This Old Poem #81:
Tory Dent’s R.I.P., My Love
Copyright © by Dan Schneider, 1/17/04

  Perhaps I should have subtitled this TOP essay ‘Tory Dent: French Kissing Death’ because more than any poetess since the Plath/Sexton heyday TD is obsessed with dying. Presumptively this comes from her claim of being infected with HIV. Not that it matters to her poetry- which is so prosaic & dull (even as she versically screams at the reader) but I believe I read somewhere that TD got the virus from a transfusion, rather than her sexual past. I only add this tidbit because this is 1 of those factoids that is supposed to engender more ‘sympathy’ from a reader. At least we know she’s ‘not 1 of those folks (queer or a drug abuser!)’. Yet, I don’t care 1 whit of TD’s malady- at least as it concerns her claims to artistry. Her poetry stinks, & I’m here to improve it. But 1st- you guessed it- the damnable online bio: 

  Tory Dent is the author of HIV, Mon Amour (Sheep Meadow Press, 1999), which won the 1999 James Laughlin Award and is a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award; and What Silence Equals (Persea Books, 1993). Her honors include grants from the New York Foundation for the Arts and the Money for Women/Barbara Deming Memorial Fund; The Rona Jaffe Foundation Writer’s Award; and three PEN American Center Grants for Writers with AIDS. Her poetry has appeared in periodicals such as Agni, Antioch Review, Kalliope, Kenyon Review, Paris Review, Partisan Review, Pequod, Ploughshares, Fence, and others, as well as the anthologies Life Sentences (1994), The Exact Change Yearbook (1995), In the Company of my Solitude (1995), and Things Shaped in Passing (1997). An essay entitled “The Deferred Dream,” an excerpt from her memoir-in-progress, Many Rivers to Cross, appeared in the collection Bearing Life: Women’s Writings on Childlessness (ed. Rochelle Ratner, The Feminist Press, 2001). Tory Dent has also written art criticism for magazines including Arts, Flash Art, and Parachute, as well as catalogue essays for art exhibitions. She lives in New York City and Maine.


  Need I chronicle the usage of ‘key’ words in this bio designed to elicit sympathy? On to the prolix poetastress from Hell. Here is a p(r)oem titled ‘The Pressure, for Thomas Nash, M.D.’. Go ahead, begin cringing:


Too many times have I with the sun on my back, flamboyant, heinously direct,
rocked, wrung hands, my shaking head refuged in a now-wet Bounty paper towel
or institutionalized inside the free-space of my bedroom that opens like a file
on my computer screen with that which I'm constantly trying to put a name to,
the way faces in my past automatically assign to themselves signifying feelings.
Like a shot of B12 effective only if injected intramuscularly I am neutralized
as a naming vehicle by this pressure that cannot be extracted like a billboard
or wisdom tooth. No torii erects itself as gateway to the totem of experience, no
descriptive alloy exists to transform or rebirth the most primitive and bare-boned,
the referential instability of physical pain no human agency speaks successfully
in lieu of. Gritty locks felled into the sloth of tears, their salty
aftermarks imbricating my face, a kind of warrior's mask of a warrior's failure
afore the clandestine ideal of physical perfection: O poster of Marky Mark
that posits itself like an Aryan agenda against every public bus, a tableau of prayer
ossified for us to emulate. Celebrities represent what Grecian gods were once.

"Life quality" tropes the category doctors refer to with fake jocularity:
a terse smile, a quick nod, not cavalierly, really, but with no affinity either.
While I present, in crude form like an outhouse, an ideology, a practicum
my pretty breasts should make for its manifest example, but all the while
there is this pressure, iconic in nature to modify it paradoxically,
an omniscience, high-noon hot, slutty, demonic hologram embossed like Bergman's
Seventh Seal on the Silly Putty shape of my heart. The muscle adapts, adopts
the image as if the imagined face of a Bosnian orphan, the brow-swept features
twisted and bathed in a mucus for which its tiny tributary paths serve as the deaf,
dumb, and blind substitution for the mature articulation of longing and hate.
The child cries; the diastole blooms in branding exaction. The child sleeps
while pellets of sun cinder twitch and wink on the horizon; the systole
deflates, erects as if a l'oiseau de Paradis in order to convey
the agony of form in the rigor of its stem, or freak flowering, an ugly orange.

My physician's intelligent brow reframes behind his desk with diacritic distinction
like the beard of Zeus appearing within a cloud, a fated fetus
within the belly of its turbid future. Like a reversing falls framed and frozen
forced to hiatus by virtue of the very process of its reversing action
so does the pressure to live and the pressure to die halt momentarily and present,
as if a utilized gift certificate from the three wise men, a Marlboro man genie,
the mirage-like sense of an empty room, its empirical standard: "peace of mind"
charretted into a tangible utopia, an echo-chamber of existential thought
that operates like the Mecca vision of regarding a fish tank while on morphine
where I am able to walk unbothered for a while as if along a long, white beach.
Where I am able to stand and contemplate my life, the concept and its definitions.
Where I am able to close my eyes and revel in the memory, the voice and face
the jokes, the silences, the passion, the fights, of someone I loved deeply who died.
Where trapped in the tar gut of solitary confinement I wake and am no longer blind.

I inspect my life line, its silly prescience, on the breathing moon-surface
of my palm, yet alert to any irregularity that might augur some imminent abortion.
The Bic fine point remains poised for further notation on the indecipherable list
of questions and comments I've arranged for this consultation, but ineffectually
for no amount of brainstorming could bulwark permanently this pressure built with
superhuman innovation and efficiency as the Egyptians did their pyramids;
before the pushing and the turning and the typhoon-like whirling starts up again.
It both buoys and sinks with me inside it, bad poem scrolled inside a Pepsi bottle,
gaining and losing, I sleep and lose sleep and rethink and rethink the perimeters,
the scientific course of which I know nothing and yet must know something by now,
more than the wet Bounty paper towel. What I know is the pressure, the stranglehold
of sadistic knees, the Devil's compression into the soles of my feet, scalding spittle
of gods that mimic my buffoonery, the bullet-proof sky, the ongoing erasure of the earth
and those enfolded within it, innocuous as a tidal cove, so complacent and measured.

What I know is that the only way to stabilize is to ride through it, a raft
regaining its equilibrium in white-shark rapids, a lesser stone, bespeckled pebble
amidst a chortling brook's current or contending ego within the rock-throwing forces
dark feelings resort to in the narcissistic forum of their past belittlement.
What I know is the two rivers, the patient's and my own, that fork like a divining rod
toward some essentially healing source. What I know is that I'm both people,
one sick and one well, contending with the ongoing struggle of trying to save myself.
The x-ray glows extraterrestrial and nefarious in the late December blackness
that infiltrates my physician's office and obscures all other objects and details
other than his head, my x-ray, his desk lamp, and that strange, uncurtained window
that seems to erase all at once, in one glance, my hope of long term survival.
My torso, decapitated and cut off at the elbows, shifts in and out of focus
as if a Jane Doe resurfacing after days in the silt and oily waters of the Hudson.

"Look, an infection," my doctor declares with index finger pointed in discovery.
I blink twice, straining for recognition as I do with any picture of myself.
The shadow he refers to bursts white and translucent and upon first impression
it appears optimistic as if a good omen were growing like an orchid in my bosom.
My impulse is to be alone with the x-ray like a loved one and the incarcerated,
to press the picture of my unhealthy lung against its double but breathing one.
What I know is the desire to resuscitate, mouth to mouth, open the dank jaws, 
the partisan skin, as if beheld behind venetian blinds, zebra strips of soaked hair
and brown seaweed strewn across the face, and bring back as if to carry back in time
the fainting subject, the feminine form worn out from the fight. Her arms and feet
flag like pigeons, her weight, letter-light along my overdeveloped forearms,
their destiny as once sophomoric I dreamt it now drawn and quartered
into an array of listless limbs kicked up into a cloud, gray-blue and particle-
stained, of a hoof-clad road where a mare's distancing tail delineates
in the dusk evidence given in its disappearance, the myth of originary wholeness.

  If you are a woman you got to the ‘Marky Mark’ reference before nodding off- you just had to as it slipped into the bottom corner of your eye- right? If you have a penis you were zonked by ‘institutionalized inside the free-space of my bedroom’, fully expecting 1 of those nasty monthly menstrual upheavals. So dull, so clichéd, so rapt with the sound of her own voice- Damn! Let’s get to the poem in question before I really get miffed!

R.I.P., My Love

Let us be apart then like the panoptical chambers in IC
patient X and patient Y, our names magic markered hurriedly on cardboard
and taped pell-mell to the sliding glass doors, "Mary", "Donald", "Tory";
an indication that our presence there would prove beyond temporary, like snow flurry.
Our health might be regained if aggressive medical action were taken, or despite
these best efforts, lost like missing children in the brambles of poor fortune.
The suffering of another's I can only envision through the mimesis of my own,
the alarming monitor next door in lieu of a heartbeat signifying cardiac arrest,
prompts a scurry of interns and nurses, their urgent footsteps to which
I listen, inert and prostrate, as if subject to the ground tremors of
a herd of buffalo or horses, just a blur in the parched and post-nuclear distance.
I listen, perhaps the way the wounded will listen to the continuing war,
so different sounding than before, the assault of noise now deflected against
consciousness rather than serving as motivation for patriotism and targets.
Like fistfuls of dirt loaded with pebbles and rocks thrown at my front door,
I knew that the footsteps would soon be running to me also.
The blood pressure cuff swaddled around my arm pumped in its diastolic state
independently like an iced organ ready for transplant
as I witnessed with one circular rove of my eyes my body now dissected
into television sets, like one of those asymmetrical structures
that serves as a model for a molecular unity in elementary science classes.
And the plastic bags of IV fluids that hung above me, a Miró-like mobile or iconic toy
for an infant's amusement, measured the passing of time by virtue of their depletion.
Sometimes I could count almost five and then seven swinging vaguely above me at 4 am.
I remember the first, hand-held high above me when I arrived via ambulance at the ER,
the gurney accelerating as a voice exclaims on the color of my hands "they're blue!".
Another voice (deeper) virtually yells out into the chaos that she can't get a pulse.
Several pairs of scissors begin simultaneously to cut off my clothes, their shears
working their way upward like army ants from pant cuff and shirt-sleeve,
a formulaic move for the ER staff which, despite its routine, still retains
a sense of impromptu in the hurriedness of the cutting both deft and crude,
in the sound of their increased breathing, of their efforts intensified by my blood
pressure dropping, the numbers shouted out as if into night fog and ocean.
It's not a lack of professionalism but the wager of emotional investment that I feel.
One attendant, losing her aplomb for a moment, can't contain herself from remarking
(as if I'm already post-mortem) on what a great bra I have;
"Stretch lace demi-cup, Victoria's Secret," I respond politely in my head.
In turn, when they put the oxygen tube into my nose I thought immediately
of Ali McGraw on her death bed in Love Story and how good she looked in one.
And then the catheter where I pissed continually into a bottle like a paraplegic
let me in on the male fear of castration
my focus centered entirely on that tube, its vulnerable rigging
which I held onto tenderly throughout the night like something dying
against my thigh or something birthing. I held on though the IV in my forearm
overextended with a kind of pleading, the needle hooked deep into a mainstream vein
the way in deep sea fishing lines are cast into the darkest water,
my body thrashing about in the riverweed of its fluids.
The translucent infrastructure of IVs and oxygen tubes superimposed itself upon me
like a body double, more virulent and cold, like Leda pinned and broken by her swan,
like the abandoned and organ-failed regarding its superior soul ascend.
So completely and successfully reconfigured within its technological construct
my body proper no longer existed, my vital signs highlighted in neon
preceded the spiraling vortex of my interiority,
the part of me people will say later that that's what they loved
when they roam about in the cramped rare book library of their memory
for a couple of minutes and think of "Tory".
Movement can only be accounted in shadows, Virilio informs us,
the reconciliation of oneself in one's disappearance.
An anachronistic sundial, I turn my profile
and the fluorescence falls unfractured, unmediated onto the postmodern tenebrism
of absence against absence, my quickened inhalations against my backless gown.
My love for you, my love, for my friends, untethers and floats,
snaps apart and off me like the I.V. tubes and monitor wires
the flailed arms of an octopus unfolding without gravity,
as I reach up in a Frankensteinian effort to shut off my monitors,
the constant alarming of the human prototype my own body keeps rejecting,
while death moves closer, a benign presence.
It stands respectfully just outside the perimeters of my life
and adjusts itself the way the supervising nurse did the monitor perimeters
to suit my declining vital signs so I could get some sleep.
I felt a relationship with death, a communication, it was more familiar
than I ever imagined, what I had always returned to as the sign of me, the self
we attribute to the mysterious and perfectly ordered Romantic notion of origin.
What I'm trying to say is that it was not foreign. It was not foreign,
but it was not a homecoming either.
There was no god, no other land, no beyond;
no amber, no amethyst, no avatar.
But there was a suspension, there was an adieu to recognition
to the shoes of those I love, like Van Gogh's, a pair but alone
the voices of loved ones, their tones, their intonations, like circulation,
closed-circuited but effective.
There was a listless but clear-thinking comfort that into my own eyes
I would go, although not "into" in the Bachelardian sense
which implies diminishment; there was none of that.
It was just the opposite: expansion but without a pioneer's vision.
What we regard as the "self" extended itself, but I wouldn't say in a winged way,
over the Bosch-like landscape of brutal interactions
and physical pain and car alarms and the eternal drilling of disappointment
the exigent descendence of everyday that everyday you peer down or up
its daunting staircase, nauseous with vertigo
gathering like straw the rudimentary characteristics of courage, gumption, innovation
and faking it to the hilt like a hilarious onslaught of sham orgasms.
Transcendence might be the term Emerson would lend it.
What I'm trying to say is that it wasn't lonely.

  Could this be more overwritten? I could underline the clichés- in phrasing & general arc- but why? This is even worse than- what was it- the Marky Mark poem? Let’s severely trim this. Note, readers, how the most frequent attack I employ in the TOPs is trimming. Why? Because concision is probably the most important aspect of poetry that has never been really elucidated. Poetry is, generally, saying the most with the least. If only poor TD learned this she may have given up after her 1st few abominable attempts. Let’s snip this baby:

R.I.P., My Love

Sometimes I can count almost five and then seven swinging vaguely above me at 4 am.

The translucent infrastructure of IVs and oxygen tubes superimposes
so completely and successfully reconfigured within its technological construct.

For a couple of minutes I think "Tory".

It stands respectfully just outside the perimeters of my life
so I could get some sleep.

Over the Bosch-like landscape of brutal interactions
physical pain is the rudimentary onslaught
of Transcendence. I'm saying is it isn't lonely.

  A mere 9 lines. Gone is the self-flagellation & self-pity, the BS pseudo-intellectual preening & name-dropping. The poem is more immediate in the 1st person present, & also by compressing the last 2 lines (while dropping the mealy-mouthedness) we get the beginnings of a similitude with the Visionary. Of course, this is just a beginning. But what ‘true’, gut reaction is missing from the original? Not a thing. This is concision. This is what should be done at every poetry group in the land. 94 lines to 9- a poem cut over 90%. A ‘poem’ that was not, to a poem with potential. Instead of telling, telling, telling, this poem begins (& I restate the ‘begins’) to show the reader. The title also more directly links to the speaker, & the smaller poem allows that self-referentiality to not be lost, thereby forcing the reader to go back to the poem’s start. Would that TD would do the same!

Final Score: (1-100):

Tory Dent’s R.I.P., My Love: 10
TOP’s R.I.P., My Love: 60

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