Chapbook Review: dispatches from the mushroom kingdom

Chapbook Review: dispatches from the mushroom kingdom


‘in front of my refrigerator,
trying to figure out why
there’s soy milk in the crisper,
why these cookies are sugared
with salt.’
– Noel Pabillo Mariano, dispatches from the mushroom kingdom

Grief and the myriad of emotions that travel with it are often mysterious. Noel Pabillo Mariano opens a small window into these emotions for a brother lost in the chapbook, dispatches from the mushroom kingdom. Published in a beautifully hand crafted format by Hyacinth Girl Press and part of their Year Seven collection, it is a joy to hold this poetry in my hands and privilege to experience. From the prologue through the last poem dispatched this poet has given the reader something raw, real and unfiltered through the guise of a game.

The uniqueness of format is refreshing and surprising. I’ve never been much of a gamer, though I’ve dipped my fingers in from time to time. As I delved into poetry titled ‘Character Select’ and ‘Enter Player Two’, this didn’t seem to matter. It made me consider the people in my own lives and what kind of characters they might be in a game. Simply by virtue of organizing the poetry this way I’m tempted to examine life in game terminology. Where does my disc one end? Who would be my player two? These are questions that sit heavy on my mind.

‘Let’s count the apartment lights
turning on and then off for the night, like stars
blinking in and out. Maybe this will give us
more bounce in our step. It’s not as though
you nor I have any more lives to give.’
-Noel Pabillo Mariano, dispatches from the mushroom kingdom

Intimacy and the impermanence of being pervade so many of the poems that Mariano has meticulously crafted for my perusal. There is only one life here on earth, but how many versions of that life have I led? It is here in these verses that I don’t go down the trite path of making every moment count, as it is so often easy to do when talking about death and loss. Instead it makes me consider the game, both literal and figurative, of life. Some experiences we don’t come back from, but others can leave us tremendously changed. No matter the outcome, the walk through life is a little bit different every moment, every day, every week and every year. We never move through moments as exactly the same people we were before. This poet makes me consider the many little deaths of self and re-incarnation I have experienced through the catalyst of my human experience.

‘After the war, my brother unable
to find himself, re-imagines himself.
His laugh, a five-bucks-an-hour song,
betrays the blisters on his back,
his hands curled to claws.’
-Noel Pabillo Mariano, dispatches from the mushroom kingdom

What strikes my heart hard through all of this reading is the tenacity of the human spirit and the ability to overcome even horrific circumstances to find life on the other side. Not everyone responds to trauma in the same way, but I am always stunned to hear the laughter and see the smiles of those who have experienced war. War is not limited to those fought on the physical battlefield, for as long as there have been humans, there have been skirmishes and all out gladiator competitions where the end is decided through one action only: capitulation.

In this poetry we see a brother who has experienced deep trauma that has altered the course of his life forever. Mariano lifts him up to us as a resilient example of the human condition at its finest. We could have easily read about a cry, instead of a laugh. It would have been understandable that this brother would have had a ‘five-bucks-an-hour’ lament instead of a song. Instead, I am in awe and mesmerized at something beyond the act of mere survival, but of a person who finds joy on the other side of trauma. Noel Pabillo Mariano’s dispatches from the mushroom kingdom does right by their subject, by guiding us in this unique format through a game of remembrance and a tale of loss cradled in the language of love.

About the Author

Noel Pabillo Mariano has poems published in Connotation Press, Redactions, Silverado Quarterly Review, & elsewhere. Their work has been anthologized in Kuwento for Lost things (Carayan Press) and Here is a Pen (Achiote Press). An avid gamer, storyteller, teacher, and community arts activist, they worked as the assistant producer for The Moth: storySLAM in Milwaukee before their current position as the assistant director of LGBTQA+ Services at West Chester University.