Something Kindred by Nicole Tallman

By Alex Carrigan

In Nicole Tallman’s chapter book something related, 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 says, these are pieces about grief in “a timeless sense.” Although they read like anecdotes and ruminations after the death of his mother, it is clear that each of these pieces could exist at any time, showing how pain is sometimes something that is experienced for the rest of life.

The collection begins with the passing of Tallman’s mother, Nancy, written as a disjointed piece of prose detailing the final moments when Nancy’s family witnessed her passing. This piece, “On the Last Moments Leading Up to Your Death,” has its paragraphs extended and spaced several lines down the page. It feels like a slow descent into the final moment, punctuated by memories of helping Nancy clean up or feeding her a popsicle.

This is followed by “On Surviving the First Days After You Die”, where Tallman writes about the aftermath of his mother’s passing. This harrowing piece shows the banality of life as it continues after loss, with Tallman and his father replacing the microwave in his home after it breaks and Tallman dividing his mother’s ashes. Many of these moments have an underlying sense of uncertainty and confusion, as when Tallman writes:

Dad and I take a trip in the snow to resize the rings you left me. Dad also asks me if he should take off his wedding ring. He is not sure what he should do. I tell him not to worry about what is right. He should only do what he feels good about. He’s not sure what to make of it. He says that 45 years of marriage is a long time.

It is also here that we begin to see the confessional aspect of the collection. Between each piece of the chapter book, Tallman includes a “confession” where he admits to things like taking photos of her mother after her death or the melancholy that came from the first vacation without Nancy. It is here that the collection reveals perhaps her strongest response to her pain: where Tallman discovers that now is the time to be honest and admit things she would never say otherwise. This includes a passage, where Tallman is dividing her mother’s ashes and writes,

I don’t give anything to your mother. Grandma says that she should have gone first. I do not disagree with her. Dad says that she should have gone first too. I don’t disagree with him either.

After that, the collection turns into poems in which Tallman responds to something that reminds him of his mother. These pieces include poetry about her mother’s ashes spilling into her suitcase, or how her search for poems about grief led her to discover Frieda Hughes, the daughter of Sylvia Plath, who is now an artist. “Frieda Hughes, I want to eat all your mother’s poems / and all your paintings. // It’s hard not to look at Frieda and feel / something akin, / us daughters of dead mothers,” Tallman writes in “On Poetry Reading, I Now Sympathize With Daughters of Dead Mothers.”

While the beginning of the chapter book contains pieces that are specific in their relationship to the author’s experience, yet universal in their themes and imagery, it is toward the end that Tallman begins to move into the more experimental and unique. “Sobre el duelo” is a poem that should be read turning the page and squinting to distinguish the message of “mourning is a blurred and imperfect circle”. The final piece in the collection, “On Love,” reads like a mission statement for Tallman, as if he had to catalog himself.

The poem, inspired by Alex Dimitrov’s “Love,” is a series of statements, many of which are linked, such as I love a log fire. / I love the people who have fireplaces in Miami. / I love that a summer in Miami can feel more brutal than a winter in Michigan. / I love going to the beach when there is no sun.” “On Love” says that many of Tallman’s love affairs are specific moments or images that might have come from remembering his mother, and it’s the kind of piece that might make a reader want to catalog a loved one.

something related is a shocking and harrowing examination of grief. Tallman’s ability to make individualized, personal moments feel grand and universal speaks to his expert use of detail and language. It is a collection that calls for confession and exhalation after loss, and will probably make the reader feel lighter after reading, as he really begins to assimilate what remains after death.

You can find the book here:

Alex Carrigan (he/him; @carriganak) is a Virginia editor, poet, and critic. His first book of poetry, May All Our Pain Be Champagne: A Collection of Real Housewives Twitter Poetry (Alien Buddha Press, 2022), was shortlisted for the 2022 Perennial Press Chapbook Awards. He has published fiction, poetry, and literature reviews in Quail Bell Magazine, Lambda Literary Review, Barrelhouse, Sage Cigarettes (Best of the Net Nominee, 2023), ‘Stories About Penises’ (Guts Publishing, 2019), and more.

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