Real Phonies and Genuine Fakes

Nicky Beer. Milkweed, $16 trade paper (86p) ISBN 978-1-57131-539-7

Delving into the deceptions of magic, photography, and fraud, Beer (The Octopus Game) does not exclude literary performance from the lies people tell themselves and others in her electric third collection. “Faking provenance/ is the hoax’s easiest gamble,” she writes. Her compendium of the camp, counterfeit, and grotesque—a surreal parade of Dolly Parton look-alikes (“Drag Day at Dollywood”), an imaginary meeting between Marlene Dietrich and David Bowie, a “two-headed taxidermied calf,” and other novelties—serves to conjure the multilayered self. Within this self are inner battles: “The Woman Who Smiles./ Step right up and observe her/ perfect imitation of a person/ who doesn’t want to die.” While it is up to the reader to decide what is true and what is false, the teller of imposter tales can’t drown out a voice that speaks from the heart, as in “The Poet who Does Not Believe in Ghosts,” which posits the finality of death as “God’s apology/ for suffering,” and “Thorn Ostinato,” a stunning litany: “O rose, the black wind shatters your face/ O rose the black wind shatters my face/ O rose show me how to die in all directions.” Readers are asked to look past first impressions in this imaginative and spirited collection. (Mar.)