One thing about Tess Liem's debut collection Obits. is recurrence. Names, acts, journeys keep coming around, in newly familiar contexts.

Connected with this is a lot of moving around underground: transport in the form of escalators, trains, inner pressure.

Liem captures the commute as daily process and as language, frequently changing one thing for another: "I am allowed distance        I am a loud distance" ("Obit. [A distance    & I am allowed]").

The poems I enjoy most in this book play with variations on the aptly named "Obit." or "Obit." In these, Liem's intensely personal and yet -- or therefore -- weirdly recognizable narrator is riding an escalator or stepping onto a train or jostling or waiting beside the many others of the moving world.

Here's one:


An exit,
though I notice

many of the fire escapes
in Montreal duplexes

are stairs within storage spaces
leading to lower storage spaces

& I fantasize about riding the metro
all day, as if

its motion might
move me. 

Tess Liem's collection Obits. was published by Coach House Press in 2018.