The following is excerpted from Jesse Ruddock’s “Writing the Body”:
A cautery pen cuts through flesh with a hot-wire tip. Unlike a scalpel, it does not only cut as it goes but seals blood flow. Cautery pens are also called cautery pencils, which feels insensitive. A pencil has a lighter touch. It can be easily erased. It cannot make legal markings. The truth of the cautery machine lies somewhere in between pen and pencil.
The first time I guessed at the body as palimpsest was attending the botched surgery. The next time was watching a nurse write “NOT THIS LEG” in black Sharpie on my left leg before a right-leg anterior cruciate ligament repair. But it has only been through reading Sylvia Legris’s poetry that understanding the body as palimpsest has proved revelatory. Before, it was only softly shocking.
It’s one thing to taste or bump into an idea, another thing to follow a poet’s decades-long epic journey writing her way into the obscurity of the body. The body emerges through Legris’s poems, literally and metaphorically, as an unruly subject and an even more unruly text. One we only ever co-author. As Legris allows, breaking taboo, the body—my body, your body, any body—is a text that its co-authors, however well-intentioned, never control or finish.
In The Hideous Hidden, each poem is a theater of anatomy in which the poet is anatomist and her pen a scalpel or cautery machine whose lines perform dissections of human and animal bodies. The body as palimpsest—written on, written into, and rewritten—is explicit here, but I am interested in where and how this technique emerged. It is found in Legris’s very first publication, Ash Petals, a nineteen-page handmade chapbook of tight open verse. . .
To read this piece in its entirety, purchase your copy of Music & Literature no. 9.