Reviewed by Lee Dobecka
A Review of Memorial With Liminal Space
by Mitchell Untchs
May 30, 2023, ISBN-13: 978-1949065251, Paperback, 140 pages
This book is gorgeous and gripping, primarily addressing author Mitchell Untchs’ experience of losing of his twin brother, Dana, to AIDS. Potential triggers include severe illness, hospitals, death, loss, grief, discrimination and hate toward the gay community, and religious trauma.
The heavy religious themes and imagery throughout this collection may be off-putting to some, but I found it entrancing and an integral part of the narrative. With words about birds and flowers and body parts, Untchs’ work pendulums between foggy recollection and moments of transcendent clarity. His grief does more than soak the reader, it becomes one with their blood.
There’s an undercurrent of desperation in certain pieces, like a prophet wielding a wild pen, pouring out his visions. Other poems meander, linger in the summer heat of the Midwest, which as a location and mindset is also a key player in this book. Reading these poems, I saw Love and Death as two sides of the same coin, flipped into the air and suspended, turning for eternity.
One detail I appreciated was how Untchs skillfully adds texture to certain pieces by opening with quotes from greats like Keats, Rainer Maria Rilke, and William Faulkner. This is not overdone, not distracting, like rounding out a bouquet with baby’s breath.
Perhaps the most striking angle of pain in this heart-rending work comes with the reveal that family turns away when they learn the nature of the AIDS virus. The news is all the more devastating in its simple delivery. In the poem titled “Twin I”, it’s written:
You died of a virus no one knew the name of
And when scientists found a name,
our parents declared that people like you
deserved to die.
There needs be a word deeper than nostalgic for the journey Untchs takes the reader through in this book. It’s a forced looking back, as if by gunpoint, because the person that is missed has been robbed of their future. There’s nowhere else to look. Memories, by nature, are ever-changing and flawed from the start. This collection studies the connections between grief, family, and memory through a lens at times deeply weary, and at times youthful.
This work reminds me of a sun shower as Untchs writes of grief, “He comes to help me remember, / everything about you that was alive.” He also writes of the dead: “…the more stories I tell them, the more alive / they become.” It comforts me to think that, in this way, the dead and living are quite similar.
A Memorial With Liminal Space speaks eloquently and intimately-one of those hallowed late-night conversations with someone you’ve known for a very long time. Reading this book helped me feel more connected to myself, the larger world, and loved ones that have passed, and that is a beautiful feeling I am deeply grateful for.
About the reviewer: Lee Dobecka is a multi-format writer holding a B.A. in Creative Writing from the University of Houston. As a queer, neurodivergent person, they strive to uplift marginalized voices with their work. While crafting their paranormal realism novel, Lee can be found on Instagram with the handle @wordsfromleetoyou.