“the shock of daylight beamed / through a window, a dream

/ where you learned to love / barefoot in beachwater / the 

sky slanted / with apricot and oil / or a bloodbath /”

  • “love in absentia”

When I think of mixtapes, I think of middle school me dragging my father to Wal-Mart for a stack of CDs. I think of carefully curating the coolest songs from the iTunes account on my family computer, songs that made me think of sleepovers and Friday night football games. I think of making playlists for crushes who never knew I existed. But what about the aftermath? The coming down? The loss?

In MIXTAPES (2021), Rachael Crosbie expertly captures the amorphic nostalgia and grief that lives inside our dreams and memories.

MIXTAPES is separated into 2 distinct sides: “YOU IN ABSENTIA” and “THE B SIDES”. The first side features a series of poems exploring various experiences in absence using the same distinct style of title (____ in absentia), portraying the many ways we feel the weight of loss in the aftermath. What does euphoria feel like in this space? Seeing the spitting image of who you lost? Waking up from a bad dream? Crosbie perfectly frames these emotions in between sharp caesuras and crooning prose. 

“dreams in absentia” reveals the dark corners that one’s subconscious can return to in the aftermath of trauma, grief, or loss. I first read MIXTAPES a few months ago now and the following passage still haunts me:

or when / you saw the dead in reflections / at

dawn / where twilight bled grief-ruined and / thieved you of

feeling. / you projected here last / time you slept, conquered

by / poltergeists tarantulated / into the trauma priming you

/ for unkind appraisal. /

With lines such as “poltergeists tarantulated,” it is almost impossible not to feel the sickly crawl of these lines on one’s skin.

The second side examines the same themes of loss and nostalgia with a variety of free verse and prose poems that explore more direct memories. The change from the first side to the second, the step away from pattern, makes one feel as if you are witnessing the growth and healing of the speakers as they navigate the poems in this collection. Throughout both sides, Crosbie’s lyricism pulses above like a storm cloud, full of thunderous power but wafting like mist. 

Like “dreams in absentia,” Crosbie’s “Beach Vacation, 2019” also uses imagery of sleep and dreams to convey a loss:

I woke up on the beach, my fingers sinking into silk sand

as waves drifted closer. I convinced myself

that the last night was a bad dream. When dawn sliced

through a dizzying sky, I turned

into a child, caught up in cotton vision and magic,

the sandcastle shifted to a clay hut

and stood in that morning fog—the dark speck wavering

in wind, in beige weather.

This section of the collection feels more like a faded scrapbook that leaves a pit in your stomach, a mourning for the moments that will never be repeated. This section is just one of the many poems that shows Crosbie’s ability to portray nostalgia and dreams as complicated, nebulous, and tender.

In each poem, readers can feel the undeniable aspect that, like nearly all mixtapes, this chapbook is for somebody (at the very least, the amalgamation of “you” that exists in all of our longings). Dedicated to “those who feel burdened by the grief that comes with bad dreams, relationships, and friends,” MIXTAPES is a dream you will not want to wake up from. 

As you read, don’t forget to check out the Spotify playlists available for both sides of MIXTAPES. Find the playlists here: Side 1: You in AbsentiaSide 2: The B-Sides.

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