ALICE THE HEALER by John Ling

ALICE THE HEALER

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A poetry collection that shows the devastating, exhausting effects of chronic pain and illness.

Ling offers a series of poems about a real-life woman who lived the latter part of her life in extreme physical pain. Alice grew up ballroom dancing and, as an adult, became one of the first female managers in the textile industry. When her body began to decline due to rheumatoid arthritis and Ménière’s syndrome, a disorder of the inner ear, her world became considerably smaller and more difficult to navigate. Ling presents the poems from his own perspective as one of Alice’s friends, caretakers and admirers. The verses provide empathetic accounts of Alice’s suffering and her courageous, admirable attempts to stay connected to the outside world, through church, family and the Internet.  The stronger poems contemplate how pain can take over the body, the mind and the spirit. “PAIN!” for example, plays on the idea that even Alice’s hair hurts: “[H]air should not hurt / you cannot comb pain / brush it away like hair / on the shoulder its there / getting bolder making me / feel older stiff and colder.” “HOSTAGE” describes pain as terrorists who have “hijacked the body. / Sometimes there seem to be / more gunmen than passengers, / she is all pain and no body.” Other poems explore how Alice survives as her own advocate—with doctors, emergency medical technicians and people who can’t fully understand the impact of living with chronic pain. In one of the more poignant verses, the narrator feels guilty for being able to live an “ordinary life” when “any other life to her / would be so rich.” Ling deftly and beautifully expresses one of the most significant challenges of chronic illness when it comes to visitors, including friends and family: “They do not come. / They cannot bear / to live their lives, / to sit and listen, / ask how are you, / and hear the honest answer.” Although the narrator clearly admires and loves his subject and sees her pain, he also recognizes that healing works both ways. In the collection’s title poem, he states, “[S]he would find me out and turn me round, / lift me up and gently put me down, / she in need of healing, healing me.”

An evocative poetry book about the powers of healing and connection.

Pub Date: Oct. 30th, 2010
ISBN: 978-1-4520-8132-8
Page count: 60pp
Publisher: AuthorHouse
Program: Kirkus Indie
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15th, 2014