Jennifer Militello’s poem, “Antidote with Placebo,” appears in Winter 2011-12 issue, guest edited by Alice Hoffman. “Antidote with Placebo” opens with these lines:
Pit yourself against gutted ships, against
the lips of those you love the least, against
the hollows where quails spend their lives.
Here, Militello describes her writing process for the piece:
In its writing, “Antidote with Placebo” came on as a catalogue with its own gathering force and energy and phrasings, growing out of itself like Hydra heads, snaking around and biting itself in the tail, doing whatever it wanted even as I tried to saddle it into some stanzas and rein it in. As I wrote it, I could see the whites of its eyes. I could see the fangs it wanted to sink into the reader and hear all its venom humming through the veins:
stand up. fight back. gain power. sit. resign yourself. conserve your strength. put yourself out there. seal yourself up. pretend. resist. give in. give up. shout. grow desperate. go mad. shriek. curse the body for what it is. be. frankenstein yourself together and recognize the machine.
The poem, as part of the larger work of the book Body Thesaurus, confronts the illogical quandary of sinew and muscle, of blood cell and brain cell and bone. I am mortified by the fact that I am living inside and through a physical object alarmingly momentary, easily broken, inextricably intertwined with my very existence, and somehow myself in a way that is not actually separate from my self. I deceive myself each day with the belief that I am commanding this object, that I am manipulator to its marionette, but in reality I am this object. I am the marionette, I am the puppeteer.
This piece is rife with paradox; it contradicts itself ardently. It rests in, and seeks refuge in, extremes in the face of futility. It gives advice where there is no advice to be had. It offers comfort where there is no comfort and identifies obstacles which cannot be met. It questions what it means to be flesh and blood and the degree to which this split between the mind and body manifests as a fragmentation of identity.
And the panic. Each phrasing here suggests the dragging of furniture, the spatial rearranging, the tinkering, the mind-numbing, gratuitous reordering of details in a room. The poem is an attempt to maintain some semblance of control, and to feel less raw and alone within the blunt fear. So reader, please join me. Feel welcome. Come in.