Juliet Cook's review of the poetry chapbook, "Exposed" by Michael A. Griffith

Michael A. Griffith's "Exposed" (Soma Publishing, 2018) is a very worthwhile read that struck me as sad and moving and powerful and meaningful and unsettling and upsetting and uncomfortable all at the same time. It focuses on broken bodies, crumbling minds, and disabilities - and how they are viewed and treated by those suffering, those surrounding the suffering, and the industry that supposedly cares for the suffering. It caused me to visualize bodily destruction leading towards impending death.

            "The cut man bleeding out
            time in his bathtub ballet
            astride one good foot, hands
            on slippery walls as the other foot
            to mud.

            Water runs, water washes,
            showers down time an impure thing
            runs a ring around him"

            from the poem "THE CUT MAN"

Even more troubling than the body-based pain and disability is the possible deterioration and  demise of the brain and the fear of being stuck in a mental purgatory of some sort of dementia. Quite a few of the poems in this collection express feeling trapped in the controlled horror of a nursing home, being cared for and uncared for at the same time. Surrounded by other ailing creatures, your physical and mental environment starts to look and feel like a decrepit monster mash, brimming with zombies, impending ghosts and ghouls, and others. Deteriorating bodies and minds are surrounded by workers doing their un-personal jobs, even if their job involves keeping you imprisoned in one space, stuck in a big house full of small room sized jail sells for the elderly and infirm, who did nothing wrong, other than staying alive in a feeble state of body or mind and now being all lumped together.

            "I am beginning to forget more than I care to remember.
            Turn out the light and I may forget what is in the room.
            I remember Batman and Robin wearing their underwear
            on the outside and The Joker had a moustache.
            Did I remember to change my underwear today?

            I am wondering if I knew you or if I know you.
            No, you: you there.
            Faces, not names, come to mind.
            And smells and sounds wash off decades of silt,
            and some details come to the surface like dead fish."

            from the poem "SILT"

The brain debilitation implied in some of the poems is sad but relate-able to me, because I'm someone who had been very individualistically communicative for years, then suffered an unexpected stroke when I was only 37, which resulted in brain damage. I backtracked from being a strong reader and writer to being someone who had to re-learn the alphabet and learn to read again via children's books. My mind felt the same as it used to, but couldn't express itself the way it used to. Prior to the stroke, I had been very word-based, but after the stroke, I became more image-based, because even if I couldn't remember the words for things, I could visualize the images. I've since recovered to the point of being both word-based AND image-based, but I still have mild aphasia and basic word issues and memory issues - and I've also found out that after a certain amount of time, some people just don't want to hear about it anymore.

I still remember attending therapy sessions in the beginning of my recovery process and how the waiting room was filled with people older than me, people in wheelchairs, people with one side of their face paralyzed, people drooling, people who seemed like they couldn't speak for themselves.  I wanted to know who they were; not just stare at their physical ailments.  My therapist didn't seem to care about me on a personal level. She just seemed to be doing her basic job and at the end of each session she gave me paperwork tests to take home and complete and bring in to my next session. My husband usually didn't even come in to the waiting room with me. He'd just drive me to my appointment then wait in the car. He didn't want a disabled wife, so he tried his best to ignore the disability, until it became clear it wasn't going away, and then he told me my personality had changed and he was sick of hearing about my stroke and my poetry. Obviously, he's not my husband anymore, but no way was I giving up on poetry, and I truly think my passion for poetic words largely uplifted my recovery.

Although several poems in Exposed explore the uneasiness associated with memory loss, those poems are also capturing the speaker's current thoughts (and feelings and ideas and images) and keeping them alive within a poem, so that they will continue to exist, even if they later disappear from the brain. I've often thought of the present captured in a poem as another kind of present. A poetic gift.

Of course poems do not cause the fear of possible impending dementia, other brain paralysis, and other mental and physical disabilities to disappear, but it is still very meaningful and important to express ourselves while we still can and I think that Michael A. Griffith's "Exposed" is a valuable,  worthwhile, and thought provoking exploration and collection on many levels.

For me personally, it elicited thoughts, feelings, memories - it inspired this review - and it also unexpectedly inspired a poem.

~Juliet Cook

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