Using innovative page design, Frank crafts an unflinching look at illness.
In the emergency room at 4 a.m., Chess is whisked into invasive medical testing—a colonoscopy—and then into a hospital room. She’s had severe gastrointestinal symptoms before, but this is her first diagnosis: the chronic, autoimmune disorder Crohn’s, an inflammatory bowel disease. Her roommate, Shannon, has Crohn’s, too. Their conversations—acerbic, worried, snippy—progress down each page in fast-reading columns of verse. When the curtain between their beds is closed, a vertical line appears between Chess’ text column and Shannon’s, emphasizing the room’s physicality and restriction. A doctor calls Crohn’s “tough and / unpredictable”; Chess finds it disgusting (“gross green bubbles / glub up from my insides, / slip down the tube”), painful (her insides “burn”) and humiliating—especially the mortifying incident that sent her to the emergency room. Chess laughs until she cries, and then “the rage flows, / shocking and unstoppable / as shit.” Her future holds prescriptions, side effects, food restrictions, flare-ups—and remissions. Frank’s portrayal of chronic, mostly invisible sickness is spot-on. Illness isn’t metaphor, it isn’t a consequence, it isn’t a literary vehicle—it’s a precarious and uprooting fact of life, inconvenient and enraging, but not the end of the world.
Riveting, humanizing and real. (Verse fiction. 13-17)