to enter me for as long as I can remember. I have sucked on their skin. I have sucked on their bottles. I have sucked on their pipes. They are reciprocating. They are sucking on me.” The anaphora used here connects the speaker and the street unflinchingly and leads to uncomfortable, harsh truths of addiction and dislocation. In a final, dark ironic end to this section, the speaker states: “I will meld into the fabric that has comforted me. I am tethered to my ghost of yesterday.” Tuite’s ghosts often haunt you as they slowly, grimly accept their fate and merge into the streets that will devour them.
I often feel that Tuite’s vision for this book is contained in her term: “Predarectomies: removal of the predator. It’s a goopy, ugly, long procedure. No one visits and flowers do not arrive. There’s so much to remove.” If I had to encapsulate this book, it would be these lines. White Van is about psycho-sexual danger and predation, and it’s about seeking a poetic-prose vehicle to keep us looking and listening, and feeling unsettled by art. But, it’s also bearing witness for those who’ve been abducted, abused, and abandoned along the way. This collection keeps those hard-edged stories alive and in your face. It’s a harrowing, dark group of prose-poetry, but it conjured the symbol of the harrowing white van from my own past and the countless voices subdued and silenced every day, by predatory forces around, or sometimes within, us.
by Meg Tuite
Unlikely Books; 106p.