By Alex Carrigan
In Nicole Tallman’s chapbook Something Kindred, she responds to the passing of her mother through a series of poems and prose pieces that examine the immediate effects of the loss. As Tallman’s foreword states, these are pieces about grief in “a timeless sense.” While they read as anecdotes and rumination following her mother’s death, it becomes clear that each of these pieces could exist at any point in time, showcasing how grief is sometimes something that is experienced for the rest of one’s life.
The collection begins with the passing of Tallman’s mother, Nancy, written as a disjointed prose piece detailing the final moments as Nancy’s family witnessed her passing. This piece, “On the Last Moments Leading to Your Death,” has its paragraphs spread out and spaced several lines down on the page. It feels like a slow descent into the final moment, punctuated by recollections on helping clean Nancy or feeding her a popsicle.
This is then followed by “On Surviving in the Early Days Following Your Death,” where Tallman writes about the aftermath of her mother’s passing. This heartbreaking piece shows the banality of life as it continues following loss, with Tallman and her father replacing their home’s microwave after it breaks and Tallman dividing her mother’s ashes. Many of these moments have an underlying sense of uncertainty and confusion, such as when Tallman writes,
Dad and I take a trip in the snow to get the rings you left me resized. Dad also asks me if he should take off his wedding ring. He isn’t sure of the proper thing to do. I tell him not to worry about what’s proper. He should just do what feels right. He isn’t sure what to do with that. He says 45 years of marriage is a long time.
It’s also here that we begin to see the confessional aspect of the collection. In between each piece in the chapbook, Tallman includes a “confession” where she admits to things like taking photos of her mother after she died or the melancholy that came from the first holidays without Nancy. It’s here where the collection reveals probably its strongest response to grief: where Tallman finds now is the time to be honest and admit things she may never say otherwise. This includes one passage, where Tallman is dividing her mother’s ashes and writes,
I don’t portion out any for your mother. Grandma says she should have gone first. I don’t disagree with her. Dad says he should have gone first too. I don’t disagree with him either.
After that, the collection drifts into poems where Tallman responds to something that reminds her of her mother. These pieces include poetry about her mother’s ashes spilling in her suitcase, or how her search for poems about bereavement led to her discovering Frieda Hughes, the daughter of Sylvia Plath who is now an artist. “Frieda Hughes, I want to eat all of your mother’s poems / and all of your paintings. // It’s hard not to look at Frieda and feel / something kindred— / us daughters of dead mothers” Tallman writes in “On Reading Poems, I Now Sympathize With Daughters Of Dead Mothers.”
While the beginning of the chapbook contains pieces that are specific in their relationship to the author’s experience, yet universal in their themes and images, it’s towards the end that Tallman begins to move to the more experimental and unique. “On Grieving” is a poem that has to be read by turning the page and squinting to make out the message of “Grief is a blurry imperfect circle.” The final piece in the collection, “On Love,” reads as a mission statement on Tallman, as if she had to catalogue herself.
The poem, inspired by Alex Dimitrov’s “Love,” is a series of statements, many of which are linked, such as I love a wood-burning fire. / I love people who own fireplaces in Miami. / I love that a Miami summer can feel more brutal than a Michigan winter. / I love going to the beach when there’s no sun.” “On Love” reads like many of these loves of Tallman are specific moments or visuals that could have emerged upon recollecting about her mother, and it’s the sort of piece that could make the reader want to catalog about a loved one.
Something Kindred is a tearjerking, powerful examination of grief. Tallman’s ability to make personal, individualized moments feel grand and universal speaks to her expert use of detail and language. It’s a collection that asks for confession and exhalation following loss, and it’s one that will likely leave the reader feeling lighter after reading as they begin to truly take in what’s left behind after death.
You can find the book here: https://www.amazon.com/Something-Kindred-Nicole-Tallman/dp/1736230611
Alex Carrigan (he/him; @carriganak) is an editor, poet, and critic from Virginia. His debut poetry chapbook, May All Our Pain Be Champagne: A Collection of Real Housewives Twitter Poetry (Alien Buddha Press, 2022), was longlisted for Perennial Press’ 2022 Chapbook Awards. He has had fiction, poetry, and literary reviews published in Quail Bell Magazine, Lambda Literary Review, Barrelhouse, Sage Cigarettes (Best of the Net Nominee, 2023), ‘Stories About Penises’ (Guts Publishing, 2019), and more.