“The Möbius Strip Club of Grief,” a new collection of poems by Bianca Stone, isn’t gentle. The introduction is brutally reminiscent of the reprise of “Willkommen” from “Cabaret”: a beckoning hand, straining to reach a smoky sultriness and achieving instead a sour, seedy starkness. It’s sardonic, the narrator describing the Möbius Strip Club of Grief, where the strippers are alarmingly undead, the dead sit at the back of the club and the men are hanging themselves from the rafters. They leave smells and tears and no notes.
Stone has positioned herself as someone who has tasted the fruit of the underworld — she can see beyond the glamours and be a detached observer of everything spinning around her, the life of a stenographer. The majority of the poems construct and take place in a burlesque purgatory in which the dead perform grotesque replicas of living, shuffling their need from murky place to murky place. Her poems discuss how women temper themselves in order to give — and what happens when temptation strains temperance, when want threatens to overflow.
Some of the poems that hold the most heartache are those closely tied to the idea of female erotic dancers, past their prime, in a burlesque setting — “Lap Dance,” for example, which begins with a stripper announcing her belief that everyone is happier with her gone. Others hold clues not only of Stone’s milieu — including unnervingly recent references, like a nod to “Mad Max” — but of her knowledge of elsewheres and other times; boomboxes blare Chopin here.
The descriptions of the undead persons are so corporeal — think “Swiss Army Man,” but poetic — and their need to communicate often threatens to spill over. Some lines almost feel more starkly beautiful on their own than woven into their respective poems — which, incidentally, is not a bad problem to have. Several slice up the meanings of things we might often take for granted — what suffering accomplishes, how grieving possesses a body, how the dead leave their mark — offering startling new ways to look at our own mortality and our relationships with family.
“The Möbius Strip Club of Grief” is a labyrinthine exploration of loss and mourning, weaving a tapestry of grief with a carefully curated color palette, a spattering of bold and blunt declarations of truth against a muted backdrop of thoughtful — sometimes droll, sometimes anguished — emotion. The poems question whether it’s the dead with a limerence for the living — or the other way around.