A couple of ideas about the sickly speaker have been tumbling about in the background.
1) continuing to mull over how she feels about her inability to participate fully in her own treatment, the distance between patient and doctor/nurse
2) wondering about her love life
3) wondering about her thoughts post-transfusion
In the meantime, checking in with my own body, I've been "suffering" from my usual bout of winter dry skin and annoying hangnails. Not a very pleasant topic, but it plays into the poem and I want to be honest, so there you go.
As I was playing with the cats after breakfast, the first few lines of a new poem wormed their way to the surface. I confess I cut the playtime a bit short to get to my journal. A few treats and I'm sure the cats will forgive me. I was thinking about how the speaker might feel about the donor who gave blood for the transfusion (I touched on this in one previous poem) in the days after the procedure. Suddenly, I knew she would want to taste her own blood...which hints a bit at how some people who self-harm do so to feel anything at all or to override some deeper pain. I'm not sure the speaker is someone who self-harmed in the past, but I do know that the medical staff would not allow her anything with which she could draw blood, which leaves only her own body. Combine this with my hangnails and voila. I knew the speaker would taste her own blood because she had peeled her own cuticles to bleeding. Then, I had to figure out why she would end up with the hangnails in a controlled medical setting. So the poem begins:
The furnace here is faulty, heaves a dry heat
past the needle of the thermostat.
My lips are prone to chap. At night, I peel
my cuticles, gnaw & pull, cannot resist ...
|A 19th century furnace for gas lighting, click for link|
The poem goes on to explore this connection the speaker now has with her anonymous blood donor which opens the door to a question of intimacy, in particular bodily intimacy. The speaker continues to be frustrated by a lack of connection with her medical staff and her lack of connection to the outside world.
Today's draft was a bit different than the others in that it didn't fall instinctively to a close. I'm not saying that when I draft, each poem arrives neatly in a package, but I'm usually able to work through to what I consider a naturally ending during the session. This poem flipped and flopped and gasped like a poor fish in the bottom of the boat. In fact, in the middle of drafting this post, I stopped and tortured the poor thing some more.
Then, there is the title. I've been slowly making my way through Quan Barry's Water Puppets, which feels much more political to me than her past books, or to be more precise, the political nature of the poems is much more urgent and blatant. In any case, I first cast about for a title on my own and then began letting my eyes drift across the lines from Barry's book. Eventually, I saw this line from "lion," "the ancient drive rose up in only one." As I used an idea of intimacy and the urge to connect in a bodily way in the poem, this struck a chord. I fiddled a bit and came up with "Vessel in Which an Ancient Urge Rises." I am not trying to be coy by using "vessel" instead of "body." The speaker is slowly but surely separating at the mind / body level and because of her disease and the treatments beginning to see her body as a vessel separate from her "self." This question of identity and the body is age-old and complicated enough in a healthy person, adding disease to the equation muddies the water even more. And so we swim through.