David Shumate’s Mannequins reminds me of the notion that the only “normal” people are those you don’t know very well. We all have our little quirks, don’t we? It’s just that most of us keep our idiosyncrasies behind sealed doors.
Consider the speaker’s self-righteous neighbors thinking he’s a pervert while undoubtedly hiding their own depravity that they, like all good hypocritical neighbors, find less appalling. Even the speaker’s own mother endorses psychiatric evaluation she typically dismisses because her son orchestrates the banalities of life using mannequins. Yet let’s not forget the famous stanza by the poet Philip Larkin: “They fuck you up, your mum and dad. /They may not mean to, but they do. / They fill you with the faults they had / And add some extra, just for you.”
Many might assume our speaker is demented and lonely, but by poem’s end it turns out he’s merely an unabashed eccentric in a relationship with a lover who shares his kinks. If he has nothing else, he at least has this to share and that is nothing we should diminish in a world of increasing alienation.
At auction I buy two dozen mannequins and set them around the
house. I give each a name and dress them in tuxedos. Gowns.
Work clothes. Pajamas. I set a few in front of the television. Two
at the kitchen table. A man on the toilet. A woman in the shower.
Four on the lawn with croquet mallets. At night vandals arrange
them in obscene positions. But I don’t mind. I’m glad they’re
interested. Two mannequins lie naked in the spare bedroom
staring up at the ceiling. One dangles by his neck from a rope in
the workshop. Pull him once—the garage door opens. Pull him
again—it closes. The rest are stacked in the purgatory of my
closet. My neighbors think I’m a pervert. My mother doesn’t
believe in psychiatrists but makes an exception in this case. Last
week the police searched the place and left laughing. When my
lover arrives she calls them by their proper names. She brings a
new hat for one. A paisley scarf for another. Then she turns the
lights out and stands quite still among them. I know which one
she is. But I play along with her little game.
– from The Floating Bridge by David Shumate, published by University of Pittsburgh Press, 2008.