Epithalamium, with images from the Brothers Grimm

The French woman who received the world’s first partial face transplant has complete feeling in the new tissue five months after the operation, she told a Sunday newspaper.

Isabelle Dinoire, 38, also told the newspaper Le Journal du Dimanche that the hardest part of her recovery appears to be getting to know herself again. When asked if she has accepted her new face, she responded: “It’s too difficult to explain.”

1. Prince Charming
A bad week. She swallowed
pills, eight
little erasers

& while she lay on
the floor with her mind
elsewhere, the golden Lab

brought his famished
tongue across her face.
Unclipped toe-

nails click
on the cold linoleum
as the dog goes

to his bed, comes back
for another lick, & finally begins
to nibble.

He starts with the lips,
like any faithful lover.
That faint half-smile.

2. Mirror, mirror
The only mirror she kept
in her apartment
lies face-down when not in use.

Every day she checks
a small flag of skin that
the doctors implanted

right above her navel: white
or gray would signal
surrender. Every day

when she pulls up
her blouse, she feels
something turn over inside,

some phantom embryo
forming without nose
or chin, the mouth

a permanent wound
no lips can ever hope
to zipper shut.

3. Cinderella story
The organ
donor’s face comes
slowly back to life.

Too young
to have had laugh lines
or crows’ feet,

it was smooth
& as firm at first
as a glass slipper.

Now, after
the delicate diplomacy
of scalpel and suture,

the awkward wedding over,
it slowly fills
once again with feeling,

in the heat
of an unfamiliar dance.

An epithalamium is a wedding poem. For a brief history of the form, see here.

Incidentally, submissions are still open for the current qarrtsiluni theme, “an opening in the body.”

13 Replies to “Epithalamium, with images from the Brothers Grimm”

  1. A poem on the thalamium, or wedding chamber. How happily apt a mode of description of closure for the unhappy, open-mouthed woman.

  2. Quite beautiful, Dave. Such a story– now will she be able to face in her life what she could not face before? Does the new mouth wonder at the words it now is compelled to speak formed by that unfamiliar mind? Maybe the doctors have figured out how to stitch the permanent smile for the ever happy bride.

  3. Thanks, Bill.

    R.D. – These are very good questions! I thought of continuing the poem, but I ran out of time, and also thought it might be a good idea to give the reader plenty to ponder on his/her own, as you’ve done. Thanks.

    S.A. – You’re right, that’s a very good pun that almost nobody would get. I had to look up “epithelial” myslef. That’s one o’ them fancy doctor words.

    I haven’t really read the other two poems yet
    It’s all one poem, fool. But hey, take all the time you need. Have a virtual beer on me.

  4. A story at once utterly repellent and completely fascinating. Your poem, on the other hand, morphs it into something beautiful–and opens outward to the kind of interesting questions that R.D. poses.

  5. These are great. The “images” by Grimm, of course, are deep and old (or at least as deep and old as my childhood imagination), but the lines and images of the poem are simple and clear, nearly surgical (if I can make such a bad pun). A three-part poem playing off the three-part interaction between fairy tale, reality, and poet = a fruitful marriage.

  6. Patry and SJ Sunim – Thanks so much for the kind remarks. I value your literary judgements highly.

    Given how difficult it is to find a truly novel subject for a love poem (even if, as here, the subject is self-love or self-acceptance), these days a conscientious poet can’t afford to ignore any new development on the frontiers of science and medicine.

  7. The cliche has it that married couples start to resemble each other after a while.

    What is it to be wedded, then, if not to agree to taking on each other’s faces?

    And since the face is the face, with all the frontality and visibility that implies, to be wedded is to enter into a sublimation of ego. Your face rather than mine.

    The one who is married partly becomes the other. Dinoire experiences surgically what millions (whether or not they are aware of it) experience psychically. It is no wonder at all that this strange atavistic rite so often fails: who could bear becoming someone else! But some people manage…

    This is why one close friend of mine is fond of repeating, “I have chosen marriage as my monastery.” I think it’s a good image. A life of order, and the lama is that one person whose every bad habit and weakness you know through and through.

  8. Thanks for that inspired exercise in bull-slinging! I hope it gets some readers here. I’m not really qualified to respond, having never been married or monastic.

    In some monasteries, they outlaw nookie, from what I hear.

  9. In some monasteries, they outlaw nookie, from what I hear.

    That’s what I hear too.

    As for the bull–, sometimes you have to approach this material slantways.

    (Hey, you’re the one who responded to a face surgery with a wedding night poem. In my monastery we have a saying: when the master is ready, the student will appear.)

  10. Poetry isn’t B.S., it’s Truth! Writing about poetry, on the other hand, is always B.S., no matter how inspired. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Bulls have to go somewhere.

    Putting legs on a snake, as our friend S.J. Sunim would say.

  11. Late on the scene, I’m afraid, Dave, & repeating what’s been said before, but this is a triumphant creation, springing as it does from so challenging a theme. It deserves a wider public. I hope you’ll be submitting it wisely!

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