James Galvin: Ideas at Play

Expecting Company

Death is when the outside world
Wants to get away from itself
By going inside of someone.

Till the walls cave in.
Till the roof is gone.

I’m floating face up
On a sea of adrenaline.
A broken window hangs around my neck.

I have to make more room in here.
I have to get rid of the furniture.

by James Galvin (b. 1951)

A Brief Analysis of Space and Death

In the first stanza we have two extremes of space squared off against each other: the macrocosm of the “outside world” vs. the microcosm of “someone,” a single person. Although it makes more sense to think of a person going into the outside world, this precept says that death happens when the outside world actually “goes inside” of a person.

Now that Galvin has set us up with this inversion, he proceeds to remove the barriers (“the walls” and “the roof”) that separate a confined space from the outside world. His careful word choice suggests not only the figurative decomposition of the person in question, but also the literal dilapidation of their living space once they no longer live there.

Side note: Much of James Galvins’ work revolves around his ranch in Tie Siding, Wyoming. When Galvin writes of someone’s living space after death, he’s probably not thinking of a city apartment that’s simply rented out again a week later; he’s thinking of a cabin in the countryside that’s been gutted out and left to rot.

In the third stanza, in a surreal turn of events, the speaker somehow has a window hanging around his neck and is floating face-up on a “sea of adrenaline.” These images suggest death (or violence in the very least), but it’s not clear that it’s either homicide or suicide. Remember the precept of this poem: “Death is when the outside world… [goes] inside of someone.” Still, it remains ambiguous as to whether the speaker has brought death upon himself or whether Death, in fact, has somehow taken action upon him.

The last two lines really drive the title of the poem home. Now that the speaker is presumably dead or about to die, he is expecting company (Death). Due to his lack of space for the “outside world,” the speaker can only express his anxiety at getting rid of the furniture for this particular guest. Now space is portrayed as the empty space that follows death. Although Death is never actually personified in this poem, his physical presence is certainly felt.

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