Bianca Stone’s The Möbius Strip Club of Grief owes its title to the name of a poem by her late grandmother, the celebrated poet Ruth Stone. That poem includes the lines, “I am not a murderer, even in the brilliance / of sleep where poems are three-dimensional.” Bianca Stone’s visions of her grandmother, mother, and siblings speak profoundly of mortality and identity; they are as three-dimensional as poems on this side of sleep can be.
The möbius strip club of grief is explored in poems in the book’s first section. Here, sex and death commingle. Stone’s poems contain strikingly original images. “The disco ball in the center of the room / is like a flamboyant, pockmarked moon,” she writes in the poem “Honeybee.” As befits this particular and peculiar setting, discussion of money accompanies grief — as it does often in life but rarely in poetry. The poem “Last Words” ends with the surprisingly haunting lines, “Who will pay? / Who will pay? Who will pay?” Stone displays black humor and a novelist’s knack for scene-setting. In “Honeybee,” she writes, “Off-hours, the dead wait at the center of the room, sitting backward in chairs…”
The book’s second section steps away from the möbius strip club of grief. The poems in this section are more confessional, their tone more conversational. Throughout, however, Stone is dire and playful at once, as in the perfectly imperfect poem “Blue Jays,” which insists “There’s so much joy in this poem,” even as it centers on a grief passed down through generations. This poem contains a variety of tones, voices, modes, and moods:
Blue, here is a shell for you—
Text messages like leaves on a river
moving swiftly swiftly toward
the vast sea of misunderstanding.
Other outstanding poems in this section are “Dear Sister;” “Cliff Elegy;” the short, lovely “The Gang Elegy;” “The Woman Downstairs;” and “The Walking Dead,” with its opening line, “She doesn’t know she’s dead, so you don’t bring it up.”
The theme of the möbius strip club of grief returns in the final poems of the book. It’s possible that this framing device is not expansive enough for the book’s superbly wide-ranging poems about family, familial love, mind and being, belief, afterlife, and body. The last poem briefly mentions both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, which, after being immersed in Stone’s world and words, feels like an unpleasant return to everyone else’s concerns and language. After all, most people have something to say about Clinton and Trump. Only Bianca Stone would say, as she does in the poem “The Fats,” “I cracked open my skull and out flew Mom.”
Lucy Biederman is an assistant professor of creative writing at Heidelberg University in Tiffin, Ohio. Her first book, The Walmart Book of the Dead, won the 2017 Vine Leaves Press Vignette Award.