Call It In The Air by Ed Pavlic; Milkweed; 136 pages; $16.00
Ed Pavlic’s Call It In The Air is a stunning meditation on grief, told in a suspension of prose poems spreading from the 1970s on until present day. From the ICU in Denver where he watches over his sister, Kate, who has overdosed, or as he puts it, died at her own hand, to the interstate where he rides away from her body and into the uncertain future, Pavlic creates a world where art is both the answer and the question to life’s mysteries.
Pavlic’s love for his sister permeates this collection. Early in the book, he describes his sister’s face:
“And I knew because I’d seen you empty your face of everything you didn’t want me to see. I’d seen it love. I’d seen it pleasure. I’d seen it terror. Pure. I’d seen you smelt the elements.”
This tenderness can be seen throughout Pavlic's writing, which is pure and straightforward, pulling no punches. Pavlic does not hide behind flowery writing or extreme extended metaphors. This is the powerful writing of grief, the lines and forms strong and clear. He seems confident in his observations, not doubting himself but rather telling the story the way it needs to be told. Kate, an artist herself, is present in almost every line, whether it be a description of her or an update about her condition, which deteriorates throughout the book, culminating in her death. Her paintings are a part of the book, integrated into the text, adding a texture and color to the words which would otherwise be pounding and almost oppressive.
While Pavlic’s grief is threaded expertly throughout, the rest of the book feels like fragments—scraps of memory, dredged from the deep. At times, the collection feels lost in time, floating from the 1970s to the lost 80s, and onward. There are moments that aren’t grounded in time at all, and Pavlic doesn’t bother to explain. This style choice is at times disarming, but he shares his memories with Kate as if the reader is a friend, creating a camaraderie between the two, a contract which cannot be violated. As a reader, one feels as if they have been thrown directly into Pavlic’s consciousness, experiencing his feelings as he feels them.
At times, Pavlic’s grief turns frightening, as he writes:
“These days I cut my hands open at home on purpose. I don’t know why I do it. On the back of my asdf hand, seven cuts in the skin like notches on a pistol handle trace the bone that leads to my index finger. I need help and there’s no help. I need grief and can’t touch the skin of the word.”
His cutting, which he explores later in the book, is not a cry for help. Rather, it’s a way to express the pain he’s feeling inside, an outer exploration of the pain he’s feeling internally. He’s wrestling with grief, fighting it like a lion, and this is the way it has manifested. When he finally stops cutting and faces his grief head on, he states that all of it is a part of the healing process.
Art, of course, is at the heart of this collection. Pavlic asks:
“& so I wonder openly what experience has to do with daily life? & is art a mobile barrier or a crossed boundary? Or both?”
These are the questions that Pavlic leaves us with. He is left with a few of Kate’s canvases to remember her by, which he takes with him on I-80 as he drives away from her body, her memory, and her spirit. Grief is a moving target, Pavlic tells us, as he experiences it firsthand. Through cutting, reliving memories, and creating art, Pavlic is moving through the stages of grief. His book is a learning curve for all of us, a necessary step on the journey that we all must make on our own at one time or another in our lives.
The last wave of cuts is almost healed at the end of the book, and perhaps Pavlic is almost healed at the end of the book, as well. He has invited us into his journey of healing, and this is an intimate look at his experience. Through prose poems which hold nothing back, Pavlic has created a book that offers us an in-depth look into the ugly maw of grief, for better or for worse. Through understanding, maybe we will learn something. Maybe we will learn how to handle the harder parts of life. Maybe we will learn, somehow, to be better.