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Hospice Plastics

November 10, 2021

Rachel Hinton’s volume of poetry Hospice Plastics is about the extraordinary level of consumption involved with long-term illness and medical care. Anyone who has ever been inside a hospital knows how much stuff–and especially stuff made out of plastic–is involved. Months after one hospital stay for knee surgery, I found that my well-meaning friends and family had stuffed my linen closet full of plastic emesis bowls, waterproof bed pads, and bitter-smelling soaps.

The title poem appears first, an accurately devastating account of how “it’s/unnerving when the natural world/makes a mistake.”

That title poem is followed by three sections. The first section rotates around the things needed to keep a mother alive and functioning through the process of dying from cancer. With titles like “An Illness Form,” the poems weigh us down with all the things connected to the mother:
“The weight of accrual
softs down the paper mash

at the torn hole’s edge

The bent pulp
does not change my life

But there is a valve

Without her
there is a little hole in things
Air empties out of it”

To fill the emptiness, there’s the activity in “To Picture a Thing is a Kind of Hatred”:
“She bought me T-shirts at Kmart and coloring sets
and calendars stretched in a slippy but durable plastic.

T-shirts piled on T-shirts, and finally beneath the pile
rose no more pile, the bed, a mysterious cross stitch.

I thought I would never see her again. So I thought I would
Build her out of the T-shirts and bedpans, the seats of old office chairs.”

In the second section, we get so many feelings and such variation that only a spreadsheet can represent them. My favorite is “Girl Underneath a Glass Table (Actuals).”

The third section focuses on what is left, with poems like “Father as Single Man” and “Poem about My Project Management Software.” This section pulls away from its subject a little farther, offering perspective and, occasionally, humor. It includes my favorite poem from the volume:
What I Wanted When I Said God Has All the Facts
They will be served. He knows the intent of the heart
was to work in my garden. I wanted to remember my own dirt was
good for sticking the spine down, it was good for my father
when a possum smelled of iron, that I cried when
a cat licked my face. I wasn’t ready. Something
was taken away from me and I was proffered an atavism
in which I’m conserving my strength and
on those pineneedle days it felt right to tell you
you are free to do as I do
because I did walk moss-heeled with actions and decisions
and did look on the clouded street and see it was
my mercy that my bus was, thank God, approaching.

There is mercy in these poems, most of all in “Kiss-Kiss,” which starts out with
“What does that even mean
a deep humanity. As in
the novel had a deep humanity.

Here are some things that have
a deep humanity to me. When you said
you could even try

placing the dock for the
robovac under that small shelf
The emoji that hugs itself with

balloon backspace hands.
A link called “Sex Positions
for the Overweight.”

Dark grass, the jewelry box of night.
Yes, that’s good. Commemorate
cruelty’s immaculate opposite.”

What is hard, the poem “Plastic Cannulas” tells us, is that “they still hope./They want hostas.”

Those of us left alive still want so many things, even to take them into ourselves, “bitten, loved,/probably giving you cancer currently.”

This volume shows us how living can be seen as a process of accumulation and how difficult it can be for the onlookers when the body underneath is stripped away and finally all that we’re left with is what has accumulated–things, like the plastic cannula. Probably also a few emesis basins, waterproof bed pads, and lots of bitter-smelling soaps. But among all those things will be a window, some hostas, the right bus coming down the road.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. lemming permalink
    November 10, 2021 8:47 am

    “They want hostas.” What a marvelous idea for a collection, and I love what you’ve quoted.

    Thank-you for the reminder to look for the poetry.

    • November 10, 2021 2:49 pm

      Also, Lemming, this poet has a Kenyon connection!

  2. November 15, 2021 5:46 am

    Thanks for this review. Interesting collection and take on end-of-life care and the, dare I say, results at the end of that tunnel.

    • November 15, 2021 8:03 am

      It is an interesting take; I like what you say about the end of the tunnel, because it’s partly about realizing how much of the tunnel, for survivors, has been created out of stuff, and they have to dig a way out.

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