Rib by Sharon Black
Wayleave Press (2021) £5.00
A Review by Anne MacLeod
How many meanings can one word encompass? In Definitions Sharon Black offers us 10 possible explanations of rib, from ‘a slender, curved bone/ articulated to the spine’ to a ‘Rigid, inflatable Boat/or to tease good-naturedly’.
There are 24 poems in this elegant slim volume – one for each of the 24 ribs found in most humans – but whether she’s describing the framework of a hull, a vein of leaf or insect wing, or knitted fabric, the rib is both elastic and supportive.
In Thoracic Black considers ribs as porcelain cage – perhaps a zoo, or animal refuge where ‘the echo/of the keeper’s heartbeat was a comfort’ until the porcelain bars are damaged, ‘bars cracking one by one;/the inmates pacing, highly strung.’ In Cavity, she characterises the heart as a ‘chubby fist clenching/unclenching, banging its plastic hammer/onto tiny wooden tracks’ the lungs as ‘twin sacks of air, slung/on a hook’ the liver as washing machine, and the kidneys as sponges. Tlaltcuhtli is darker. Here she meditates on Aztec sacrifice and mythology, where ‘the blade slips in, scoops out/the heart’.
A number of the poems deal with personal experience of illness, of pain caused when ribs damaged by radiation eventually fracture. ‘A common side-effect/up to fifteen years after treatment’ . And though her ‘ doctor advises /rest, it’s no big deal’ there is no comfort in that reassurance. Still, though, courage and hope flourish in Seasonal, even when ‘My chest hurts, I can’t turn on the mattress./The weeks stretch on and on…. I breathe carefully, noiselessly/ so none of them topple. Last night/I dreamt I swam all the way through Antartica.’
Sharon Black is a master of the pared-down, under-stated line, but the 24 short poems in this highly-recommended collection burst into life on reading whether aloud or on the page. As she says in Beach ‘Out there:/ribs tug at empty boats, at buoys./ Such bodies of land and water!/
And– an interesting detail – this book boasts no page numbers. Reading the poems, like reading life, remains wistfully unmapped.↑