Published on Poetry New York (http://www2.evergreen.edu/poetryny)

I, Afterlife- Kristen Prevallet

Erik Podhora

“Decease: it is the world that ceases existing, not the man”

                                -Kristin Prevallet

Kristin Prevallet’s I, Afterlife arises from her profound lingering after the suicide of her father. She describes the elusive feelings surrounding this loss in such a way that honors the diversity and amorphous nature of the bodily response to death.

“I have to live with my losses as one would live without an arm: being constantly aware of the phantom limb sensation that wants desperately to connect, to be filled in, with flesh.”

This kind of response, a loss of sensory capacity, an inability to connect, makes the language accessible.  Prevallet puts the reader inside of their own body.  This starting place, something shared among all living humans, counters the notion of intellectually reconciling death and reasoning it away.  So, we begin to linger in the bodies what we find ourselves in through Prevallet’s embodied poetics.  It is there that we can begin to feel the sense of loss.  And it is here where Prevallet begins describing the act of seeking spackle to fill in the holes left by death.

Prevallet is a shrine builder. There are objects in her shrine like the statue of a clown and a rubber fish. Things we all can picture in a toy chest.  The playfulness of the objects in the shrine in complimented with the ever-changing shrine. She is not an architect building a monument; rather a child re-arranging a nativity scene.  Coming from the humble and honest playfulness of real objects, toys, becomes a natural response in the work.  For the reader, it soon becomes apparent that this kind of response, from the known objects, from the restlessness of childhood may be our only way to respond.

There is a sense of helplessness arising from this place as well. A sense that one cannot control death, it is unchangeable and permanent.  Indeed, it is peculiar that our instinct is to control our surroundings. Why do we strive to control something as inevitable as death?

Prevallet is very in tune with the modern idea of productivity and industry. She observes,

“In a handout that the police gave my stepmother after my father’s death, there was a section on shrine building which stated in order to get through the 12 stages of grief with maximum efficiency, one should dismantle any shrines.”

The notion that we should get through grief “efficiently” is strange in the context of Prevallet’s poetic lingering.  Her ever-changing shrine keeps her familiar attempt to “spackle” grounded in the real world as opposed to accepting the comfort of an invisible afterlife as a peace. She describes this kind of response as better than a “false sense of closure” because “there is no moving on in a world filled with wars.”

“War,” is unlike her self-proclaimed “political” stance on shrine building. War is much closer to loss and the universality of loss. This loss transcends all demographic ; it is a basic form of human kind.

When Prevallet looks at the crime scene log and essentially re-tells the police report of her father’s suicide she uses a series of square images of the same size.  The pictures are mostly shades of black and appear to have different textures. Even as the last image in the series is the darkest, and is coupled with the report of “deceased,” there are still constellations of light. The images accompany Prevallet’s “holes,” which she uses alongside the void of her dead father.  In the final image, the image is neither black nor white nor smooth. It is a textured surface where black and white border shades of gray.

Her advice:

“Never fall in love with a text that convinces you that you are already dead.”

In I,Afterlife, the reader is convinced of one’s bodily presence in this world. We know it through our senses. The human actions that we come to after death, like shrine building, attempting to fill space with objects and failing to fill space, and rearranging those objects constantly are the actions that we must use in order to stand in the presence of the void.

“The challenge is to recognize this anti-matter as some kind of sustenance, to find in holes a certain kind of completion.”

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