When I was a kid, my parents subscrived to catalogs from Dover Books, many of whose items were out of print, out of copyright, or too quirky for the big publishing houses to care about. One of the quirkiest books to end up in our living room was George Chappell’s 1930 classic,Through the Alimentary Canal with Gun and Camera, "a profanely comic and bodily disrespectful tour through the helpless interior of an anonymous citizen," says a wikipedic reviewer. (Wish we still had it–it’s worth fifty bucks US now!)
I wasn’t too squeamish to dip into the book, but I think the "naughty bits" stopped my reading. Chappell never intended this book for kids, I’m sure. Ever since, however, from time to time I’ve imagined what it must be lilke to be one of the invisble creatures who live in us and on us. What strange planets we must seem! Here, for example, are the results of learning that our eyelashes support whole communities of critters (some of whom apparently like the taste of mascara–not my critters, though). This poem is in generation of thistles, my poems just published by Motley Crew House (shameless plug):
On our honeymoon–remember?
you told me tiny cities
crowd the shores of all our eyes,
that even with a mirror
and various diopters
my vision is too large
to see what it all depends on
I’ll take on lovers’ fitful faith
the dynasties so sprawled along
the cliffs along my lids,
the joyriders screaming
whenever I blink
the Knuckle of Reckoning
In aqua dream I almost hear
the rich exclaiming on the view
of blue blue Iris Lake
whenever I the Goddess am awake;
in the darkness hear them wonder,
where did all that splendor go?
These days I try for no tears
nowadays I try to hurt no one:
on anniversaries I remember
that their largest heroes
are doubtless the fine print
of my unpolished breath
just a drop of my short-sighted sorrow
salts another global legend
The book would have taken me on a top-down trip through the entire gastric system. As Wikipedia describes it, "Presented as the first-person scientific account of an unnamed explorer and his three companions, Through the Alimentary Canal is a continuously hilarious, linguistically inventive parody of two genres: the safari memoir and the layperson’s medical compendium. After circumnavigating the exterior of their victim (not omitting the naughty bits), the explorers, without any technological fuss, simply slip through the "Oral Cavern" and before you can say "down the gullet" are riding their portable boat toward their ultimate destination of "Colon-sur-mer," through a surreal jungle environment populated by various tribes such as the savage Haemoglobins, and rich with such wildlife as heeby-geebies and gastroids. The visitors fish for phagocytes, carve their initials on the spine, and are entertained in the Peritoneum by the Great Omentum, a local rajah. Along the way, Chappell satirizes academia, Prohibition, religion, national pride, and our quirky mortal machinery."
Chappell died the year I was born. How astonished he would be to know that doctors nowadays do go on safari through the digestive system with "gun and camera"–a video camera equipped with fibroptics and a snipper, as I understand it–except they start from the bottom of the system–literally–rather than the top.
Speaking of bottoms, I came through the colonscopy with one valuable piece of advice for readers facing the same: get bag balm!
What, you may ask, is bag balm? It’s amber goop that comes in a pretty, square green tin, available at feed stores and intended for sore, cracked nipples of nursing sheep and other mammals. Wherever skin has been pushed beyond reasonable limits, there’s a job for bag balm.
The colonoscopy was easy–I was given some goof which left me vaguely conscious of prattling away at the medics to take a look at my beautiful tattoo while they were in its neighborhood and oh, by the way, please buy my books so I can drop the first word in my title, Starving Writer.
Yes, the colonoscopy was easier to endure than to spell. Apparently it was nice and clean all the way. It was the process of cleaning it out, a.k.a. the Purgation, that was hellacious. The feeling reminded me of that immortal chorus from the U of A’;s med show, decades ago when my sis was in medicine:
always itch and sometimes burn;
give you that look of concern;
you are focused on your stern
when you have…a hemorrhoi-oi-oid!"
Given a choice between hemorrhoids and purgation, any experienced patient will prefer the former! All our orifices are made of skin, after all, a material of limited endurance. If there’s a colonoscopy in your future, throw an full tin of bag balm into your hospital safari kit.