A father's accidental death propels a journey through loss & grieving for poet Alison Palmer.
“Where do you find painlessness,” Alison Palmer asks in the opening line of her new poetry collection written in response to the accidental fall that first paralyzed her father, and ultimately killed him. It’s a question nearly all of us will ask eventually. Death being a universal experience, it’s the rare poet who can find a way to write of grief in an original way; but Palmer is that rare poet, and as we accompany her through her process of losing her father, we feel not only her specific loss, but the cavernous absence that results from every death. A man for whom “gravity / used to be your passion” is reduced to “Hospital / Creature, Room 802” (as we learn the meaning of “tetraplegia”); and then is reduced further to ashes that she wishes she could “form back into limbs that work.” “I failed / to save the whole of you,” she laments; but really, she does save him, for he lives vividly in her verse. There is a crushing moment when she recalls her favorite photo with him, “our foreheads / press together,” a gesture repeated near the end of his life when he asks her to “Put your head on mine, the only place left you can feel.” “I’m mostly made of bruises” she says at the close. So are we all, once life is done with us – that is, if we have been fortunate enough to be grazed by love, and its loss.
“In this beautiful book, Alison Palmer bargains not only with the fall that caused her father’s paralysis and subsequent death—wishing, dreaming, denying—but also with the vicissitudes of grief itself, ‘rationing out reality in doses.’ In poems of intimate address, she finds a wealth of image and metaphor to evoke her lost father: he is ‘part of the woven sun,’ or stars, or moon; he is ashes, and the box that contains them; he is ‘the smallest ship in the rain.’ And she? “Remember how I keep you human,” she says, and she does, with these heartbreaking poems.” —Martha Collins, author of Casualty Reports
“If Hamlet had not loved his father, there would have been no tragedy. What makes death so terrifying is the way it cuts off our access to the person it takes from us, leaving us only the supernatural or the imagination through which to maintain that connection between the living and the gone. Alison Palmer’s search for solace takes the form of elegiac poems, visitations with her father's memory as well as conversations with and about ‘the cheating god who / dismantled you.’ Summoning all the powers of language, this poet journeys into the dark caverns of mortality and sets even the bees to mourning. It is a courageous, lyrical, moving collection; one that refuses to surrender to loss.” —D.A. Powell, author of Repast: Tea, Lunch & Cocktails
“‘We let / the deep of a darker laughter pretend to be / the kind of god we seek,’ writes Alison Palmer in her new collection, Bargaining with the Fall, inferring the tattered ribbons we stitch together to cover unfathomable grief provides only momentary comfort. Bodies shut down, drift away, reduce to ashes, and what’s left— ‘flakes of scalp in your brush,’ lock boxes with missing keys, ‘bitsy insides of honeysuckle’ —must be the heavy remnants that compel us onward, a sort of patchwork identity borne out of absence. These poems—lyrical, inventive, spare—remind us that while ‘faith in the body owes us nothing,’ grief is a negotiation not with what is lost, but with who we must become. We unravel, certainly, but we also spill into something new, into something we have never been before. Palmer shows us we are never too far from being lifted into ‘silver fountains,’ into ‘creeks that rise like open palms,’ into the air of a ‘hundred thousand / wings too small for true sorrow.’” —Nils Michals, author of Gembox
Alison Palmer is the author of two poetry chapbooks, EVERYTHING IS NORMAL HERE (Broadstone Books, 2022) and The Need for Hiding (Dancing Girl Press, 2018). Her work has appeared in FIELD, The Cincinnati Review, The Journal, Columbia Review, and Crazyhorse among others. Alison is the recipient of a 2022 Independent Artist Award (IAA) grant from the Maryland State Arts Council (MSAC).