Green Hills Literary Lantern




Review: Kasey Perkins' When the Dead Get Mail

Finishing Line Press, scheduled for publication in 2019


Poetry can be a symbiotic experience between author and reader. Kasey Perkins explores her past in When the Dead Get Mail in a way that evokes images of suffering but does not dwell on regret. She presents somber events of a life from which she seeks to gracefully recover. The audience is allowed the opportunity to absorb the raw energy of a woman coming to terms with her feelings  upon receiving mail for a deceased loved one, or looking back on her own neglect as a child. Perkins avails herself of the solitary truth of her past by drawing beauty from pain.

The imagery that first resonated for me with particular poignancy exists in the last stanza of “St. Louis: North County” where Perkins evokes images of a broken city clamoring for salvation. “These broken/windows scream/the name of Jesus, over and/over, block after/block.” In fact, religious imagery is plentiful as in the first stanza, “a Blessed/Theresa of Calcutta sign/appeared in a  yard/cracked,/blistered,/and dry as a communion/wafer.” (9) Two stanzas later, a woman sits on her porch in the shadows of a billboard that decries the evils of abortion. St. Louis, a metropolitan city that struggles to define itself between county and city principalities, is a particularly appropriate locale for this subject matter. So often, broken-down Midwestern cities sit at the intersection of Christian shame and poverty. Perkins’s poems place the reader at the middle of this crossroads.

“Parens patriae” is a scathing review of the family law system that grants custody to unfit mothers over passionate fathers simply for their gender. It begins with a soft introduction to a world where a mother can be granted custody of a child “all because she was a she and she/didn’t need to fight a judge in court…” This is followed by a slow escalation in absurdity as in the following lines, “…there once was a girl/I went to college/with and she could piss/two hundred and fifty dollars in child/support away each month/because her mother had breasts and a mailing/address in a mom state…”  The final stanza  equates a child’s worth to blood money, “and then there was my father/who become broken/who made us worth forty four dollars a month/no attorneys no supplements and no/fight just one goodbye kiss/before handing us over like thirty pieces of silver.”

“The Naga Child’s Transformation” is a beautiful piece that juxtaposes Buddhist mythological imagery with the transformation of a transgender person. The lines of the Naga Child are longer and more descriptive than most of Perkins’s other poems which portray big concepts with scarce but deliberate language. The Naga Child flows in complete sentences that guide us through the narrator’s inner dialogue as they sit in unceasing support of their transitioning partner. There is comparison between the old and the new in the lines,

“…when the Naga King’s daughter heard Manjusri receipt the sutras, she reached her small hand/to head, removed the beautiful jewel placed between snake-line/eyes. She gave it to Gautama, who treasured this transformation./Your breasts went into a bucket labeled biohazard,/as if they were a poison growing in your chest.”

The transgender experience is beautifully and delicately explored throughout, giving credence to the conflict between transgender youth and their parents. “Your father/had always wanted a son, but not like this. Never like this,” and yet, “…though he clenched your mother’s hands tightly/in his, took the steps into the hospital.” (14) Meanwhile, his partner thanks God that their father was deceased before he came into their life. Perkins dives deep into this liminal space between tolerance and acceptance where the LGBTQ+ community currently resides, and offers the reader a bittersweet exploration of the transgender experience that ultimately ends on a decidedly hopeful note. Despite all that may waylay them, the narrator pledges their loving support in their partner’s search for enlightenment and the promised -land inside his body. 

Perhaps less hopeful is a prevailing theme of the neglected child that permeates much of Perkins’s work. “A Game of Darts,” ”Interpreting,” the three poem sequence, “The First Sign,” ”The Second Sign,” and “The Last Sign” and “For a Baby Brother on his Birthday” all feature a child being mistreated in some way. Perkins shows us the gritty truth of parents who are not quite prepared to accept the enormous responsibility that comes with bringing a child into the world.” A Game of Darts” features a child alone with a man who later commits a crime while she’s in bed sleeping. “Interpreting” is a heartbreaking six-part poem that asks the question, how do the young and starving get by? With the innocent resilience of imagination, it turns out. Perkins paints a picture of a family haunted by the poor decisions of the less than responsible adults, who allow their fridge to go bare and enlist children to roll joints. Throughout, the narrator is the sibling that advocates for her younger brother while the adults stand by and do nothing.  Throughout so much of When the Dead Get Mail, it is the youth who take point.

The titular poem, “When the Dead Get Mail,” is a cathartic piece exploring the emotional response to receiving a piece of mail addressed to a deceased loved one. In the first stanza, the mail addressed to the deceased grandfather serves as opportunities for reflection to remember him fondly. In the second stanza, it is the narrator’s father who has passed away. It is an all too relatable concept, receiving  unsolicited and irrelevant mail. The narrator has an opportunity to dispose of the mailer, or tear it up as the father does in the first stanza. Yet, it remains unmarred and sits by the door for weeks. Some modicum of reverence is afforded this piece of paper with the deceased’s name. Perhaps the reader is meant to mourn this imperfect departed soul, if only for a small moment. We are certainly meant to consider what may become of us in death. Will my family miss me when I’m gone? Have I made enough meaningful connections to warrant the sadness of others? Or will it be only the business I patronize, the company from which I bought my computer, who cries out into the universe: Come back soon?



Christine Frederiksen is a Creative Writing MFA student at Lindenwood University, where she works as the Academic Services Coordinator for the Belleville campus. In her free time, she creates imaginary worlds for her toddler and the occasional wandering reader.