reviewed by Laura Eve Engel
I am reading My Dead on the train. I am heading to south Brooklyn from some part of the Bronx where I'm told to keep my iPhone in my pocket. I am reading My Dead when a man starts yelling because he needs to talk to us about how Jesus lifted him off of the path he was on and set him down in a better place—He is someone who wants to be told that there is something else—and I am reading My Dead when, two stops later, he asks God to bless us and exits. There is nothing else. I think maybe Amy Lawless would want to know that I gripped her book a little tighter when I was afraid. Why couldn't I have been encouraged to be bold? / Why was I encouraged to be afraid? I wasn't made to be afraid by the man, but by how he broke the silence, the agreement we all make on a train to ignore each other and be quiet. As he spoke using his throat and his words, my face turned grey. I've lived in New York / too long—he should be killed on the spot. I think maybe Amy Lawless is breaking a lot of silences in My Dead, and I am afraid of that, too. In My Dead people shit themselves and cry and have orgasms. People get themselves off on bad people for the wrong reasons. There are penises and vaginas and they are stuck to human beings with needs that make us ashamed and bodies that fuck us over while we are living, and then for good and all when we die. We are left behind when our loved ones disappear. Our own words come out of our mouths. And yet: This means something. And yet: One day my matter will return to the land.
I am reading My Dead in bed because I can't get out of bed. It's snowing fat, wet flakes and I think that anyone in the world who's not in bed is made of better stuff than me and I don't deserve to be here. It is a sad thought I am having, but sadness is different from grief. In My Dead there's a long poem that shows me what elephants do when they are grieving a loss in a way that makes me see loss everywhere, like how a prayer is supposed to show you God in everything.
When an elephant dies it's important to know the types of leaves there are in the world. The water in this elephant will leave it and go into the leaves and also into our faucets. The water will go into our water filtration systems. The water will go into our clouds and will rain on our faces. The water will go into your sex lubricant bottles. The water will go into the sewers of Dubai and the mountains of Africa.
Death is a silence so loud it's almost impossible to think of while you are still alive—I think, therefore I cannot think of dying—and the poems I'm reading crash into that silence, burst open on its surface. In them there's this voice that calls me back to the luggage of my body, that hovers over my body and invites me to join it. Listen to what the fuck is coming out of my lips. The voice shows me my body is like many other bodies, which is maybe supposed to make it feel closer to them.
My tear ducts excrete water in conjunction with emotion and this is called crying and the water is called tears. …I don't know what to call this feeling but I know you are mostly water too and that you're gone from me.
The voice shows me what there is to feel sorry for about being inside this meat: the left-behindness, the we'll-be-goneness, that there [is] nothing inside me / except the occasional maggot, / the wet puppeteer of Oz. The voice is not the man on the train but it has found me in the middle of my own dumb business to tell me about something bigger, and the telling makes me afraid, and the telling provides an alternative to fear. It's important to feel like shit sometimes. / If you don't, you may be totally wrong and dead and I don't know what would happen then.
I am reading My Dead so I must be alive but I feel some part of me going off to sharpen itself on the idea of its own death while the other parts ready themselves to mourn her with flowers in bloom but cut off from the ground, therefore also dying. Like how these elephants are doing. This is something in all of us: to preserve something leaving, but dependent on time and space. There's something in the act of preservation that seems not at all like sadness, suddenly, but more like ecstasy, like finding yourself beside your body. Maybe it's because it's absurd to toss a rock down the well of what constitutes your life and try to listen for its little ping. Maybe it's because absurdity clears the room of logic so that joy can join the party. The light falls through the trees / brightening your skin. You're alive! As the death subject gets nudged on and sniffed and eventually buried, the ritual of describing and re-describing it, the charm and humor of our small efforts in the face of something so big, takes on more and more glittering life. You're going to die. Read My Dead before you do.