Friday, October 26, 2012

J.E. Pitts "Scar Inventory"

Welcome to the Poetry of Recovery Blog

This blog presents poems of recovery in a number of topics: Grief, War, Exile, Bigotry, Illness, Injury, Divorce, Abuse, Addiction.

I first presented poems of recovery under those topics in an anthology that I edited After Shocks: The Poetry of Recovery for Life-Shattering Events (Sante Lucia Books 2008), which comprised 152 poems by 115 poets from 15 nations. Events that shatter our lives leave us inevitably with a choice: either you recover or you suffer unto death. I hope that poetry leads you, the reader, to the former.

I’ll post a new poem weekly, on Sunday evenings, a good day to ponder recovery, along with the poet's bio and a short interview with the poet or other discourse about the poem.

To order the anthology, visit After Shocks: The Poetry of Recovery for Life-Shattering Events

—Tom Lombardo
After Shocks: The Poetry of Recovery for Life-Shattering Events

This Week's Poem

Scar Inventory
by J.E. Pitts

You look like a victim of a shark attack, a friend said,
when I took my shirt off during a long tennis match.
It was deep summer, and
I was two months out from the knife.
It’s true that from my collarbone down, the
white lines and bumps are the trail of
procedures recommended,
agreements reached, waivers signed in
the transactions of the flesh.
A slice here, a slice there,
they cut down through the sack we call the skin—
clamps are applied, what needs to be done is done,
then the stitch machine sews things up in a snap.
Others are not so blatant—
the goofball emergencies, clumsy days and nights.
The long one on the back of my right leg
where I slid down a ladder as a boy.
The car accident, where I broke my ankle
and a steel screw binds the delicate shattered bones.
The bicycle wreck, where the
pedal’s serrated edge came down
and almost sliced an Achilles tendon.
The high school fight at the skating rink,
where a class ring dug across my eyebrow.
Such an autobiography.
All the scars will heal one day
at least that’s what the doctors say.

J. E. “Jimmy” Pitts, a native of Corinth, Mississippi, was a writer and visual artist. His poems, essays, and illustrations appeared in many magazines and literary journals, including Poetry, Southern Poetry Review, Bellevue Literary Review, and Arkansas Review, among others. A graduate of the University of Mississippi, he was the poetry editor of Oxford American, co-founded and co-edited the experimental literary journal VOX, and lived in Oxford, Mississippi. He was awarded a literary fellowship in poetry from the Mississippi Arts Commission in 2006. His first collection of poetry was The Weather of Dreams (David Robert Books 2007), from which his poem "Scar Inventory" was drawn for After Shocks: The Poetry of Recovery for Life-Shattering Events. His artwork, in oil and acrylic on canvas, wood panels, and non traditional surfaces is held in private collections, including musician Marty Stuart and the late film director Robert Altman. Jimmy died on August 19, 2010 at the age of 41. A tribute to Jimmy’s life and creativity may be found on-line in the September 3, 2010 issue of at Oxford-American , written by OA founder and editor Marc Smirnoff.

A Word from the Poet: “When Normal Returns”

In lieu of Jimmy’s own words about his poem, I’ll take the liberty of revealing my talk with Jimmy, by phone in 2007, about “Scar Inventory” while compiling the anthology After Shocks: The Poetry of Recovery for Life-Shattering Events. The poem opens with an image of a shark-bite scar that Jimmy displayed to a friend when he took off his shirt after a tennis match. The scar was from kidney transplant surgery, Jimmy told me, after one of his kidneys failed. The poem notes that he was “two months out from the knife.” So I asked him, “How could you play tennis two months after a kidney transplant?” He said that the scar was still a bit red and tender, thus the “shark attack” image, but his surgeon had assured him that everything was healing and that his side would not split open, spilling out the contents of his abdomen. Jimmy was an avid tennis player and for him, playing tennis signaled what he called “the part of recovery when normal returns—a new normal.” And that essence of Jimmy’s thoughts applies to recovery from all life-shattering events. At some point, you begin to feel some sort of normalcy returning to your life. It might not be the same “normal” as before your life-shattering event. Maybe it’s your “new normal,” as Jimmy said. He knew that he could never recover from the underlying disease of renal failure, but he recovered from a major event in his disease process.

Our discussion turned to Jimmy’s his new collection The Weather of Dreams (David Robert Books/WordTech Editions 2007), from which “Scar Inventory” was drawn.

The poem ends on a note that couples recovery with a tinge of cynicism borne of the poet’s own struggle within a system that had no cure for him:

All scars will heal one day—
at least that’s what the doctors say.

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