Title

Afterlives

Publication Date

April 2017

Advisor(s)

Amy Bloom

Major

English

Language

English (United States)

Abstract

When I was a little girl my mother and I pored over library books about near death experiences—moments when the dead breathed again in lakes and on operating tables. In the interim between death and wakefulness, warm tunnels glowed. The afterlife appeared like a salient dream, a half world where the frontal cortex shut off and thalamus took over. Colors poured from bright columns and dead loved ones beckoned, young and laughing. Last spring, my mother was diagnosed with Stage 1 Breast Cancer. Her prognosis was good, but while she was sick I felt painfully adult. The prospect of an afterlife comforted me: a warm realm like a womb. I arranged life and death in my mind as twins—mountains and sky reflected in a river. In June, shortly after her final radiation treatment, I traveled to Western Ireland to research Celtic spirits of the dead. I visited Rathcroghan, or “The Cave of Cats” –a muddy tunnel in a field buzzing with gnats. An ancient pagan site (known in the medieval period as Ireland’s gate to Hell), the cave provides a porous border between our world and the spirit realm. If a human crawled in, they could dwell with the dead for hours, then climb back into ordinary life. As I lowered myself into its jaw I swatted bugs off my legs, struggling to squeeze into the muddy crevice. These poems kneel in the cave between worlds; they are a childhood flashing before my eyes.

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