In my poem “Borrowed Car,” I suggest that life-threatening illness may transform the body into an unfamiliar vehicle over which a person no longer feels she has ownership or control. This loss of perceived ownership may begin with the naming that comes with diagnosis, an act of labeling that seems a necessary part of the treatment process. However, as Arlene’s Weiner’s speaker demonstrates in “Line of Beauty,” a patient may ultimately resist certain labels and perceptions of her body as a means of reclaiming authority and determining what the literal and metaphorical scars of illness will signify.
In “Line of Beauty,” the speaker’s surgeon and, later, her primary care provider define her scar as “beautiful” to indicate it is healing well, but the speaker desires to assert her own definition—even to ruin the “thin red line” and make “the surgeon’s art” into a scar. I find this resistance, combined with Weiner’s imagery, particularly compelling—having experienced similar emotions as a cervical cancer survivor. Although the speaker of my semi-autobiographical poem does not name her illness, I selected imagery that reflects the nature of her illness and her feelings about the associated stigmas related to physical love: the car is, in part, a metaphor for the womb she will lose; the act of kissing looks to her like “cars crashing.” Similarly, in “Line of Beauty” the speaker alludes to a previous surgery, a hysterectomy, in which she “submitted to the knife [ . . . .]/womb taken,/a chunk of back punished/for harboring promiscuous cells.” Word choices like “promiscuous” and “punished,” “looseness” and “prohibition” suggest she, too, associates the illness with sexual stigma and the surgery with punishment. The rebellion against “beauty,” then, like the disassociation from one’s body in “borrowed car” represents, to me, women’s struggles to cope with illness in a world where our bodies are consistently scrutinized, categorized, labeled, and politicized—acts that may take on additional meaning in times of illness.
Lisa Kerr Dunn is an associate professor of writing and humanities at the Medical University of South Carolina, where she is a faculty member in the Writing Center and serves as chair of the University Humanities Committee. A scholar of American literature and a creative writer, she has published numerous works as Lisa Kerr, including an illness-themed poetry chapbook titled Read between the Sheets. Most recently, she edited an anthology titled Mysterious Medicine: The Doctor-Scientist Tales of Hawthorne and Poe, which will be published by Kent State University Press in 2016.
© 2016 Intima: A Journal of Narrative Medicine