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“The Summer of Dead Birds” Reminds Us To Allow Grief To Visit, But Not Overstay

by Margot Kahn

The Summer of Dead Birds
By Ali Liebegott
(The Feminist Press at CUNY)

“I’d stop looking for dead things / if there’d stop being dead things everywhere,” Ali Liebegott writes in the opening of The Summer of Dead Birds, which is pretty much what it’s like to enter middle-age in a nutshell. In this, her fourth book, Liebegott addresses her ex-wife, her reader, and herself in a longform poetic aria of loss, an unconventional memoir spanning a summer when things fall apart, beginning with the loss of a bird – harbinger of disaster, messenger of the gods. After the bird, there’s Liebegott’s partner’s mother who goes “from gardening to dead in two months;” then, in the tsunami of grief following that seismic shift, Liebegott’s marriage falls apart. “Few lesbian relationships survive the death of a mother,” her therapist warned her, though Liebegott optimistically thought they could beat the odds.

With her old dog, Liebegott walks to make sense of it, the loss that is everywhere and enveloping. She writes to make sense of it, and the words loop and tangent the way memory does. “I hate that everything dies,” she says, “marriages and dogs and mothers / each death its own snapshot, sweaty in my hand.” And, also: “…do you know how a goodbye can make you curious? / suddenly there’s a million possible streets to explore.”

Her dog goes deaf, has trouble going up and down the stairs. “I understand the risk of losing legs to hop a train,” she writes in a passage that might make you laugh out loud; “and that horn, who doesn’t want to fuck to that sad shit?” The compression in this slim volume works to mimic the time across which Liebegott’s losses occurred, making for a quick and deep dive into darkness, much the way loss often hits. Her images are strong and aching: empty cabinets, ambulances that arrive without sirens, passing trains, a dog’s soft ears. Anyone who’s ever lost anything may recognize Liebgott’s fear of losing herself in the face of grief. And anyone with a beating heart will want to reach for it, this hand held out across the water.

By Margot Kahn
The Summer of Dead Birds was released March 12, 2019


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