If there is one thing Eileen Myles’ Afterglow teaches, it’s that grief is a messy process. It cannot be contained into something that is easy to understand or control. It’s not just the five steps that map out how to feel. Grief just hits you over and over again like an aggressive wave and there is nothing you can do but let it happen. While at times it can be difficult to read, there is no true linear line of thought, the reader can still follow with the glowing rope of grief to tie these memories and ideas together.
When Myles describes how Rosie is dying it’s tear inducing. She does not shy away from all the gritty details. The loss of bathroom control, the tumors covering her body, the lack of movement. The pain they both feel. Myles shifts her entire life around Rosie to accommodate her. The intimacy of this is heartbreaking and endearing all at the same time.
“I attended my dog’s ass, the collapse of her rear legs that I saw as little high heels. I imagined her a drag queen or a young girl unsteadily teetering. A touching failure… Now I know what love feels like. I do it and think it. I love feeling this.” (12)
She also writes about the tough decision of knowing when it’s ok to put a pet down. When is it ok to take a life of someone, and not only that, but a being that improved your life so much. She dedicates an entire chapter to the act of putting Rosie down. She writes every minute of it, every crushing detail. From waking up and seeing Rosie be so still, to how she brings her to the vet, to the actual action. She captures the pain and the otherworldliness of the act. How silent the world becomes and then as she steps out of the vet’s office, she’s back into the world. It’s one of the most memorable chapters, as the reader is immersed in it, their world quiets as well. When Myles enters back into the world, so does the reader.
This memoir is about so much more than grieving, it’s about how the littlest of interactions shape who you are as a person. Myles is honest in her reasons of wanting a dog, it wasn’t necessarily that she wanted a dog, she was wanted unconditional love. She is lonely, she is unsure how to love, she doesn’t want to have to try to keep up a relationship, and a dog provides all of that. She is surprised to connect to Rosie so much. She ends up trying to communicate with her through a pet psychic, to see how Rosie feels about moving to L.A. She stalled moving to L.A. until Rosie passed because Rosie didn’t want to go. Rosie inspired her writing, forced her outside and to take in her surroundings, and to be in the moment.
Reading this memoir is a unique experience, but sometimes the reader can get lost. Suddenly Myles’ will break the train of thought with Rosie’s point of view. While this is a fascinating idea, the execution is rough. We would be listening to Myles and following her, and suddenly be thrown into Rosie and an army of puppets on a talk show. They discuss their dislike of humans and how they control them. It’s a fascinating idea but it felt abrupt. Also these disruptions to the narrative are a bit sporadic that it feels out of balance. The whole point of the idea is that Myles and Rosie wrote the memoir together but it felt more like a tug of war than a collaboration.
Afterglow by Eileen Myles is messy in the best and worst ways. It mimics the human emotions when it comes to grieving. Myles’ uses her skills as a poet to break down the typical form of a memoir. The chapters do not follow a straight line, instead it twists and turns, stops for a breath, and then keeps moving. Myles shows that pets are more than animals, that they are friends and family. That they matter and change us. Afterglow will break the reader’s heart and will make them hug their pets tightly.
Erynn Porter has a BFA in Creative Writing from the New Hampshire Institute of Art; she is currently Assistant Editor for Quail Bell Magazine, along with being a book critic for ROAR Feminist Lit Magazine. She has been published or is forthcoming in Bust, ROAR, Entropy, Brooklyn Mag, and more. She often jumps between her interests of writing about her chronic illnesses, fiction, and to anything else that grabs her attention. You can often find her eating candy while editing her own work; she claims that candy is the perfect editing food. When Erynn isn’t editing, she’s reading with a cat curled up beside her. You can see more of her work at erynnporter.com
Eileen Myles is a poet, novelist, performer and art journalist. Their twenty books include Afterglow (a dog memoir), a 2017 re-issue of Cool for You and I Must Be Living Twice/new and selected poems, and Chelsea Girls. Eileen is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, an Andy Warhol/Creative Capital Arts Writers grant, four Lambda Book Awards, and the Shelley Prize from the PSA. In 2016, Myles received a Creative Capital grant and the Clark Prize for excellence in art writing. Currently they teach at NYU and Naropa University and live in Marfa TX and New York.