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from Vivienne’s Recovery

by Chad Parmenter


1.15.47—Beauty Doesn’t End

The cause of her death was given as heart
failure.  The doctor who prescribed the drug was
threatened with medical investigation following the
deaths of other patients, and commited suicide.
                                 —Carole Seymour-Jones

My doctor means to murder me.
I think he started weeks ago.
He changed my medicines. I breathe
More shallow now. I’m weak. I throw

Up blood. See lights. Who can I tell?
They know me as the poet’s wife,
Obsession’s second, echo self.
Of course she took her imitation life.

He calls me beauty when he comes
With his syringes. If I fought
He’d only beat me back to numb.
It’s more than that. More: I was taught

That beauty is my only why.
Walk out of beauty, like the knight
Walked out of errancy, to die?
To be his muse. That is my rite.

That is the writing that I am—
Scapegoddess. He, though, is blind wind
Inside a doctor’s skin. I dam
His suicidal impulse in,

Become it. Hoard some doses, so
They’ll say I was a suicide.
They’ll mail away the endless cells she wrote
To you. They did. Now read. Live how I died.


Author’s Note: Attention is starting to be paid to the role that Vivienne Eliot, T. S. Eliot’s wife, may have played in the writing of The Waste Land. Thanks to scholars like Jennifer Sorensen Emory-Peck, the depiction of her as a mere inspiration, a source of material because of her mental infirmity, has begun to give way to the idea that she may have contributed some of the poem’s voices, and even encouraged the multivocal strategy without which the poem, as such, would not exist. Vivienne’s Recovery is a book-length poem in rhyming quatrains, with the enabling fantasy that, after being institutionalized by Eliot and her family, Vivienne might have started writing multivocal poetry of her own.

Chad Parmenter is a creative writing fellow in the PhD program at the University of Missouri.  His poems have won contests in Hotel Amerika and The Black Warrior Review, and have appeared in Harvard Review, The Kenyon Review, and The Best American Poetry.  His article on T. S. Eliot has appeared in The Yeats-Eliot Review, and a paper based on the article has received the Fathman Award from the T. S. Eliot Society. (2/2010)


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