cover image Death Styles

Death Styles

Joyelle McSweeney. Nightboat, $17.95 trade paper (136p) ISBN 978-1-64362-230-9

At once a lament for a lost infant child and an address to living daughters, the latest from McSweeney (Toxicon and Arachne) is a feat of endurance. Willing to accept “any inspiration” as “an artifact of the present tense,” McSweeney describes in the afterword how, in the wake of her loss, she wrote every day and “had to tolerate the poem for the time it took to get it down.” Whether keening or mundane, hysterical or technical, these pages follow the mind’s motion with associative detours. If death is a style, then dawn is too, requiring “black Vans and Marimekko robe, the most expensive thing I own.” The stylish robe becomes “hotel robe” and then “anaerobe,” circling back to the sick child. A visiting skunk, a Diane Vreeland quote, the actor River Phoenix, a detective hot on the case of the missing baby, or a sign that reads “Live Music Returns to the Gazebo” trigger Beat-style riffs that capture the absurdity of normalcy during emotional distress. Like biology, language can go wrong: “Something is failing here/ on the organelle level.” Adrift in such sadness, there’s no comfort unless it’s physical: “I put my thumb in my mouth to mime the drinking/ I will do at five o’clock/ on the dot.” It’s a poignant and unforgettable portrait of grief. (Apr.)