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Rheuma nation

After the crisis of the ventilator and the drugs comes the fatigue — according to those who survive coronavirus. Other varieties of trauma, both physical and psychic, gift their own sticky suffering. In his debut pamphlet Rheuma, William Gee introduces the reader to life with fibromyalgia, a condition of chronic pain affecting both body and mind.

The sound of the title summons the ache of rheumatism and rumination, the chewing of an undigested thought. The opening poem, ‘tomorrow my brother died’, captures an obsessive state in which a worrier feels to blame for the event before it even happens: ‘he dies when i sleep in till eleven when i turn on my xbox and when i think of him / he is dying when i forget to brush my teeth.’ The lines of worry stream so long they’ve had to be printed in landscape orientation.

Gee scatters contemporary markers of consumerism throughout these otherwise interior poems, reminding the reader of the exterior world that has both created the speaker’s pain and promises its cure. These objects — E45 moisturising lotion, an Xbox, a Motorola Razr — economically evoke a particular class and era.

A disillusioned speaker (in the poem titled ‘young man,’) urges the young man to ‘take all / your beauty out from your natwest student account.’ The abstract of beauty is rendered tangible by the branded bank account, one open to members of society who haven’t yet profited from the trade of their own commodities. In this case, the commodity is flesh, a body ‘incapable of sending its meats / to the right places.’

The theme of the digested and digesting body is highlighted by the cover image (created by Bad Betty Press editor Amy Acre): it’s a ribeye sliced from the part of a cow’s body that cradles its rumen, a massive sac that ferments food before sending it back into the mouth to be chewed again. Written images (‘my broken oesophageal valve all fat all acid’) are reinforced by a triad of poems titled ‘something manageable.’ They shrink from four, to two, to a single line — as if, with each regurgitation, the speaker comes closer to digesting the thing that pains.

April Yee