Bargaining with the Fall by Alison Palmer

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 80 pgs.
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Bargaining with the Fall by Alison Palmer is a deeply personal collection about loss, grief, and the impact it has on those left behind. The opening poem, “The Sky Only Teaches Me Uncertainty,” sets the tone for the collection, a struggle with debilitating grief and uncertainty, a deep enveloping emptiness left by a departed father. The poet says, “I’m a done-in-soul without you.” Grief is like that. All consuming and seems never-ending, which it is, though the grief does change over time.

Imagine grief before a loss, watching a loved one struggle to survive. “I start to breathe like you; water moves/over your gills in my mind. I implore myself, stop//pacing, but I already saw you die/once.” (“Your Memory Moves in Me Like a Shark Must”, pg.8) Grief in memory, grief in the moment, grief as it happens. Emotions are unexpected and invasive.

Salvation (pg. 31)

What more could you have done to obey; the sum
of your parts down to zero: I'm reduced to photographs—

              from the corner of your eye, reverence,
      for what? Rusted nails, your weight, wooden staircase—

I don't bend my knees in prayer, next to you, I don't
believe you'll be protected: such guttural sounds—Oh,

             Lord or Anyone listening? Deliverance gets lost
      along the way, the ambulance arrives an hour later—

Faith in the body owes us nothing; we can't all be
spared: the night you fall, the night falls with you—

             your blue eyes, the only beacons that speak
      to me. I'm startled by how little they say—

As the poet moves through the collection, we’re taken on a journey to make sense of tragic, unexpected loss. It’s a hard road of what-ifs and surprise, even as the poet seeks to use an equation to understand it in “Behind the Conglomerate, a Backbone?” There is no understanding this kind of tragedy; it is unknowable, like grief, until you live it. Bargaining with the Fall by Alison Palmer is as heart-wrenching as it is beautiful in its questioning of loss and grief and what hollows it leaves behind. This collection has come at a very appropriate time in my life. Do not miss this collection.

RATING: Cinquain

Other Reviews:


About the Poet:

Alison Palmer is the author of the forthcoming full-length poetry collection, Bargaining with the Fall (Broadstone Books, March 2023), the recently published poetry chapbook, Everything Is Normal Here (Broadstone Books, 2022), and the poetry chapbook, The Need for Hiding (Dancing Girl Press, 2018). To read an interview with Alison visit: www.thepoetsbillow.org. She was named a semi-finalist for 92Y’s Discovery Poetry Contest 2021 and was chosen for a 2022 Independent Artist Award (IAA) grant by the Maryland State Arts Council (MSAC).

Alison received her MFA from Washington University in St. Louis, and she was awarded the Emma Howell Memorial Poetry Prize from Oberlin College where she graduated with a BA in Creative Writing. Currently, Alison writes outside Washington, DC.

Mailbox Monday #727

Mailbox Monday has become a tradition in the blogging world, and many of us thank Marcia of The Printed Page for creating it.

It now has its own blog where book bloggers can link up their own mailbox posts and share which books they bought or which they received for review from publishers, authors, and more.

Emma, Martha, and I also will share our picks from everyone’s links in the new feature Books that Caught Our Eye. We hope you’ll join us.

Here’s what I received:

Flare Corona by Jeannine Hall Gailey, which I purchased.

Against a constellation of solar weather events and evolving pandemic, Jeannine Hall Gailey’sFlare, Corona paints a self-portrait of the layered ways that we prevail and persevere through illness and natural disaster.

Gailey deftly juxtaposes odd solar and weather events with the medical disasters occurring inside her own brain and body— we follow her through a false-alarm terminal cancer diagnosis, a real diagnosis of MS, and finally the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. The solar flare and corona of an eclipse becomes the neural lesions in her own personal “flare,” which she probes with both honesty and humor. While the collection features harbingers of calamity, visitations of wolves, blood moons, apocalypses, and plagues, at the center of it all are the poet’s attempts to navigate a fraught medical system, dealing with a series of challenging medical revelations, some of which are mirages and others that are all too real.

In Flare, Corona, Jeannine Hall Gailey is incandescent and tender-hearted, gracefully insistent on teaching us all of the ways that we can live, all of the ways in which we can refuse to do anything but to brilliantly and stubbornly survive.

Bargaining with the Fall by Alison Palmer, which I purchased.

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

Four Aunties and a Wedding by Jesse Q. Sutanto, borrowed from the library.

Meddy Chan has been to countless weddings, but she never imagined how her own would turn out. Now the day has arrived, and she can’t wait to marry her college sweetheart, Nathan. Instead of having Ma and the aunts cater to her wedding, Meddy wants them to enjoy the day as guests. As a compromise, they find the perfect wedding vendors: a Chinese-Indonesian family-run company just like theirs. Meddy is hesitant at first, but she hits it off right away with the wedding photographer, Staphanie, who reminds Meddy of herself, down to the unfortunately misspelled name.

Meddy realizes that is where their similarities end, however, when she overhears Staphanie talking about taking out a target. Horrified, Meddy can’t believe Staphanie and her family aren’t just like her own, they are The Family—actual mafia, and they’re using Meddy’s wedding as a chance to conduct shady business. Her aunties and mother won’t let Meddy’s wedding ceremony become a murder scene—over their dead bodies—and will do whatever it takes to save her special day, even if it means taking on the mafia.

What did you receive?