World Happiness Report: Lori Cayer’s Dopamine Blunder

Cayer’s poems snap and crackle with electricity. Poems such as “Acts of Confiscation,” “Paradox of Hedonism,” and “Small Misses, Nearly Caught” threaten to take off the top of the reader’s brain-lid:

you, oh you
rescue Rez dogs
work overseas
with the starved, look good
on the resume, on the passport
you goodness makes you
fairly crack
like a sung wineglass

They surprise and startle the reader in their sizzle:

lost lost
your [ ::] baby
in the MASSIVE blue MASSIVE blue, [your] catastrophic genes
in the MASSIVE blue MASSIVE blue, [your dreams

While Cayer reports on the places and ways we’ve got happiness all wrong, she also finds sources of happiness in her “re-questing.” Some years ago scientists learned that there are microbes in the soil that increase the serotonin levels in the brains of people who dig in the dirt, and so when a gardener says that the garden is her “happy place,” she is perfectly correct. Cayer lands her readers in this patch in several of her poems:


green fingers exhuming, patch of dirt
orange fist of flesh petalling awake
fully opened: the animal eye of tulip

and from the last poem of the book, “Dirt Clinic,”

if I am found in the woods
in the MASSIwith my diagnosis
a little drunk, a lot overdosed
in the MASSIthen leave me:
sleeping in my big sweater, cooling in my skirl of leaf litter

There is much to love in Dopamine Blunder, and my temptation is to say little and to let Cayer’s writing speak for itself: “I’m sorry I missed the entrance to your / pain, how burrowed and trenched, but you sure / faked that loud happy goodness,” or, “but normal helps, don’t you find?” or

mid-traumatic stress, pre-disorder
I found I was far from myself
on the phone in an old city
having stepped into a lilac tree
because it was raining
and words were coming and pedestrians
were blearing by

Readers that lean toward the lyrical will find enough to feed on, and those that prefer the conceptual will be just as pleased, as Cayer’s poems manage to bridge the neural gap between the two forms effortlessly. Either way, we should take Cayer’s parting advice seriously, “today is a / long time to waste.”


Al Rempel’s books of poetry are This Isn’t the Apocalypse We Hoped For and Understories. He has a third book of poetry forthcoming with Mother Tongue Publishing entitled Undiscovered Country. His poems have been published in a variety of journals and he can be found at


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