Shit House Rat by Daniel CrockerShit House Rat by Daniel Crocker
Spartan Press, 2017
100 pages
$15.00 on Amazon

In his new collection, Crocker touches upon a variety of heavy topics such as: the pollution and health ramifications in Leadwood, Missouri, the damage people do to themselves and to one another, pop culture, politics, sexual preference (aka love), but the overarching theme is how mental affects individuals and society. What stands out most is the interaction between Big Bird, the protagonist from Sesame Street and Mr. Snuffleupagus, his “imaginary friend, throughout the book. Their interactions are indicative of mania and depression and are woven in between all the other tough subjects addressed throughout the book. In “Snuffleupagus,” Crocker talks about the invisibility of depression and how it can wrap around a person like a scarf:

Well, Snuffy, you really pulled a fast one
You convinced us all that you didn’t exist
There has to be a trick to it, right
a little sleight of hand
I’d like to know

What are you so depressed about anyway
they have pills for that
even on your street

And would it have been so bad if you only
existed in the mind of one gloriously joyful
bird? You could have wrapped yourself around
him like a scarf. You could have
given him the gravitas he so desperately
Needed

The narrator’s conversation with this woolly mammoth like creature without tusks or visible ears highlights the inner turmoil encountered by individuals trying to cope with mental illness. How do you deal with a monster that does not listen to you? Are you the monster or is the monster a figment of your imagination? This conversation, like many others woven throughout the collection, is absolutely brilliant. In addition, Crocker is taking two characters who epitomize the innocence of youth and uses them to explore the complexity of mental illness. He asks the reader: how do you deal with a monster that no one else sees but you? For a long time, the only person who could see Snuffy was Big Bird and he was taunted for having an “imaginary friend.” Too often, people can’t see others’ depression just like no one could see Snuffy. In “Dinged,” Crocker continues to address how mental illness hides.

I mean, as long as we’re funny, right?
As long as we say funny things

no one will know we’re
about to crack
like an egg
full of spiders

Will they?

Crocker does use humor and black humor in many of these poems as a way to dismiss or minimize emotions, the way many people use humor to hide their sadness. While the truth, the emotions, are there inside that egg shell, that very fragile shell that we call our sanity, he tries to make light of the seriousness of situation. In “Recipe for Delicious Pot Roast and Mess Free Suicide,” Crocker uses humor when discussing suicide, not because it is a subject to be taken lightly, but because it is a subject as commonplace as pot roast.

Lay down a blanket
of Shamwows on the kitchen floor
With eleven pounds of premium
chuck roast
you’ll want to give yourself
five or six hours

Take a gallon sized
freezer bag —
Ziplock because life
can be pretty messy —
and place it on the counter

Cover the meat in water
Throw in a fucking onion
if you want

The use of humor in this particular causes an awkward discomfort and isn’t that what depression does, doesn’t it make people uncomfortable? Juxtaposed on the next page, Big Bird and Snuffy are having a conversation about someone looking like the devil and Big Bird says that “everyone looks like the devil,” suggesting we all have the potential of acting nefariously. In fact, throughout the book, monsters are lurking and the reader is warned to stop searching for the monster, mainly because in the end, the monster is in each of us as seen in the last poem in the collection, “You Better Fucking Believe There’s a Monster at the End of This Book:”

The name of the monster at the end
of this book is cancer. It’s addiction. It’s
page after page of boredom and self-doubt

It’s time you stop blaming me
If you could have, even once,
just stopped, practiced even a modicum of
self-control, you
would have never come to that
bulbous nose, those longing eyes,
that blue fur, even now, sprouting
across the compass of your body

You’d never have had to weep at the sounds
of your own wavering voice.

In the end, Crocker has in fact turned us into that monster, that monster that has been with us from childhood, with blue fur and a fat, round, bulging nose. His line breaks throughout are spot on, notice how he pays attention to the word on the page, allowing the breaks to give birth to deeper meaning. This is a collection that you will want to read several times and then share with friends.