The Animal at Your Side
Poetry. Jewish Studies. LGBTQIA Studies. The narrators in THE ANIMAL AT YOUR SIDE scavenge for clues, trying to stitch together a life in the midst of unrootedness. Finding bones, talismans, and half-heard voices that portal back to both personal and collective history, the speakers are haunted by diaspora, family estrangement, intergenerational trauma, and resilience. What are the costs of being far away from a homeplace? What are the costs of returning? And when the costs are too high on both sides, how do you choose? Grieving the loss of family of origin, and longing to return, the narrators forge new shapes, grounded in a connection to the natural world, ultimately making a home in their own unsettled natures. These poems play with form and structure, ranging from tightly-wound lyrics to detailed reportage. Alpert uses white space and invents forms as needed, creating sunken stanzas and a poem shaped like a rib cage. By turns gritty, frank, and devotional, THE ANIMAL AT YOUR SIDE finds things to be treasured in weirdness, queerness, the ecstatic, and the erotic. It is a book for anyone who has ever been lost, who has waited for what seemed like too long for the voices/to filter back.
THE ANIMAL AT YOUR SIDE spans worlds--Eastern Europe, China, Ecuador, folktale, and myth--all of these worlds equally sinister and haunting. In poems where we feel 'the whirr-click of war beginning...' the poet learns that the best way to survive is to become 'the same color as rocks, water, / anything I walked past, / see-through.' This is Megan Alpert's gift to us--radical empathy--so we can shape-shift through these worlds as she has. This is a collection I'll read time and again, and I know I will grow with each reading.--Shaindel Beers
How does one survive the loss of a sister, the loss of everyone in the family besides the animals? Megan Alpert's gorgeous new collection, THE ANIMAL AT YOUR SIDE, is at once surreal and filled with the flora and fauna of a strangling world, where the speaker takes us with her along a path lined with feathers and bones. With an unnamed war in the background, ancestors waiting in the trees, everyone gone, everyone dead, we must find comfort in what still moves, even when it could be dangerous. In this troubled landscape, this ghosted familial place, the predators, the wolf, the coyote all roam free, and you, along with the speaker, become 'the animal at your side.' The poems in this collection are spare, stripped down to their eeriest knife-edge. These poems 'unhome' and unhinge, and I am enchanted with this haunting.--Jennifer Givhan