cover image This Strange Garment

This Strange Garment

Nicole Callihan. Terrapin, $17 trade paper (108p) ISBN 978-1-947896-61-1

“Do you ever feel like an alien?” Callihan (Superloop) asks in her intimate and bracing latest. “I am feeling more and more like my childhood alien abduction dreams were actually dreams about middle-aged cancer treatment,” she writes. Throughout this collection, which chronicles the speaker’s breast cancer diagnosis and resulting treatment during the pandemic, Callihan skillfully weaves narrative and lyric, humor and pathos, fragments and philosophical musings. In one poem, she wonders, “What comes after/ the after?” While many entries take the form of prose blocks or lyric essays, Callihan also invents forms, like the associative sequence “The Paper Anniversary,” each section of which opens identically, then diverges according to sound: “Paper gowns are not as soft.../ as water/ as the eyelashes of my daughter.” The speaker’s husband, children, mother, friends, cab drivers, doctors, and various medical personnel populate these pages, ultimately revealing that the speaker is surrounded by love. Meanwhile, instead of the usual medical pain scale, Callihan defiantly proposes “a pleasure scale, and not moderate pleasure, I want/ severe. Severed but raptured. Not comfort but pleasure./ Pure unadulterated pleasure. Ten, I want to say, ten.” This beautiful, memorable book makes room for the complete range. (Mar.)