Afterglow (a dog memoir)by Eileen Myles
Eileen Myles—“a kick-ass counter-cultural icon” (New Yorker)—has written an innovative and intimate account of living with a pit bull named Rosie.
Prolific and widely renowned, Eileen Myles is a trailblazer whose decades of literary and artistic work “set a bar for openness, frankness, and variability few lives could ever match” (New York Review of Books). This newest book paints a kaleidoscopic portrait of a beloved confidant: the pit bull called Rosie. In 1990, Myles chose Rosie from a litter on the street, and their connection instantly became central to the writer’s life and work. During the course of their sixteen years together, Myles was madly devoted to the dog’s well-being, especially in her final days. Starting from the emptiness following Rosie’s death, Afterglow (a dog memoir) launches a heartfelt and fabulist investigation into the true nature of the bond between pet and pet-owner. Through this lens, we witness Myles’s experiences with intimacy and spirituality, celebrity and politics, alcoholism and recovery, fathers and family history, as well as the fantastical myths we spin to get to the heart of grief.
Moving from an imaginary talk show where Rosie is interviewed by Myles’s childhood puppet to a critical reenactment of the night Rosie mated with another pit bull, from lyrical transcriptions of their walks to Rosie’s enlightened narration from the afterlife, Afterglow (a dog memoir) illuminates all that it can mean when we dedicate our existence to a dog.
“Unflinching but also irrepressibly humorous. [Myles’s] grief at losing Rosie is profound; it is also a revelation . . . Myles possesses, in abundance, two qualities of the highest value for a writer, irreverence and relentless curiosity, and here both are on full display . . . because [Afterglow] is a love story, and because, like any serious book about death, it is full of life, it has a celebratory feel to it . . . the writing here, by turns playful, heartfelt, wise, compassionate, fantastical and audaciously confessional, should please many.” —Sigrid Nunez, New York Times Book Review
“Afterglow is a mutt elegy in a million . . . Myles gets at something no other dog book I’ve read has gotten at quite this distinctly: The sense of wordless connection and spiritual expansion you feel when you love and are loved by a creature who’s not human . . . It’s raw and affecting, and in its wild snuffling way, utterly original.” —Maureen Corrigan, Fresh Air, NPR
“A wry, gorgeous, psychedelic effort to plumb the subject of dog-human partnership . . . a thought experiment about the limits of consciousness, creativity, and love . . . Afterglow is like the Just Kids of dog books: a punk devotional, shot through with a sort of divine attention to material reality and a poet’s associative leaps . . . through Myles’s keen and rough-edged sensibility, all the dog-owner clichés seem revivified and almost occult. How strange it is that one consciousness can do the work of two—that a human can heap words around the wordless soul of an animal and in doing so give it life after death.” —Jia Tolentino, New Yorker
“You’ll laugh, and you’ll cry, yes, but you’ll also think hard, as you work to pull together the many disparate, cosmic, and charming notions Myles sets forth . . . with quicksilver intellect and whimsy fully engaged . . . [Afterglow is] wry, far-flung, and wonderfully loving.”
—Matthew Gilbert, Boston Globe
“Afterglow portrays a complex and often hilarious relationship between two animals, characterized by love and deep interrogation of power, creativity, and point of view . . . for Myles, a dog becomes the surrogate for a sort of vicarious enlightenment . . . an ever-deepening investigation into the nature of human-being-ness, self-knowledge, and knowing things outside of yourself . . . A book that’s wise to miscommunication but hungry to overcome it, Afterglow celebrates that rare authorial ability to get out of one’s own way and show us a singular and limber mind roaming free.” —Melissa Broder, Bookforum
“Fantastical . . . wrenching . . . obsession becomes a way to process grief.” —Helena Fitzgerald, Rolling Stone
“To read Eileen Myles is to feel as if the poet, after spotting you across the room at a crowded party, has guided you by the elbow to a private corner to confide their personal theories of the universe. Afterglow is just that intimate. Part elegy, part meditation, part performance art . . . poignant, sweeping.” —Claire Luchette, O, the Oprah Magazine
“Tender, lyrical.” —Jarry Lee, Buzzfeed, one of 28 Exciting New Books You Need To Read
“Myles’s storytelling is as unconventional and allusive as ever, ranging from an imaginary talk show featuring Rosie as a guest to the more quotidian joys of loving an animal.” —Estelle Tang, Elle, one of the Best Books to Read This Fall
“[Afterglow aims] to catalog life in gritty, naturalistic stills that, when amassed over time, form a lyrical whole, like a good grunge song . . . Myles works to bridge the power discrepancies between owner and dog, author and subject.” —Maddie Crum, Los Angeles Review of Books
“The universal theme of attachment shines through in Eileen Myles’s unconventional Afterglow . . . With great candor, Myles uses the emotional intimacy of a human’s relationship with a dog to discuss larger questions of emotional intimacy . . . Afterglow illustrates the lasting bond between humans and dogs in a new way.” —Tobias Carroll, Portland Press Herald
“Wild and unruly . . . lively, conversational, and highly intelligent . . . [a] sincere elegiac reflection on a life shared with another being. Afterglow is a book about dogs, as well as the lessons of caretaking and intuition that they teach us, but it’s also a book about listening and observing, about how we communicate and how we relate.” —Caroline Tompkin, Vice
“[Afterglow] incomparably materializes the imagination one uses when relating to a pet.” —Rachel Davies, Nylon
“Extraordinary . . . moving without being maudlin . . . Afterglow brings language to the nonverbal intimacy of a human life lived with a dog.” —Nathan Goldman, Literary Hub
“Offbeat . . . whimsical but philosophical.” —Tom Beer, Newsday
“[A] mixture of celebration and elegy . . . Eileen makes words bite and lick at weirdly sensitive regions never previously detected.” —Charlie Fox, Spike
“Afterglow stretches the boundaries of memoir, blending fact and fable. Raucous and elegiac, hilarious and heartbreaking, the book explores not only Myles’ relationship with Rosie, but family and trauma; politics (including Myles’ 1991-2 presidential campaign); memory; and poetry.” —Alyssa Greene, Lambda Literary
“The best kind of memoir: it deals with serious subjects, but not without a great sense of humor.” —Lisa Howorth, Daily Mississippian
“Experimental and eccentric . . . [Myles makes] keen observations about love and loyalty, spirituality and the disparate but equally satisfying acts of taking a dog for a walk and writing a poem.” —Sharon Chisvin, Winnipeg Free Press
“Myles’s work is a perfect example of what happens when you mix raw language with emotion, pets with loss, and sexuality with socioculturalism. A captivating look at a poet’s repeated attempt ‘to dig a hole in eternity’ through language.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“A rare new breed of dog memoir; think Patti Smith’s Just Kids, not Josh Grogan’s Marley and Me, absinthe not saccharine.” —Library Journal (starred review)
“Poetic, heartrending, soothing, and funny, this is a mind-expanding contemplation of creation, the act and the noun, and the creatures whose deaths we presume will precede ours but whose lives make our own better beyond reason. To this, readers should bring tissues, pencil and paper, even their dogs.” —Booklist (starred review)
“Myles uses a pastiche approach to explore the bodily, cerebral, and esoteric/religious aspects of the grieving process, all of which is portrayed with meditative poignancy . . . Myles depicts the raw pathos of loss with keen insight.” —Publishers Weekly
“Part eulogy, part homage, part love-letter, part madcap scrapbook . . . Love and loss are replayed and reimagined through the paranormal and surreal just as against the everyday and the earthly; the familial, communal, spiritual, sexual and bestial are all enlisted to spin the story of one special canine and her human. Only Eileen Myles could reinvent the memoir again so stunningly; Afterglow is the sort of multidimensional love story you could only expect from one of our greatest experimental writers living today!” —Porochista Khakpour, author of The Last Illusion and Sick: A Life of Lyme, Love, Illness, and Addiction
“Following Eileen Myles around a dog is like following Leopold Bloom around Dublin. Reading Afterglow is like entering the company of a sensibility that is rich, original, witty, and tonally brilliant. It is the darting asides, the phrasing and the subplots that matter most in this book, that give pure, sheer constant pleasure.” —Colm Tóibín, author of House of Names
“Everything Eileen Myles touches turns to poetry. Whether called a dog or a cat, it’s always poetry. Emily Dickinson famously decided that poetry was anything that made her ‘feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off.’ I can imagine Emily Dickinson writing an ecstatic blurb for Myles’s tender, trippy, deep, yet humanely silly new gift to the world: Afterglow. In this age of fake news and even fake poetry, trust this voice!” —Brad Gooch, author of Smash Cut and Rumi’s Secret
“What astounds me about Afterglow is the way in which Myles’s mourning of the dog Rosie’s death leads to surprising landscapes of thought in the language, where between sentences you’re walking out into vast open-air arenas and every time you do this some new light goes on in your brain. You think you’re reading about Eileen and a dog. You are reading about them, but with the complexities of their closeness always pointing farther up the field, asking why we’re here, what we’re going to do and with whom are we going to do it.” —Renee Gladman, author of Calamities
“Wildly inventive and just plain wild, feral, even, Eileen Myles’s dazzling Afterglow is about a dog, and her owner, and everything else in life, and also death, too.” —Jami Attenberg, author of The Middlesteins and All Grown Up
Praise for Eileen Myles
“[The work] has a yearning quality and a sweetness that prevent it from being a mere time capsule or Henry Miller-like debauch . . . You find yourself caring about where this writer has come from, and where [they’re] going.” —Dwight Garner, New York Times
“Myles is often referred to as an ‘institution’—the way one speaks of a terrific restaurant that’s endured the waves of gentrification as a ‘New York institution.’ But the word bounces off . . . there is nothing official about [Myles], nothing staid or still.” —Ben Lerner, The Paris Review
“Part of Myles’s enduring appeal is that [the work is] experimental in the true sense
of the word; every time you turn around, [Myles is] up to something different.” —New York Magazine
“Myles forces a cultural and a literary reckoning . . . demanding understanding, the text held to the reader’s throat.” —Los Angeles Review of Books
“Characteristically beguiling . . . [Myles] lulls the reader into a feeling of intimacy,
of being confided in . . . [and is] always artful.” —Bookforum
“[The] work is hard to describe, best encountered on its own terms; suffice to say it combines frankness and beauty in a truly original way.” —Guardian (UK)
Chapter One: The Letter
One day, in 1999, an awkward hand-addressed letter appeared in my hallway.
The mailman threw everything on the stairs. I grabbed the letter & headed with Rosie to the dog run which in that neighborhood was a skimpy little triangle at 39th Street west of 9th Ave. It was an amazing perspective on mid-town roofs and also dull traffic heading to New Jersey. My neighbors were weird. Sad former actors. I liked the pink-cheeked older woman named Doris who walked everyone in the neighborhood’s dogs including mine. This is like sixteen years ago so Doris is probably dead. Sitting on a bench while Rosie sniffed the ground I tore open the strange note. It read:
I take the liberty of calling you “Eileen” to begin the unpleasant duty of forcing you to legally take responsibility for the damages you have inflicted over a period of nine years upon the being you have taken to calling “Rosie.” I am Rosie’s lawyer. Dog lawyers have only become possible in recent years, even months. Which is not to say crimes of all kinds against dogs are “new” in any way. Crimes against dogs are ancient and widespread, but dogs having the wherewithal to attain legal representation is new indeed. My services have been retained thanks to a generous bequest by an anonymous donor who set up a foundation in her will for the explicit purpose of identifying dogs who were likely litigants, candidates for beginning the long and arduous process of getting the ball rolling on dogs’ rights. It’s been clear to my client during her life and most pressingly at the time of her death that the best way to make this need known would be to take up an individual dog’s case, not the case of “all dogs” which is too ubiquitous to pursue in the explicit way the law makes possible for human litigants, who are generally assumed to be individuals. A wealthy individual, of course, does not have more rights than a poor one. We are all brought up to honor “human rights,” but only wealthy humans are able to use the full force of the law; i.e., obtain high quality representation. By this logic, there can be no freedom for dogs unless there are wealthy dogs. There is one today, the dog formerly known as Rosie. She has been left a significant sum of money in my client’s will. She may spend it as she pleases with the single stipulation that she obtain counsel and press charges against her owner for a variety of abuses and crimes against dog kind. As you know, Eileen Myles, that owner is you.
It seemed unbelievable to me. Rosie was about ten. I looked at her licking an empty wrapper against the fence. She appeared entirely innocent of the letter’s content. What? Are we already going home she seemed to say. Okay. I don’t think she knows anything about this. I popped the leash back on and walked home planning my day. The loft we lived in was right across from Port Authority. Day and night I watched the lights of buses sail in and out of the building. I thought about the letter from time to time. I mean for years. I showed it to people. They laughed and smiled. Could Rosie and my entire relationship be framed as blame. I did force her to have sex with Buster that one time. No twice. Could I write a book about that. I’ve never been an “idea” writer. I have like a spurt then I go do something else. But this would be her book. A dog book is a great idea . . .