by Cynthia Hogue

Page 4

In the following poem, as I tried (long after the worst pain had thankfully receded) to "contain" that sense of its infinity within the space of a sonnet, Dickinson's words returned to me (I might say at this point, inhabited me) in both the poem's title and closing:

As if an island under fog, memory's
outline blurs in fall and disappears
in spring. A broken chrysalis, the soul
dries up, self-emptied. When I try
to drive through town, I do not see
a stop light that I hurtle (deadly)
past to find myself crossing the river
out of town. I don't know why I stutter,
or sentences stop, words like crows
wheeling, cawing, away. One fears
for a self, but I have no fears
for this no-more being, this body-shell
with nothing-left to say. First--Chill-
then Stupor--then the letting go.

Susan Sontag writes in Illness as Metaphor that "illness is not a metaphor, and . . . the most truthful way of regarding illness--and the healthiest way of being ill--is one most purified of, most resistant to, metaphoric thinking"3 Like my own poems, Rich's work, arguably "purified" of metaphoric thinking about pain, has, however, caused critics to ask of such imagistically-spare, yet detailed accounts of the "medicalized body" whether it is even poetry at all. On the other hand, Rich herself acknowledges the risks of "offering up her body as a metaphorical vehicle for the 'body's world'" (Bundzten 339). So what's a writer to do when her body is, as Rich writes, "signified by pain?"4

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