Some Disassembly Required. David C. Kopaska-Merkel. (Diminuendo Press, Cyberwizard Productions) 97 pp. $10.00, trade paperback.

Review by Sandra J. Lindow

SFPA Grand Master, David Kopaska-Merkel’s most recent collection, Some Disassembly Required, is an unsettling visit to various fantastic worlds, replete with serious scientists, Lovecraftian monsters, small town hicks, and characters from folklore. There are 85 poems and a double handful of really creepy haikus at the end. Most of these poems have been previously published in genre magazines like Star*line, Illumen, and Polu Texni, or in the Dreams and Nightmares blog. (The eye-catching cover by Henk-Jan Bakker depicts “Beats the Alternative” where an exhausted, pathetically thin Hansel and Gretel stand in front of Baba Yaga’s chicken-legged hut, the legs, seemingly constructed from bronze.  Readers are left to imagine whether the children will be saved or eaten.) 

All his poems tell stories in nuanced and accessible ways (even the haikus), providing a series of vivid stanza snapshots. Readers suspend disbelief as they enter poems grounded in the commonplace but then find themselves in worlds that have become deeply, irrevocably strange, forcing them to consider things that maybe they don’t want to think about, for instance:

breaking through the lid
grateful I didn’t choose
cremation (96)

Sometimes, Kopaska-Merkel talks directly to his readers. “Wind Walker,” told adeptly in second person, recalls a winter camping trip where “your” dreams “of leaping and soaring” become footsteps in the snow “farther and farther apart” for your friends to follow until “they vanish/ under an endless sky” (6). It is unclear whether or not the friends also vanish along with the footprints.

Kopaska-Merkel’s education is as a scientist. He holds a doctorate in geology and has a fine grasp of the academic voice and mindset. However, he has also been writing and editing speculative poetry a long time. He founded Dreams and Nightmares in 1986 and it is now one of the longest running speculative magazines, making him one of the most knowledgeable editors in the field. Beginning in 1991, he has published twenty-seven solo or joint poetry collections. Much of what he writes is a reconsideration of popular science and speculative tropes. “Smart Homes,” for instance, rethinks the smartness of a house grown from a spore: while “The Laws of Robotics with Benefits” revisions the robotic servitude and self-sacrifice inherent in the AI programming Asimov first envisioned.

Female empowerment thematically encompasses many of these poems. The initial poem, “Broken Bones,” can be read as truth: university researchers reading the fractured bones of prehistoric women, “healed,” …  “broken again, and again,” listening “to Neolithic ghosts/ tell their stories” of abusive relationships (1). The female researchers have their own stories. Their heartrending conclusion: “violence recorded in the bones, / a thousand generations of pain” (1). “Amoeba Girl as Teen” is happy just stretching to help out in her community until college teaches her about the historic disempowerment of women, and she becomes “the Amorphous Avenger” (78). “The Brown-Paper Princess” redacts Robert Munsch’s classic The Paper Bag Princess with a post-colonial twist: ostracism “by the bleached paper girls” (81). “Instar,” an entomological play on words, describes “a regular girl” transcending in a very public way (30-31). Correspondingly, “Persephone Makes her Move” envisions the young goddess maneuvering to rule the Underworld more equitably while the philandering Hades sinks in his boat into the bottomless Styx;

Farther and farther from what passes for light
in the Underworld,
Or maybe he has reached
That inaccessible, desolate land,
Where Gods go to die. (89)

Part of his genius is his ability to use various voices to tell tales that reflect the American Heartland, a speculative Spoon River where religion is a frequent target. For instance, “Quite an Impression” begins like this:

        The body of some unknown god
        plummeted from the sky,
        impaled itself on the stoplight
        in the center of town,
        head crushing the drugstore
        (Woulda killed Mr. Snyder
        if the store had been open)   — (12)

The poem continues to complain about inconvenience for drivers and then recalls Nietzsche, suggesting a conundrum of dead and not dead and concluding: “And what kind of God/ Could allow this to happen, / If he isn’t dead?” (13). The far future narrator of “What Happened to Intelligent Design” remarks on the short-sightedness of a creator who designs only “a pair of simple organs” … “to take in/ the entire electromagnetic spectrum” and “laughably error-prone maintenance, / a deathtrap” (34). “Conversion Therapy” opines that vampirism is curable, “a lifestyle choice, / abominable in the eyes of God” and promises to “expose your son / to the sun’s / restoring, holy light, a little more each day, / until he returns / to the bosom of God’s love” (49). We already know how that turns out.

Despite the horror, there is kindness and an empathy that allows Kopaska-Merkel to get inside the minds of monsters, as well as victims and heroes (although the distinction between them blurs). The troll under the bridge graduates from college and Medusa finds happiness when love in blind. “Sling Shot” shows compassion for the dying Goliath who “only took two sheep” to feed his growing family: “And you, / dent in your forehead, / no more fees, or fies, / foes either” (64). “The Mind Eater” has its own mind eventually eaten by the memories of those that have been eaten, a kind of Alzheimer’s perhaps:

        the you lost as the not-you expands,
        until you are nothing at all,
        save images and impressions,
        remembered by someone else. (68)

In conclusion, Some Disassembly Required, turns the human assembly manual inside out, telling inside stories of evil, insanity, alien encounters, magical transfiguration, and unexpected heroism. Along with an idiosyncratic brand of horror, there is humor, irony, cynicism, and a sneaky kind of hope. Overall, these poems reflect a master poet at work. Even for those of us who don’t love horror, there is a kind of catharsis experienced when horrible acts are told by a 21st century bard. Kopaska-Merkel’s wit and way with words draw us in while paradoxically allowing us to safely distance. More often than not, we turn these pages smiling. Some Disassembly Required is clearly one of the best collections of 2022. Signed, inscribed copies may be purchased directly from him via PayPal using this address: .

Sandra Lindow has served as Vice President and Acting President of SFPA. Her poetry has been seen in various markets including Asimov’s, Star*Line, Dreams and Nightmares, Dwarf Stars, and the Rhysling Anthologies. Her spec related editing includes Dwarf Stars, Eye to the Telescope, and most recently the Rhysling winners anthology, Alchemy of Stars II.  She lives on a hilltop in Menomonie, Wisconsin where she waits out the pandemic and attempts various strategies to keep varmints from eating her vegetables and perennials.

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