In We, Old Young Ones, Dominik Parisien’s poems embody chronic pain, elevating the traumas, and illuminating the act of breathing being the most essential part of living. He uses body parts, the act of breathing, religion, and science, to illustrate the struggle and the pain that the poetic voice endures.
Parisien uses skin and fingers to heighten the imagery: “My partner’s hands become a knife, carving other fingers from my skin to help me shape myself again.” In the poem, “Watch for that horizon”, Parisien makes reference to bones: “You drifted out to sea on a raft of our bones.” The pain instills through the body parts and Parisien does a good job of evoking those feelings.
At times the poetic narrator seems to be going through a dilemma between religion, through his parents’ religious belief and prayers, and medicine, which has “failed me, my mother & father, devout followers of the church of parenthood, reached out to him & God & anything they thought could help me. […] Later, my parents captured me & my pain and mailed us to his compound packed with their hopes & their money.”
Interestingly, the act of breathing itself is the most basic necessity of living, which juxtaposes with chronic pain that the poetic narrator struggles with. In the poem, “Card game with disabled friends”: “Death was at the table because of course it always is. […] What else is there to say except that we were young & old & maybe painted or that we played & breathed & were.” Here, Parisien reaffirms the idea that breathing is the basic way of living, and touches on the aging theme, that they are old due to the pain and the inability to tolerate it. Parisien combines all these tropes and thematic ideas: “the hole is a universe deep/ and she is falling fracturing/ her bones like a glass maze cracking down to/ dust always on the floor […] they should loosen his collar / to let him breathe to let him breathe/ please let him breathe…”
Similarly, in another powerful poem, “MRI, or The New Art of Anthropomancy”: “They’ve read the bones, the liver, the whole of me/ and found the omens unfavourable/ the future too difficult to determine/ so they break me down again/ & again to bring me into being in your image./ Perhaps me breathing is the problem.” This poem made me feel emotions because the poetic narrator is questioning the act of breathing in the process of being destructed through the pain in all the body parts.
Dominik Parisien pulsates the readers through the traumas of having chronic pain, the struggle to reconcile with it.