By Jonathan Papas
“Papas Panther Mechanism” and “Hairsuit Panther Mechanism” are both examples of a “black panther mechanism,” a form I made up some time ago. It’s based off of a concept introduced in Dianetics, one of the foundational texts of Scientology. Here’s how it’s described in the book:
“Let us suppose that a particularly black-tempered Black Panther is sitting on the stairs and that a man named Gus is sitting in the living room. Gus wants to go to bed. But there is the Black Panther. The problem is to get upstairs. There are five things that Gus can do.” The five alternates are described as (1) ATTACK, (2) FLEE, (3) AVOID, (4) NEGLECT and (5) SUCCUMB. These are the only available options, per the mechanism.
While it’s tempting to call out L. Ron Hubbard on some weird Black Power deployment, Dianetics was written in 1950 , well before the Black Panther Party’s 1966 founding. The “Black Panther” here, to him at least, is literally an animal. The mechanism is total garbage, however. Pure, essential cold-reading, some classic so-vague-as-to-be-meaningless nonsense. The mechanism wants to establish a situation that seems impossible and railroad the reader into hopeless confusion.
Gus does have other options, which I’m sure could be argued fit into one of these extant categories. The big one is ASK FOR HELP (CALL ANIMAL CONTROL). Many of the options Gus has are effectively inaction. But there is a kind of meditative nihilism to the idea that, as far as the mechanism is concerned, this is it for Gus. Gus has no way out, really. Attacking won’t go well, and the other four options are not solutions to his problem. It’s hopeless, and presumably only the deeper teachings of Scientology can save him
However, I found the incredibly limited nature of the form to be generative. Taking the mechanism at its word, I would plug in a situation that I found somehow incredibly complicated or irreducible, and let the artificial logic of the mechanism direct the creative efforts from there. They are always in five sections, and all follow some interpretation of the five “alternates.”
For “Papas Panther Mechanism,” the situation applied to the mechanism is my own battles with major depression and childhood abuse. The form was a surprisingly decent way to add some figuration to trauma and explore some hard, monolithic events in my life. The form also lets me play the lack of closure as straight as it is in real life. For “Hairsuit Panther Mechanism,” the situation is the flagrantly male gaze-y video game Bayonetta, which I found deeply, almost primally misogynistic but more than a few writers online have found empowering. All section titles in “Hairsuit” are lines of dialogue from the game.
Papas Panther Mechanism
By Jonathan Papas
“weave the bright cloth to bind this Satan.” – Afaa Michael Weaver
I. sunrise on the starship
Fistbound fists, first and the fifth, invocation of my muses,
I lay before me, on my staircase, in my house. My tone scale
made entirely of substitutions, I decide my home is in space.
Makes more sense, it’s away from things. My heart no longer
has the power to wrestle itself, so it wrestles with me. Learning all
my chords, playing this song over and over. Writing in a broken,
clipped syntax, as my confessions have gained terrifying length.
I should floss my teeth. If my gums bleed then I know it works. Maybe
I should build a whole new self of PVC and chewed Juicy Fruit,
place myself in opposition, secrete a bright teal, sharp orange
to bind. Filled with bulk soup bags of every flavor,
all mushing each other like this unordered body. The best glaze
my childhood, a great monster that eats time, this secret shame
a blade, stretching endlessly into the stars. Commit it to the deep,
to the dark that’s beyond the reach of the longest spiral arm. But
burn this grand galaxy, blast it, blast me cannon into the sun,
my last flare of embarrassed helium too ashamed
to commit to particle or wave. Bury me in pure sunlight.
II. sleep in the soul of fat
The sex shops sell mechanisms so vivid,
they look to be made out of pigment entirely,
arching and swooping violets, cranberry-reds,
every valence shell flushed with color. But
the cock rings – black, jellyfish-peach, all cheap-shiny
and limp. I would beg the world: wrap me in
the brightest parabolas of hue, Chinese sparerib rouge,
gamboge, aquamarine. Bound in corn-yellow ribbons
on a vermillion concrete floor, shivs of byzantium
staked encircling. There are things I would rather
swath in color than know, rather the cage be beautiful.
There is a woman made entirely out of shaped, compressed
gold glitter, and I know her, and she comes to me when
the world is just an endless oak highway. When everything
looks like a backyard, she brings the superheroes –
hard bodies in unbelievable shades, inviolable, bright.
The golden woman is from Miami, but only lives in sleep.
Cut me open like a beast, sleep in my finger trap,
feel the grains of color better left in stars.
Like the rumble in your chest when a train goes by, shaking
loose goo from the branches of your lungs.
Like the streetcar chime that corkscrews into your dentin,
this rage is less a storm, more a warning. The rage that dictates
perimeters more than it drives a plot. It won’t descend like a fog,
because a fog is remarkable, finite, eventual. Imagine the rage
of a push notification when your love is saying “forever” or “never”
or “ever.” It’s always there, because you know it, know
its face better than the veins in your hand. It’s always there
because the battleship of your body is built around that one alarm,
that one red peg. In the snowy forest of your soul, it’s the soft stiffening
of a pinecone’s sap. Something like a laser pointed at a midnight
waterfall, unexploded ordinance in a field of daffodils, a pinless
grenade under 60 stacked mattresses. You want to take it apart,
defuse this life, but when you do, how will you sleep.
IV. they told me I was broken.
Fidget in the seat because you ate a salt bagel and its 6:30 in the morning. She rolled the windows up to make sure you didn’t get out. You know, consciously, every second of the day, that you are wearing underwear with Wolverine on them. Deep underneath what everyone else can see, you have wrapped all your shame in primary yellow and tallow blue, put a clawed guard at the door. You see her fade into the store, bright as glass on glass on glass, the clouds thick, blue-grey, hard, an upside-down limestone quarry balanced on the rim of the world. You are a good kid, you did nothing wrong – your insides tell you this on repeat because no one else does. A car pulls up in the spot next to yours. A man gets out of the car and knocks on the window inches from your face, pulls on the door handle (locked), tells you to open up, starts nice but you know that any smiling adult is hiding a rage that shatters wood to splinters. He looks like another white man with wiry hair on his knuckles, like the knuckles of the man who told you that you are broken while making you pour colored sand into coke bottles, the rest of your classmates on the playground, the cafeteria. You wet yourself and think of your brother, your brother, your brother, your brother, your brother, your brother standing over you, your brother standing over you, the suckering belly, your brother’s hands, your brother’s hands, your brother’s hands, your brother’s hands, the wasted calls to god, the wasted calls, the wasted god. You put in your earplugs, the soft wads of wax that look like melted eraser smudge, rock back and forth, feel the galloping of your guts, and think that the truth always outs. You are wrong.
V. The Years of the Ox
A thousand years in three, sitting before an unkeyed board,
I am a blood blue sea.
Astrology conspiring to give perfect unity of symbol, but never the symbol I want,
I am a blood blue sea.
The ox knows the passing of time by the sense of burden in his joints,
the rings of wear, the ridges of each year passing, passing, passing,
I am a blood blue sea,
rumble strips mapping out the jointed contours of my star body, blue against
microwave black. The gold woman etching lines that let me know where
my boundaries are, and ought to be. The ox spending years in the rain,
in the dark, smeared dirty white before a yawning, blood blue sea.
I have learned what is me, and what is me, and what is not me, but
still separating them is no different than finding the secret door, somewhere in the
earth, that opens into earth, which opens into earth, which opens into earth.
“I am a blood blue sea” I tell myself, “I am a blood blue sea,” and I know
that I will only get better if I try and if I don’t forget, but is the sea all the things
inside it? I would rather be a monkey, or a dragon, or a dog than an ox,
rather anything than more unplowed earth. I have to know that the ox
had no choice in being an ox. I am not only an ox, but I know I am one.
I am also a blood blue sea. I am also flailing radiation hysterical
with animal static, larked from dying sun to dying sun. I am the gold woman.
I come to me in my dreams and compress all my pigments into a single color,
crushed in pressure of a blood blue sea, a smoking cordite charge on the ocean floor.
Hairsuit Panther Mechanism
By Jonathan Papas
– after Bayonetta
1.) “I’ve got a fever, and the only cure is more dead angels!”
If angels, then librarian glasses. If monk, then
lollipops. If ~angels, then tattooed black man-demon. If
Cupid, then gun stripper-heels. If she smiles, then she wants
it. If she makes a demon out of her hair, then she likes being naked.
If crotch, then butt. Signify: if I hold down Y at the end of a combo,
she gets naked. If she is humping the air, then I am pressing the trigger,
the button of delight. If idle, then she sticks out her breasts,
back arching into a perfect C. If a perfect C, then she’s doing it for herself.
If strong, then white, then wife, then backless, then butt shot. If instance of strength,
then naked, then camera flash, then spread legs. If fun, then not sexist.
If another woman exists, then they hate each other, then they touch butts,
then they intertwine arms and pose for the couch. If librarian glasses,
then cumshot. If librarian glasses, then.
2.) “As long as there’s music, I’ll keep on dancing.”
Slap two bazookas on your legs and get to work. The dead have yet to be sifted through. A crotch should always face the sky. A thousand hairs; a one piece with a collar. Put your heart on my heart, so we can hear each other’s silence. Fireman carry corpse. Are you a mother? Be my gravedigger valentine. Your hands and feet, always busy. Ragdoll, godlike in movement. Necrotic zipper swag: the dead made of sunlight and mud.
3.) “Tentacles! Why did it have to be tentacles?!”
Our pretty carbuncle of misogyny, our barnacle of eye-fucking,
the secrets you hold. Collect enough haloes, even you can make
a bad girl wear white. It had to be tentacles, otherwise you wouldn’t
be thinking about vagina during that battle.
Before your very eyes, she rips a dick out a face.
Take her clothes off and cover the world
in blood. Pubis. Don’t react. Focus. Inkblot genitals,
if you win you get to watch her dance,
pretty godhead, our button-pressing
pussy-hound, our favorite market-share, dress in white, smear blood
in her hair, make the girl hack every dick out of all the mouths.
4.) “I’ve seen a girl without a lipstick, but a lipstick without a girl? Most curious, isn’t it?”
When the witch purrs, the panther appears,
sunflowers blossoming where paw meets earth.
We know it is a lady animal because the beast here
means flowers, means fertility, means blood.
The twist: the panther only appears when
she strikes. The stripper-shotgun-heeled
skintight-hairsuit updo librarian-witch mechanism.
Her opponent hentai angels, homicidally-armed
fellow sex-dolls, seeking to beat her to death, run her out on a rail,
circumvent her agency, ignore her very existence,
but we’ve got them beat – we pressed start.
5.) “Look at me. Do I look like I have any interest in children? Now making them … well, that’s another story.”
Sometimes a hair demon bird is always more than a hair demon bird. Heads
erupting from heads. It’s powerful if it’s swallowed painfully. The more venal the sin, the more
fun the fun. Fun the fun time, so double-time the boobs, cunt a compass to the stars.
Triple-time the witch time, get naked and dodge some lightning, kiss off a priest. What
are you waiting for? Arm every secondary sexual characteristic. Slam dunk the twins
into an axe-wielding baby, shove your bang-sticks in every fun-hole. Make this black
demon go to hell and back for you, the haloes always more than a golden shower,
your barrels all the way down their throats, keep all your bile down, choke on it.
Jonathan Papas is a poet living in Boston. His work can be found at PANK, Incessant Pipe, Willow Springs, Everyday Genius and most recently the Trump Poetry Review. His writing and sculpture were recently displayed at the Boston Sculptors Gallery as a part of a show entitled Grey Matters. A limited run chapbook, Explanation of Benefits, was made in collaboration with the artists Dennis and TT Svoronos for the show. His website will be up someday soon.