Peter Gizzi’s Consider the Wound is a poem of impressions and deliciously painful lines. I’m a poor reader of poetry – I could only name ten poets max – but this reminds me of my other favorite poet, John Ashbery, in the way each line coalesce and compound, stretching and undulating time, oftentimes with the brilliant use of line cuts. In one stanza it jumps from describing the day to the speaker’s face as both “a threshold, a name, a proving ground, / an education in wounds”, as both an identifier and entryway to pain, and a stage, so to speak, for pain to unravel, as if to teach a lesson without any rational but to inflict pain.
days go on watching clouds change into the mirror of the world, which is my face which is a threshold, a name, a proving ground, an education in wounds I can’t explain it, I know it’s true
Throughout the poem, pain is equated to existence, and the wound is its natural and ironic manifestation, the face its banner. Consider the wound is a dizzying patchwork of days and description of wounds described by someone who feels it in waves and torrents, who wavers between wakefulness and sleep, describing its internal logic that progresses and complicates and dulls and intensifies.
Description of days in the poem, in no particular order:
1. days gone into a heady blossom of joy and sorrow, a complex ecology a necessary weather of becoming 2. days go on watching clouds change into the mirror of the world, which is my face which is a threshold, a name, a proving ground, an education in wounds 3. days go on broadly scattered and move from a state of unknowing to a condition of the unknown 4. days with their loud repetitive phrasing spiraling down the scale, carry and echo their uneven sky of development and the magnificence of a backward glance, proud trees and hillocks, proud lakes the privileged nostalgia of that 5. days go on, warbled notes, a jumble of fussing even the first hours of agony are still new, ancient wounds trickle fresh blood 6. days whistle and tweet their spackled feelings 7. days go on, a harsh croak, a low quacking 8. days with their systems, the mirror staged
To me this reads like it was peering from a window of an isolated room, with interminable silences, the ennui of waiting, the endless repetitions (“days go on”/”days gone”) of check-ups perhaps by a doctor with an attendant nurse (‘warbled notes, a jumble of fussing’), the shifts between sanity and delirium (“move from a state of unknowing / to a condition of the unknown”; “a heady blossom of joy and sorrow, a complex ecology / a necessary weather of becoming”).
Description of wounds from the poem, in no particular order:
1. consider the wound with its canonical doubt, call stories and testimony indexical zeal for origins and etymologies wund, wuntho, wunda, und the mother opens every wound, the wound opens every word the asymmetries of a body in the act of elegy, ungainly in its pilgrimage trauma in the genes a cellular memory of torn events walking beneath a shadow of warplanes, shadows falling on the wild flowers and timothy grass 2. no ideas but in wounds, I is that wound with its slight aura, archival glamour, gaslit corridors, its famous sunsets that day-glo on water the storied rays travel to consider wounds that grow through life, illuminate, and expand into a primal struggle to be able to say, I was here an everyday annunciation the wound lifts from sorrow, and it grows, taking years to love a wound in all its glory 3. consider the wound, to refuse closure, to not let go, to lose myself in a majesty tears soften the heart, welcome them into the theater, let the salt run down my face it may be the last thing I see 4. the wound woke me with its light, hold on to the last things I see and can’t explain, to know its truth to have felt this as a boy soloing inside, worrying the syntax between wound and wounding, a carnal dance alive in a dark theater, what I can say retreats back into a wound wrung out into abstraction, blah
These lines are eloquent: in describing the wound as a ‘testimonial’ the poem describe its ‘indexical zeal’ to mark the body – as in a physical archive of pain, if you will – to the figurative wound that is human existence, with the body its vessel and memorial, alluded to as a collection of wounds that are both genetic and nostalgic, the body’s entire life nothing but an “act of elegy”. I also like the duplicity in its description of a wound as a sunset, with its “slight aura, archival glamour, gaslit corridors” that also acts to ground the poem’s setting as it evokes an old hospital.
To be wounded, to have a wound, the poem is saying, is to be born and to live, “to be able to say, I was here”.