A few years ago, at the AWP in Los Angeles, I was sitting in a packed bar alone eating some fancy small plates, and chatting with a couple sitting next to me. The place was packed, in part, because an AWP party had happened there. But it was also packed, I learned from the couple next to me, because next door at The Regent Theater, a venue normally reserved for rock concerts, the punk poet Eileen Myles was about to give a reading. The couple next to me didn’t know anything about AWP. They had only come to see Eileen Myles. They left and I remained at the bar and ate my small plates. When I left the bar, I noticed that the line for Eileen Myles was now out the door at The Regent. I’ll let that sink in: The line for a poet was out the door at venue typically reserved for indie rock concerts.
At that time, I only had a vague awareness of who Eileen Myles was. I knew she was commonly described as a “punk poet with a cult following.” I had read things about her work, but I’d not actually read her work. This is still mostly the case. And so, in all honestly, I am one of the last people who should be writing a review of an Eileen Myles book. And yet here I am. Because she wrote a book about her dog. She wrote a book about her dog’s death, to be more specific. This is a trope I know well. This is a trope with which I can empathize. I know about the writing of dogs. I know about the writing of dog death. I am intimately familiar with the dog-death-happening-to-writer situation. When I heard about the book, I requested a review copy. A publicist for Grove Atlantic complied.
I am so tired of celebrity. When punk-poet Eileen Myles who attracts indie-rock-music crowds at indie-rock-music venues writes a dog-death memoir like Afterglow (A Dog Memoir) people will describe it it like this: “wildly inventive.” They will say it is “a truly astonishing creation.” Big-name publishers will put these descriptors on the book jacket.
Conversely, I feel like if any one of a number of talented writers I know were to write a dog-death memoir like this, agents and editors at any number of the bigger presses would only get a few pages in before they would ask: “Who is this? Does this person know how to write?” They would wonder: “Is this the first effort this person has made to combine words into a cohesive work?”
Celebrity gives you the freedom to “experiment with language” and not be judged a novice.
Celebrity allows work that feels like it is the first draft of something scrawled in a spiral-bound journal to be “rich, original, witty, and tonally brilliant.”
We love celebrity. We give celebrity latitude. We give celebrity a long dog-toy pull rope.
This is how I felt when I began reading Afterglow (A Dog Memoir). It is not how I felt after I had finished it.
As I read about Eileen Myles’s dog, Rosie, I started thinking about the passing of time. About how last year around this time it was just before I fell into a long pit of pain. Before my touched disc touched a nerve and how that touched off a long period where it was harder to live, to do things like stand or lie down or be awake or be asleep. And I started thinking about how then I came through that somehow—after the passing of time—and now I am living and it is once again pretty easy, pretty easy to live, at least in a physical sense.
Except is it? Is it ever easy to live?
There is this passing of time, and the passing of time is a thing that is messy. How you want it to stop. Just stop. Just stop, you say. Just stop, you, this passing of time.
Entropy is the passing of time. Of things getting messy and never quite going back to the way they were, which you perceive as neat, or tidy. Oh, that past time, you think. How fond I am of you, sweet sweet past time. And yet as soon as you place a time on the neat and the tidy it is immediately less neat and less tidy because it has passed and it has succumb to entropy which is what we all succumb to— the breakdown of our body, the breakdown of our cells. Which is also what our world succumbs to, and time itself.
Is there ever the present moment? Or only a quickly succeeding and receding number of has beens?
I am a has been. I am a never was. I am a never now.
So yes, I was thinking about a time which was a year ago which was a time just before I was in physical pain and then I was thinking about two years ago which was also a time just before I was in pain, but an emotional one. A time just before my dog Honey would die suddenly of cancer, a quickly-growing tumor in her belly which quickly eroded her spirit and lead to the speeding up of entropy in her cells.
For me, what she had become in my life was more than dog. She was not so much a dog as a reason. She was not so much a dog as a conduit. Toward life. Toward writing.
It was a time building up to a time that would be the resetting of entropy. The elimination of love which is, of course, a mess. Love is mess. Which is a metaphor for life, of course. And so her death was also the resetting of a mess, a complication. And at the same time the birth of an entire new complication: A life without her. Which was what? A me without her is a who?
“But who will I be without my dog?” Eileen Myles writes in Afterglow (A Dog Memoir).
Yes, I get that, I say. Who indeed?
And in an interview with a puppet named Oscar, Rosie the dog says this about Myles:
So yes I taught her to write. I showed her the way. Work changes in 1990 when I came on the scene. Check it out. She admits it but people think she’s being poetic, humble, theoretical. Cut to the end of our so-called story. I’m basically unable to walk to the door to say I need to relieve myself… We’re sitting on the green chaise lounge in the yard and she’s got the yellow pad out and now she’s writing to break your heart. Now, you fucking loser. Now? Yes now. The book is here, our book and yes I have helped mightily. Just as I wrote virtually every poem by Eileen Myles from 1990 to 2006 and she wrote nothing nothing in the intervening months no years.
I get dogs talking. Being interviewed. It makes sense to me. This is my territory. I get the learning from dogs. I get the learning of how to enjoy life. Of how to be a better human. Myles nails this perfectly.
The time after Honey’s death was, for me, a time of crying and crying until it felt like my insides were out. And by god I wished them out. I wished everything out. Everything. Rid of this crying which of course is nothing, save the passing of time.
I was nothing before I had Honey.
I go on being nothing without her.
This is what I believed. This is what I sometimes still believe. I’m not going to pretend this thinking is rational. But it’s true.
I say to you, “Do you think when I have written this that they will say that I have rethought what the book review can be? Do you think they will say it is ‘wildly inventive?’ Do you think they will call it ‘gonzo?’ Or “mash-up text,” or something like that?'”
“No,” you say. “You are not famous enough.”
“Well, then, may I never be famous enough,” I say. “I am done with fame.”
I want you all to know this:
It turns out I really loved Afterglow (A Dog Memoir). It is indeed “wildly inventive” as the book jacket proclaims. It is a story about love and about a dog, but it is also a story about self and about a human life and about a father. It is complicated and complex and it asks a lot from the reader. It is all the things I like about writing.
It is not boring.
It is irreverent and not irrelevant.
It will make you ache and it will make you smile and it will make you grow.
It looks both inward and outward. It is both a beginning and ending.
It is the passing of time and it is the passing of time well spent.
[8:50 AM, 9/21/2017] Me: Ugh, I got drunk and cried over Honey last night wtf?
[8:51 AM, 9/21/2017] You: It’s interesting to me
[8:51 AM, 9/21/2017] You: How open your heart was/is for Honey
[8:53 AM, 9/21/2017] Me: Eileen Myles says something in Afterglow about writing better with Rosie.
[8:53 AM, 9/21/2017] Me: I fear the same about me. I only have ever really written a lot when I had Honey.
[8:53 AM, 9/21/2017] Me: Maybe she wrote.
[8:53 AM, 9/21/2017] Me: Maybe I was just a channel.
[8:53 AM, 9/21/2017] You: Possibly
[8:54 AM, 9/21/2017] You: But maybe she was a conduit
[8:54 AM, 9/21/2017] You: Not the writer
[8:54 AM, 9/21/2017] You: Not the thinker of thoughts
I believe in Gonzo. I believe in mash-ups, too. Mash-ups of mediums. Mash-ups of topics. I don’t know if that’s what this is, but I’d like to think so.
One thing’s for sure: whatever else this is, it is also the passing of time. Second by second. Timestamp by Timestamp.
A messy closet is the passing of time. A messy drawer.
Things get put in closets and that is the passing of time and that is the mess. Like love. Things get put in drawers. And that is. The passing of time. The mess. Which is love. Which is life. It is forever and it is eternal and is circular.
I do not like trying to find things. I am usually convinced I will not find them. I am usually convinced the things have disappeared and that makes me anxious. I do not like opening a closet and finding a mess and not finding the thing.
A missing thing is the passing of time.
I am worried about this coming season of time. Of this coming season of time yet passed. I am worried about the entropy that will occur.
And writing this, which is the passing of time. I have not wanted to write this because it is only that. So much passing. Of time. Of nothing. We are all. Only. The passing of time.
To have written. To be writing. It promises so much. It promises answers. But we are only leaving more questions. And complications. And entropy. We are only leaving.
The passing of time.
These notes. The words, which are nothing, save the passing of time.
If I stop them, these notes, these words. Will it stop too? The passing.
We brought Honey to a room that was clean except for a blanket. And she laid on the blanket and we sat around her and she was the center of our time here in this space. And then they put the bandage on her arm and the needle inside it and she looked at me and the look said I trust you Bald Man and the doctor asked are you ready? Are you ready for this quiet nothing that is about to happen, which is only the passing of time? This life force that is here and buzzes and loves smells and eats hot dogs and then is only still and then still some more even while I speak into her still-warm head and her soft ear and tell her she was the best dog I could ever hope for and continue with my entropy and my bawling and my insides wanting out.
And that is the passing of time.
When she was with me it was as though time had stopped. When she was with me, I felt I needed to save every day. While she was with me, everything small seemed big and everything slow seemed fast and it was all important. I always felt like losing her would be the worst thing. I always felt like losing her could happen any day and it made me fearful. I wanted to hold on to every day and I wanted to keep the time from passing and I knew it was impossible. I knew one day I would be without her and therefore without myself, the self I am through her, which is nothing, save the passing of time.
Which is what Afterglow (A Dog Memoir) is: the gentle passing of time. A thing that is beautiful while it is here and which makes us see the world differently because it is not the same and more same.
Poem: “Quick Ghosts” by David Olimpio with Audio “Stubb (A Dub)” by Mr. Bungle (1991)
Lyrics: (which sometimes make me cry)
Do you remember
We called you puppy?
Now you’re one of us
We call you family
Treading underfoot and stinking ass
Hold the door aside and let her pass
Reflections of a bloated lie
A life stored in your cloudy eye
Now it’s time to say goodbye
Stubb a Dub will never die
Chase a tail that isn’t there
It’s time to wipe your butt
Sliding down butt hill
Dahg Rastubfari – do you know
That you’re a fucking dog?
If you can hear me, then throw up
Give me a sign
And I’ll throw a stick, bring it back
Roll over and die
You taught me a lesson – thanks mom!
Do you understand me
Do you think about me when you’re peeing?
Do you really think you’re gonna grow
Into a human being?
This dog has seen better days
You’re gonna die
How does it feel, Stubb?
Eat & sleep
Fulfill your only roll
Let your problems seep
Out of your hole
Do you remember
We called you family?
Now you’re underground
We call you memory