Small Porcelain Head by Allison Benis White was a finalist for the California Book Award and the PEN Center USA Literary Award in Poetry in 2014.
Small Porcelain Head
Allison Benis White
Winner of the Levis Prize in Poetry
From the rudderless space of raw grief, the urgent poems in Small Porcelain Head navigate the intangibility of death through tangible objects and artifacts. “What is left but obsession, handling the object over and over? My hands fit around her waist.” Specifically, these poems concern themselves with lines from a found suicide note and with dolls, whose incessant physicality seems to mock the transience of life: “The arm is wood and narrows into the wrist…to have one thing I love carved from everything.” The suicide note lingers as a final conversation and a final plea: “Please forgive me. I pray and can’t make it stop.”
A pained edge of franticness cuts through Small Porcelain Head as we witness the speaker’s struggle to function within the void left by death: “Not to let go or have to.” And with death, too, comes the questioning of God who, in these poems, might be “everything…this emptiness and eyelids that close when her head is tipped back” or who might be nothing, “only white streamers left over from evening, collected like women who have fainted.” In the wake of a death when God is an uncertainty, these poems long for “the outline of a star, so there was something to touch.”
From Small Porcelain Head:
What is left but obsession, handling the object over and over? My hands fit around her waist. Unbuttoning, I wanted nothing to happen or the same thing to happen forever in the same place. Although it is better, it is impossible to miss one thing or when you go, to miss yourself. Soon the object must grow or become invisible, so familiar it is so hollow you are inside. I have lost all hope for myself, she wrote, meaning there is one coat left which has failed. We have already undressed. Once I thought what could happen was only what I could imagine.