Pity the Doctor, Not the Disease

Erin Belieu

Science in its tedium reveals that every spiritwe spirit ganks a solid half hour fromour life spans. So says my doctor, a watery,Jesus-eyed man, and hard to sufferwith his well-intended scrips for yogaand neti pots, notably stingy with the betterdrugs, in situ here amid the disinfectedtoys, dreadful in their plastic baskets.Above his head, the flayed men of medicalillustration are nailed for something likedécor. The eyeball scheme is best,with its wondrous canal of Schlemm,first favorite of all weirdly namedeponymous body parts. It’s just a splotchof violet on the diagram, but without itour aqueous humors would bursttheir meshy dams and overflow. Dustthou art, to dust returnest, was not spokenof the soul... is what I quote himas he thumps my back with his tinydoctor’s tomahawk. But he’s used to me.We have an understanding. What hemeans to miser, I’ve come to spendmost lavishly. And I feel fortunate againto be historically shaky in the maths,enough to avoid making an easy sumof my truly happy hours, or nights curledsulfurous on my side, a priced-to-sellshrimp boiling in anxious sleep.If we’re lucky, it’s always a terrible timeto die. Better the privilege of boozethan the whim of one more shambolicbutcher shelling peasants in a wood,our world’s long spree of Caesarsstarting wars to pay their billsin any given era’s Rome. Turns out,Longfellow’s stomach did for him,and he died thirsty, calling for more opium.Free of the exam room now, I spot the samebusted goldfish in his smeary bowlbeside the door where he’s glugged alongfor years, a mostly failed distractionfor poxed or broken children. I raise my finto him, celebrate the poison we’re allswimming in, remembering the wayyou say cheers in Hungarian:Isten, Isten, meaning,in translation, “I’m a god. You’re a god.”

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Photo:
Gesi Schilling

Erin Belieu is the author of five poetry collections, all from Copper Canyon Press, including Come-Hither Honeycomb (Feb 2021). Recent poems have appeared in Academy of American Poets’ Poem-A-Day, the New York TimesKenyon Review, and American Poetry Review. Belieu teaches for the University of Houston Creative Writing Program and Lesley University Low Residency MFA Program.

In Come-Hither Honeycomb, Erin Belieu turns her signature wit and intellectual rigor inward for an unguarded exploration of human vulnerability. The poems meditate on the impact of large and small traumas: the lasting thumbprint of abuse, the collective specter of disease, the achingly sweet humility of parenting. The bodies in these poems are trapped, held hostage, bleeding. And yet there is agency—structural dynamism, texture, the color green—while a woman climbs a metal ladder to the diving board, a girl climbs high into the branches. The speaker grapples with a lifelong pattern of brutality, then painfully breaks free.

“Belieu’s collection is filled with moments… where the poems play with language and references, all with close attention to craft and formal elements. It’s an elegant book.”
The Rumpus

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