Reviewer: CL Bledsoe
Corrina Bain’s collection opens with the prose poem “Sorry,” a series of images depicting childhood poverty. The power of the poem is the general lack of commentary. The poet simply presents these images, which often imply at least the possibility of danger; for example, “Metal spoke from the train tracks. Black twitching stem of the butterfly without wings. The belt that was a gift.” The resolution of the poem, “How I knew, even then,” implies an awakening, though not an obvious one, while the elliptical tone of the piece implies the continuation of a probably irresolvable struggle.
Bain is a master of crafting devastating lines and images. “Why I’ve Done It” describes unfulfilling relationships through the conceit of a lover’s sudden transformation into a corpse. In surreal descriptions, the poet describes trying to revive the lovers, disposing of the bodies. The poem moves into contemplation with elegant, surprising language:
The things I want most dreadfully are always
wrong: Her face turning like a lathe against me,
which does not teach: Snared songless
One of the most powerful lines is the simple statement, “The body costs,” which hints at a central theme of the entire collection. I could easily see another poet borrowing that line as a title for his or her own collection. “First Time” tells the story of the poet, as a child, stealing a McDonald’s Happy Meal Barbie from a friend:
I meant to have her. To measure
The ultimate goal was to bash the thing open with a rock and discover some secret to femininity. “The Ugliest Woman in the World” tells the story of a carnival sideshow attraction who, after her death, was preserved and continued to be gawked at in a:
Death, corpses, murder, and the degradations done to the body are recurring themes and images throughout the collection, with the corpses often described in sumptuous terms. It’s as though Bain is saying that people are trapped in their bodies, fated to suffer indignations until freed from those prisons. “Dating Profile” is a powerful self-portrait that demonstrates the terrible beauty of Bain’s language:
I was born an inkwell spilled
finger by finger into illumination.
I imagine that most people would feel either drawn to or terrified by such honesty with little middle ground.
But Bain isn’t simply obsessed with the body in a morbid, self-referencing way; the poems in this collection deal with mutilations and abuse of women throughout history, in current warzones, women who are abused and destroyed for their differences, their femininity. Bain is fighting this affront, digging through the damage to reclaim the human dignity that it tries to erase. In “After She Left,” Bain explains, “Despite our attempts to mutilate them/ the dead stay perfect.” The poem continues, “Life, a small hurricane of/ interferences with grief.” Bain is describing an ongoing battle that certainly hasn’t been won.
The title poem offers a definition of “debridement” as the “(r)emoval of damaged tissue from a wound.” Bain considers the idea of living with damage, wounds:
When its own rot prevents it
Bain describes trying to function in spite of that damage, especially after that damage becomes internalized:
The body trying to seal up
Bain covers much ground with these poems. “The Means” details different methods of suicide. Her “Deadgirl” poems chronicle a haunting failed relationship, or a series of them. “First Time” deals with sometimes troubling sexual encounters as well as bad relationships. I’ve mentioned the murder poems; there are several poems about Hollywood starlets who were murdered, often for reasons involving their beauty and stardom. There are also several poems about war atrocities and violent murders of women by men. In “CRA_GSL_ST,” Bain describes a murder victim and the media’s presentation of the crime: “They called it a murder in the paper,/ as though all you did to the call girl/ was shoot her in the chest.” And later: “The tabloid headlines churn/ out dead hooker puns.” Bain rallies behind the victim, angrily calling for respect:
Let me tell you who is right:
The poem continues: “and the injustice was/ the almost-anything/ they would have done for you….” The poem concludes, “Someone had hurt you/ and they were paying for it.”
A moral center runs through these poems, but Bain wisely avoids lecturing the reader. Instead, these poems present the war on women via memorable images and phrases. One poem that I keep returning to is “When They Come for Your Body the Last Time.” The “they” implies the police, since they’re described as wearing dark blue. The implication is that this person has been frequently arrested, is perhaps a prostitute. But, of course, “come” is a pun; it could be sexual, reinforcing the theme of physical abnegation and violation, or it could simply imply an unwarranted attack by oppressive authorities. Either way, one could argue these are both attacks. As the poem progresses past the discovery of the body, “naked in the road,” we cannot help but think that this is only a third, and final attack, on the body and the dignity of the victim. The poem makes me think of the clichéd trope of so many hackneyed detective shows: hardened detectives callously investigating a string of murders of prostitutes, their dead bodies as common as sitcom laugh tracks. In the poem, the spirit of the dead woman tries to speak to another victim, locked in a basement, “to reveal something that could be/ taken as a warning./ Even this, you are denied.”