White cover with delicate central image of a ribRib, Sharon Black 

Wayleave Press, 2021    £5.00

It begins with pain

There are 24 poems in this pamphlet to match the 24 ribs in the human body. In the first, ‘Scan’, we learn that three ribs — ‘a trinity of dark bands / where light should be’ — are broken because of previous radiation treatment. The poet must now abandon ‘washing, cleaning, egg collection’ ‘hiking, laughing’ and ‘sex’, but also:

that angry way I jab
my laptop keys.

I love the way so many things coalesce in these two very simple lines: the poet, the process of writing, physical limitation and the disallowed anger associated with the pain.

The poems are partly a lament for life as it was or should be. The ‘cage’ in the poem ‘Thoracic’ begins as ‘reinforced steel’ where animals lived in harmony:

Now the cage is porcelain,
the bars cracking one by one;
the inmates pacing, highly strung
                            The lions

eat the monkeys, the fox
is eyeing up the rabbits, there are
feathers everywhere.

This extended metaphor is a vivid depiction of the catastrophe playing out inside the poet’s body.

But the pamphlet as a whole has a wider scope. In ‘Beach’ there are ‘ribs of sand’, ‘shells and seaweed / lie in knots along the tideline’, then surprisingly land and water are ‘bodies’:

Such power inside everything!
Even those clouds, bleached,

hung out to dry, will break to ripples
if you press your finger
through the surface of the sky.

I was particularly fascinated by the instructive poem ‘Tattoo’:

Take this inking needle, make
a mark on your own rib.
Set tip to skin and steer it
round a corner, any corner. Make

the inside visible, reveal yourself
to your own eyes.
Plant a seed along each curve

then write your story, the root
from which you grew,
the tongue which lead you to

this breath.

It seems to describe some process of self-realisation, with the act of taking a needle to your own rib encompassing pain and tenderness at the same time.

The needle drips
as your hand hesitates.
Say it softly. Rib. Rib. Rib.

Anne Bailey