The Last Unkillable Thing
“To be alive in the natural world means to live with death, riding the wheel as it turns joy to sorrow to hope to pain to love and over again. Emily Pittinos stops each moment in its tracks, and delivers that moment to us in fullness, in the good, hard light of her heart and will. The world of this book is sparsely populated: love held close, loss held loosely as if it too could be lost. The speaker aches for another’s loss, and finds layers of compassion, loops of time travel, long miles of forgiveness, and her own ache to treasure and know. What an exquisite combination of wonder and wisdom Pittinos has: she knows that even the word ‘whole’ has a hole in it, and there’s her eye, looking through.”—Brenda Shaughnessy, judge, Iowa Poetry Prize
“The tender elegiac fragments that fill this book—the look of the earth, the echo of despair—coalesce into one immense question: How can it be, this thing called Death? That question gives rise to others: What is beauty, forgiveness, recklessness, instinct? To consider these irresolvable questions is to admit to this difficult truth: ‘doesn’t it hurt / to be human.’”—Mary Jo Bang, author, A Doll for Throwing
“Torn between an instinct to imagine the past as different (‘the wreck undone’) and the urge to construct a future, better self (‘hazy glow in which / I am brighter: kinder: unorphanable’), Emily Pittinos shows us how time is ultimately as untameable as the self, and that maybe that’s as it should be. ‘How much awe have I missed by looking away,’ she asks, training her eye squarely on the present’s ever-shifting mix of shame and clarity, beauty and regret, mystery and joy. In so doing, Pittinos finds not resolution but resolve, to make room for the self’s wilderness, to trust the wilderness: ‘I’d be lost / without my own bright footpath.’ The poems here flash with risk and grace, equally. The Last Unkillable Thing is a stirring, deeply felt debut.”—Carl Phillips, author, Pale Colors in a Tall Field
“The strongest love letters are written as elegies, and this has never been clearer than in The Last Unkillable Thing, where the reverie of loss is eclipsed by observing the beauty of what remains. The elegance of these poems reminds us that the sublime endures even through the most challenging times. Emily Pittinos writes with the passionate gaze of someone who has been here before, holding both the knowledge of what’s worth mourning and the strength to bring comfort. These poems have all the healing properties we need to soothe the pain with which we’ve been trying to live.”—A. Van Jordan, author, The Cineaste
“Early in this gorgeous book, shaped by loss and profound grief, Emily Pittinos writes, ‘I / can’t go along without / asking: beauty: its purpose: / to heal.’ It’s a statement of faith in her art and the process of it. There is tension, an intentional stuttering, in her syntax and lines, as if the poet is trying to convince herself. In the end, she convinces her readers; this beauty heals. This is a brave and ambitious collection, perhaps one of the best first books I’ve ever read.”—Keith Taylor, author, The Bird-while
This collection holds a mirror to the self and in its reflection we find the elegiac and the ecological, as in “how much of enjoying a place / is destroying it?”; the worlds both domestic and natural, as in “when the redbird strikes the window, it is me / who takes blame”; a daughter shattered, but not without humor—“I can feel it coming on, my season of lavish suffering, the why me why me why me why me / that leaves me snowblind in the asking”—and, certainly, not without tenderness. Shaped by both concision and unfolding sequences, The Last Unkillable Thing is a journey across landscapes of mourning.
From “Subnivean (or Holding Back the Year)”
I’d be lost
without my own bright footpath: tilled snow:
cloud cover: moonglow refracted: the shotgun crack
of a bough unburdened.
Could I walk off the hours
I’ve spent ashamed, attempting a life
that would make the dead proud?
What would it look like,
how much would it weigh?