Thieves in the Afterlife by Kendra DeColo
Saturnalia Books, 2014; 80 pp
Reviewed by Tyler Mills


Kendra DeColo’s Thieves in the Afterlife is an electrifying collection that explores the body and how it is read. With grace, this book takes the reader inside spaces so often sensationalized, such as strip clubs and prisons. These are poems of becoming and re-becoming, a transformation that wheels us into and around (and through) worlds of imagery that annunciate the language of violence, reclaiming agency for the subjects it has marked.

The collection begins with an “Anthem” to the phrase, “I Heart Pussy”:

Whoever believed these words
            enough to carve each letter
                        into the green paint

of a bench drizzled with leaves
            one autumn, must have loved, too, the heat
                        of the word

as it flushed from heart to finger,
            slipped through the throat like a koi
                        in a corporate pond (1-9)

The word itself, and its effect, is described as “a koi / in a corporate pond,” a signifier that is inevitably bound by a context of commerce even while it appears to almost escape it.

Other poems in the collection reclaim beauty from sexually violent language. In the poem “Gary Coleman’s Face,” a female character carves “CUNT” on the inside of her lip. And in “Rodney Dangerfield’s Ex Writes Him a Letter,” the subject of the comedian’s famous “wife jokes” (one of which is quoted in the poem’s epigraph) narrates a loss of identity in the spectacle of his misogynistic language of humor:

                                    We watched
Easy Money and wrecked the insides

of one another, tussling in the sweaty
weather of your image, his fist

a star breaking inside my liver.
I became a telephone booth, open

as an observatory for watching
galaxies huff like horses. (15-22)

Reminiscent of Terrance Hayes, Marcus Wicker, and Dorianne Laux, DeColo’s Thieves in the Afterlife vocalizes spaces where subjects have been denigrated, pushed to the margins, or rendered voiceless, and makes them sing. In Thieves in the Afterlife, we hear this song through language resounding with a wild beauty to its lyricism. The poem “Clitoris” begins,

More alarm clock than emergency
lever. More Muzak than jazz. Between fields

of iridescence and a kingdom jaundiced
with heaven you choose to live

incognito. Your rap sheet is decent
as a prisoner earning good time

in the library, eating pages of the dictionary
to stay alive. (1-8)

The poem invites us to think about the connotations of this word (“Your rap sheet is decent”), the erogenous site named as a place where meaning is made vital even while it is consumed.

Thieves in the Afterlife is a collection that boldly addresses (as in, takes on, but also speaks to) commodities of the sex industry in poems such as “Vajazzled” and “The Strap-On Speaks.” And in poems such as “What I Loved,” the speaker lists aspects of prison life to show us the inmates caught there, as people: “There was the jar of fireflies / he caught with his sister / in the backyard that didn’t exist” (59-61). In these poems, beauty is fallible, yet persists. In the words of Terrance Hayes, who is quoted in the book’s epigraph, “Yes, I have a pretty good idea what beauty is. It survives alright. It aches like an open book. It makes it difficult to live.”