Mathias Svalina, Destruction Myth
Publisher: Cleveland State University Poetry Center
2010, 83 pages, paperback, $16
in the beginning God created Facebook because over time he lost touch with all his high school friends. He wanted to upload a killer recent snapshot that would impress them all and make them jealous. It worked! God now has 566,990 Facebook friends, and, despite the fact that The Godfather is more popular (2,168,579 friends), God is content because he created Francis Ford Coppola, too. Maybe none of this actually happened. However, according to Mathias Svalina, God did update his Facebook status when he gave up creating the world, which he named Des Moines. So that much we can be sure of.
Svalina’s debut book, Destruction Myth, is not really about destruction at all. Of the forty-five poems featured in this collection, only the final poem shares the book’s title. The first forty-four poems are titled “Creation Myth.” Every culture has its own version of the creation myth. These myths become the foundation for individual and collective beliefs about human origins and our roles in societal hierarchies. Svalina’s problem with the traditional creation myth is not its fanciful, surrealistic nature. In fact, Svalina celebrates and inflates the traditional myth’s silliness in each of his own creation poems:
In the beginning there was nothing. But the nothing smelled like bacon.
No one could figure out how nothing could: a) have a smell & b) smell
Is it really so hard to see that God is bacon? That the smell of bacon is
the smell of God?
They’d all been created in God’s image. And sometimes the image has a
Svalina’s God is not only bacon; he is also Larry Bird and “a sk8r girl & and sk8r boy.” Each of the poet’s creation myths creates God anew. Thus, it seems that what Svalina seeks to destroy is not the magical nature of creation myths but our culture’s acceptance of one story from which infinite flawed belief systems develop. The book’s fifth poem tackles the inherent sexism of the Judeo-Christian creation story by recasting God as an indifferent prankster:
He said to the man:
You are the master of the woman.
He said to the woman:
You are my most important child.
He said to them both:
You are both divine.
If you think about it
it’s a pretty good joke.
What the poems in Destruction Myth attempt to achieve is the dissolution of a master narrative. The book seeks to remind readers that these stories are purely human constructions, not divine. Svalina asks the individual to take responsibility for his role in creation and leads by example—by placing himself in the center of a few of his myths:
My mother & father, the chemists, stayed up late every night mixing
chemicals into new creations, their goggles steaming up with
concentration. They created tall neighbors with cigarettes & dry hands.
They created above ground pools with blue plastic sides. Toilets full of
urine. Collies. New hats. Things I could never have imagined appeared
every morning like tents.
Svalina’s sometimes personal, sometimes entirely farcical creation myths endeavor to alert humanity to the fact that our understanding of creation is always based on another human’s production and that eventually these products will lead to destruction:
The ending will be in a glass of Kool-Aid. Poisonous Kool-Aid. Either
that or we’ll bring back the dinosaurs through genetic tricks & they’ll
rampage through downtown Santa Monica. Either that or an asteroid
will hit the earth. Or maybe it will just be nuclear war. Whatever the end
will be there will be delays at LAX. There will be old news in the daily
newspapers, old wine in new bottles, old teddy bears in the arms of fresh
We bear the seeds of our own destruction. Svalina’s Destruction Myth is an irreverent, hilarious reminder of humanity’s inability to conceive of itself as a mere creature in the animal kingdom and that, if God’s Facebook status upon completing the creation of earth is any indication, existence is just another lost cause:
It may not be good enough, it may not be the best world ever, but it’s
my world & I’m just sick of tinkering with it, so I’m going to give it a
name & call it done & move on to something else.