The feat of the poet to narrate their own departure from this conscious earth is rare and poignant. As distorted and masticated as the imagery is, Ritvo is a reliable guide, treading equally the known world, the unknown, and the ethereal.
“I am arms and legs, pulse, / and my secret interior that has said nothing this time, nothing bad.”
Diski’s essays on death hold these things together brilliantly, somehow even beautifully. Her writing, which weaves without warning between a methodical, detailed account of treatment and the daily life of the dying and more ethereal, abstract passages, suggests the experience of losing lucidity and finding it again that a drugged body undergoes. It is to the LRB’s credit that they let Diski, who has been writing regularly for the publication since 1992, do whatever she damn well pleased. And in this way, Diski transcends her clinical status as body-cum-puzzle-piece to be wedged in a machine; she is throughout an active observer and writing subject, who tells us on the other side of chemo that, “the entire process makes me think of clubbing baby seals.”
* Lillian Li *
I eat the stinky tofu on my second day in Beijing, passing up two metal carts before finally biting the bullet at a stand in Wangfujing. I hand over ten kuai and watch as the vendor first deep-fries the tofu, and then ladles the golden cubes into a grey gravy. Then he scoops the wet tofu into a cup, spoons a dollop of hot chili paste on top, and presents the nightmare sundae to me with a long toothpick as my only utensil.
The children I write with die, no matter how much I love them, no matter how creative they are, no matter how many poems they have written, or how much they want to live. They die of diseases with unpronounceable names, of rhabdomyosarcoma or pilocytic astrocytoma, of cancers rarely heard of in the world at large, of cancers that are often cured once, but then turn up again somewhere else: in their lungs, their stomachs, their sinuses, their bones, their brains. While undergoing their own treatments, my students watch one friend after another lose legs, cough up blood, and enter a hospital room they never come out of again.