A gamble, our pizza’s
ready in 10. My partner
retires in three months or thirty something
shifts. Last week the patient had a fever
or headache. We’ve been downtown five
hours now. Don a paper gown in the wind.
Knot secure the neck and waist, respirator next.
Wedge goggles over glasses. Gloves over gown
wrist. Her mother deftly dicing onions for tonight.
Unfurl the stretcher/ reach under gown/lock up
curb/tight turns the ramp/elevator
down the hall. Hypoxic brain injury happens
within three to six minutes. The water is finally
hot enough as her whole body folds to meet
the drain. But first she takes a shower, to wake up
a little. These days of quarantine drag on.
Candace de Taeye’s full-length poetry debut is Pronounced/Workable (Toronto ON: Mansfield Press, 2022), a collection composed as sketch-notes during work-shifts. “Two thumbs on the lower third of the sternum with fingers,” she writes, to close the poem “BLS STANDARDS -OBSTETRICS,” “tearing into that croissant, cradling cappuccino. / Encircling the chest and supporting the back. / Promoted off the road at your discretion, or it’s / been determined that birth is imminent.” Through a progression of first-person lyric narratives, de Taeye writes directly into the nuts-and-bolts of her work and experiences as a Toronto-area paramedic, offering description and commentary, or simply the jarring effect of pure detail. And yet, de Taeyre’s poems read with a particularly casual and deceptive ease, as though composed in mid-thought, mid-stride, and everything in-between, even through utilizing an array of formal techniques, whether the pantoum, list poem, call-and-response, open lyric or sonnet-sequence. “And service providers from being subjected / to,” she writes, in the opening poem, “PREFACE TO BASIC LIFE SUPPORT STANDARDS,” “always remember that resuscitation is one part lullaby. // Provide verbal and where deemed appropriate, tactile / comfort and reassurance. That you have mistaken my hunger // for sadness.” She works through formal structures almost as a way to sharpen each poem’s focus, hold each mess of language, experience and realization together as she attends to medical emergencies and the chaos of working on the front lines of medical trauma and recovery. The chaos is held, it would seem, precisely by and even through such formal techniques.
There’s a polyvocality to many of de Taeyre’s pieces, one that allows for multiple threads and characters to float through the tapestry of her narratives, which both attend to any particular situation’s potential uncertainty and chaos, as well as allow potential patients and others their own voice through the storm. Through these, de Taeye’s experiences don’t fall into mere reportage-per-se, but something interwoven, even unsettling. As Shane Neilson offers as part of his back cover blurb, doctors do tend to dominate the realm of Canadian medical poetry, although it is curious to note that Mansfield also recently published a poetry collection by one of those as well, Dr. Conor Mc Donnell’s full-length debut, Recovery Community (2020) [see my review of such here]. Medical poetry, one might say, is alive and well in Canada, despite whatever crises might exist in the current medical field.
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