Wednesday, 28 March 2007
Tiny Tears and Bukowski
“I think almost definitely you have a Mallory-Weiss”.
Hmmmm I thought, it sounds like an ancient Thespian who has trodden the boards in a series of small halls doing his one man show, ‘An Evening with King Lear’. Alternatively, quite a good name for an author of bodice rippers, ‘The King’s Handmaid’, ‘Bess of the Three Shires’. I also thought about the use of the words ‘almost’ and ‘definitely’, I was struggling to define that phrasing; not a tautology, perhaps a paradox. An indefinite definite is a strange contradiction in terms but can co-exist, maybe not philosophically but in that nitty-gritty world of common sense that we lesser mortals inhabit. It could be purely poor English of course but the little grey cells were not functioning on all pistons at this stage in the proceedings.
The consultant addressed the accompanying entourage, two boys and a girl, none of whom looked old enough to have their hands anywhere near my body let alone on it. There was a brief question and answer session which I tried to follow, a sort of medical University Challenge and eventually I seized on a lull to press my metaphorical buzzer and join in so as not to prove myself the duffer and ensure that Jeremy Paxman didn’t reduce me to a quivering heap.
“So it’s a small tear in my esophagus that has caused me to vomit up copious amounts of blood” and do a passing impression of that girl in the Exorcist, without the head swiveling business I continued in my head. I had summerised extremely well I thought.
The Consultant turned as if wondering where this voice had appeared from. I knew I was the proverbial sheet colour and may therefore have been successfully camouflaged amidst the pillows. He finally seemed to locate me on the bed.
“Yes, this condition is most commonly found in alcoholics.” The assembled group peered at me and seemed to be wisely stroking a communal beard. I tried to adopt the camouflage pose again and hurriedly examined my booze intake counter. One small glass of Pinot Grigio at a quiz the night before, organized to raise money to send a cow to Africa (What if it doesn’t want to go I had asked to a stony silence). I examined the faces gathered around the bed, if they find out I’m a poet and writer that will be it, the image of me knocking back absinthe and all manner of alcohol will be firmly established in their minds and my pleas that I only have two or three glasses of wine per week, if that, will be seen as a product of my own alcohol fuelled imagination.
“Of course, excessive coughing can cause it, TB patients can experience Mallory Weiss tears.” The Consultant had thrown me a life line of respectability. Tuberculosis, now that seemed a far more socially acceptable cause; so many poets and writers had succumbed to that. Keats, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, all the Bronte sisters, Dostoyevsky. Robert Louis Stevenson and Kafka had all died of the disease. Pale literary wraiths with the strange roseate cheeks that defined the illness
“Of course in your case it’s not that.” He had snatched away the life belt as I was just reaching for it. “You are probably coughing because you have been talking too much.”
I examined his diagnosis carefully; I am too loquacious; I have torn my own esophagus because I couldn’t keep my mouth shut. I was unsure whether the Consultant was giving me a subtle clue that I was interrupting him as well as giving me a diagnosis.
“The lady has continued to use her voice a great deal despite a severe throat infection which has caused her to have a persistent dry cough which has probably led to the tear.” This particular lady girded her loins to argue about any comment that was about to be made about the capacity of women for talking. However I suddenly realized I do talk a lot and his assessment was fair enough.
Talking too much is ok by me (perhaps not to those around me) compared to alcoholism and tuberculosis, those terrible, deep and dark diseases that have always seemed to have their part to play in the literary world. A Puerto Rican microbiologist professor is apparently using work written by well known poets who suffered from TB to help her students understand the human experience behind the disease.
Bukowski in the 1980’s famously managed to juggle both diseases but survived the TB. I think the man had an innate sense of survival, despite the cynicism he seems to show in many of his poems. You only have to know that he survived working for the American Postal Service for a number of years without poisoning, shooting or generally harming any of his colleagues, to realize the man understood about hanging on. Read Question and Answer to get a flavour of that.
So I have been diagnosed as being too garrulous, there are worse things. Here I am trying to think for at least an hour a day(see previous post re Wallace Steven’s advice) and now even my own body is telling me I need to keep my mouth shut more. So husky voice and mysterious quiet disposition…perhaps I could take up spying instead of poetry, I do live near Cambridge, after all; a rich nursery for so many home-grown spies.