Live Virtual Group Session: 6pm EDT June 1st 2020

Thank you to everyone who joined us for this session! We were so glad to resume our Monday workshops and welcome participants from across the globe: Canada, India, Lebanon, Mexico and across the USA: Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, and West Virginia.

Angelica Recierdo’s poem “The Salon” evoked a powerfully rich discussion on this evening when so many of us are devastated by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Several weeks ago when Natalia and Lynne chose this text (written before the COVID-19 pandemic) they crafted the prompt: “Write about the frontline” conceiving widely of “the frontline” as encompassing service workers in nursing homes and hospitals as well as food and sanitation workers, EMT, fire, and law enforcement. They had not anticipated, until the past week, that “the frontline” could conjure images of peaceful protestors and rioters coming face to face with the police and National Guard.

In somber tones 34 participants delved thoughtfully into the text. The group imagined the occupants of the nail salon and extended the theme of the poem to include women around the world and the creative energy they exude — providing beauty and comfort for other women, who may or may not engage in eye contact and conversation; who are seated above the women who shape and sculpt and soften their hands and feet; or women who may be as exhausted as the beauticians from taking care of others. Someone called these interactions “comraderies come full circle.”

The words “limbs and digits and pain” brought forth mention of prosthetics and “the aesthetics of prosthetics” that change not only function but also identity and how one is viewed by others. “It changes the entire person,” commented one participant about the use of limb prosthetics.

The group considered professional and racial diversity of the text’s human subjects, economic injustice, therapeutic touch, risk of chemical exposure to poison, returning too soon to spaces of exposure to airborne viruses, asking, in effect: what price beauty?

In the poem is the background noise of the 5 o’clock news, which for readers now is 24-hour news foregrounding confrontations of peace and protest, violence and nonviolence. Images of frontlines now come not only at the bedside but also from the streets One person pointed to the blurring of frontlines and another wondered, “What is happening behind battle lines?” We traced disparities in the United States of morbidity and mortality, of incarceration and injustice between those with light skin and those with dark skin. As one of the participants said, “These brown and black children we can’t seem to love.”

Newcomers and loyal participants in Narrative Medicine’s methods of reading closely and deeply listening took turns providing care. In Zoom-drawn rows, we faced each other and created a space in which to hold individual and collective griefs. One woman spoke of this as “having a container for all the grief in the world.”

We are so grateful for our session tonight and want to leave you with the thoughts of a participant who wrote, “I’m walking away reminded to remember others’ fatigue and needs, as well as their abilities and beauty.”

During debriefing, our wonderful Joe Eveld reflected on the participant’s characterization of the session as a container for grief, and realized how much it resonated with a quote by Joy Harjo on the power of poetry that he had recently referenced in an essay: “A poem is an energetic construct…You can talk about anything in a poem. … It will hold what you cannot hold.” – (You can read more of what Joe has for us in the Editor’s Letter for the latest issue of Intima: A Journal of Narrative Medicine here.)

Participants are warmly encouraged to share what you wrote below (“Leave a Reply”), to keep the conversation going here, bearing in mind that the blog of course is a public space where confidentiality is not assured.

Please join us for our next session Wednesday, June 3rd at 12pm EDT, with more times listed on our Live Virtual Group Sessions page.

We look forward to seeing you again soon!

“The Salon” by Angelica Recierdo

Women in rows. One row at the feet of the other,
Like shoe-shiners at airports that no one makes eye contact with.

To be in the business of limbs, digits, and pain,
Is to make yourself tired making tired women beautiful.

The Vietnamese woman in front of me is a sculptor.
Polishing dead skin to present me
A smooth new part of my body. I thank her.
Pay her for tenderly touching me in ways
Some lovers can’t even do, won’t even do.

The Salvadorean woman in front of me is a surgeon.
Wielding a tweezer, she softens and plucks the cuticle.
She plucks my story out and we laugh together in Spanglish.
We celebrate colors with the 5 o’clock news in the background.
Acetone in our noses, my hand rests on hers as she works.