Tuesday, March 09, 2021

Therese Estacion, Phantompains

Iron Body

I am no longer attached to my flesh.    Even so,
it is difficult to go out into the world like this
Half other        I am sometimes afraid of the

Hurtling           Our assigned junkyards filled with
medical equipment and assisted-living devices

My body moves in prone mode exposing some
truth stored in our limbic systems        Perhaps

I am a heroine in the iron mud

As the copy on the back cover of Toronto poet Therese Estacion’s debut poetry title, Phantompains (Toronto ON: Book*hug, 2021), reads: “Therese Estacion survived a rare infection that nearly killed her, but not without losing both her legs below the knees, several fingers, and reproductive organs. Phantompains is a visceral, imaginative collection exploring disability, grief, and life by interweaving stark memories with dreamlike surrealism.” Phantompains exists very much as a kind of poetry memoir, utilizing the narrative lyric to record and examine trauma, pain and recovery while moving through the new and uncertain shapes and responses of and her own body. “morphine mimics / and mimics and lies to /// block    pain,” she writes, as part of the extended lyric “Thinking about things again: / misery during leg amputations month.”

Phantompains is structured in five sections, along with an untitled opening lyric: “Abat/Monsters,” subtitled “a rare bug caught, fusobacterium necrophorum / perhaps it was always in me, dormant, still”; “Blood and Absence Flows,” subtitled “2.9 people out of a million / only 20 percent of us survive / septic shock / pelvic inflammatory disease / hysterectomy / necrosis / leg amputations / hand amputations / 33 years old”; “Got Sick,” subtitled “body was once strong and capable, a machine / body regressed, state of infancy”; “A Task,” “there was no use in being afraid / surgery was inevitable / I was always meant to undertake”; and “Eunuched Female,” subtitled “something new, / cycle.” “Once upon a time the spectacle,” she writes, to open the collection, “A young woman flatlined / herself into oblivion [.]” Estacion also records and reports on the fluidity of her perceptions during the initial processes of her illness and recovery, as she connected viscerally to childhood terror, moments in which she recalls a sequence of Filipino horror and folk tales around ghosts, ogres and mermen. “Seeing my limbs halved / without feet,” she writes, as part of the poem “Afloat,” “makes me wonder if I am a fish-person as well [.]”

The sequence “Report on Phantompains,” which provides the book’s title (or vice versa), sits in the third section, and offers a description of phantom pain while navigating the physical and physiological trauma of what her body has lost. “There is a difference between phantompain / and phantomsensation,” she writes, as the eighth section of the extended prose lyric. Later on in the same piece: “my heart cramping up / like a charley horse [.]” The ways in which she explores illness, trauma and recovery are reminiscent of Vancouver writer Elee Kraljii Gardiner’s poetry collection around her concussion, Trauma Head (Vancouver BC: Anvil Press, 2018) [see my review of such here], or American writer Sarah Manguso’s memoir on her own extended illness and recovery, The Two Kinds of Decay (New York NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008) [see my review of such here]. All three of these titles provide further examples of writers seeking to document even the darkest of their health experiences so that they might better understand and process such, and potentially, hopefully, attempt ways through which to move forward. Documenting her experience through the lyric, Estacion’s book-length poem aches to understand what it is she has lost, and how to wrestle her way to how best to move forward, fully aware that the shadow of these losses might never fully disappear. The upending trauma and loss Estacion articulates in the opening sequence, as well as throughout the book, is palpable, powerful and unmistakable:

There were no goodbyes, no casket,
no kiss,

no sobbing   no epigraphs   no kneeling

just doctors in disposable masks and gloves—
that go in the same garbage can—

    my body            belonging to my body for years
go into—


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