“A Single Window” Daniel Sluman (Nine Arches Press) – book review

Daniel Sluman a single window front cover

Daniel Sluman’s poems explores the intimacy and love along with confinement and isolation experienced prior to lockdown. This are not pandemic poems. Sluman is an amputee who suffers chronic pain and his wife, Emily, has Crohn’s disease and fibromyalgia. During 2016, without proper care, they were unable to safely get upstairs so were mainly stuck in their lounge watching the world outside through the window. The poems follow the year through the four seasons, starting with autumn,

“………………..we watch documentaries on mute

from the sofa we’ve lived in
for the last eight months

…………………………………the frames crash over us

………………the colours
………………the names
………………the stories rip …………& merge

…………………..& we don’t sleep or we sleep
………………………………..all day

……when we finally pull back the curtain

…………….a slant of rain is leaning
……………………..against the road

…………….slick with rotting leaves

……autumn smoulders everything
…………………….back to its roots”

There’s a strong feeling of repetitiveness: re-watching documentaries and their stories merging, the rain against the window, adding up to a sense of stasis. Lives in a state of limbo. The documentaries are marking a passing of time which is split into hour-long chunks. Sleep happens or doesn’t. There’s a loss of routine and connection. The pain or side-effects from pain relief make it difficult to concentrate so the documentaries are muted to take away the obligation to focus and understand. Their function is to provide a reminder there’s more outside the room/window than the weather.

Later,

“…half-awake to the noise / of pages flitting
next to you / like a tongue wetting / like a bird
………landing / i drink my tea as quietly /
as i can stare / at an invisible spot / beyond
the tv / until my body & mind / finally meet”

The narrator is still in a sense of stasis; somewhere between reality and a dream (nightmare) of sameness, trying to focus and make sense of something. Until his clouded mind clears and feels reconnected to his bodily reality. There’s also a sense of connection between husband and wife: neither wants to disturb or impinge on each other because it might create a sense of obligation when both want each other’s presence but not to impose, knowing the other is experiencing chronic pain too.

There are photos in among the poems, such as a vase on a rain-splattered window, patterns of lights and shadow on a ceiling, prescribed painkillers, reflections in windows, Emily, Daniel, crutches, a bath, an x-ray, a laptop, all given a full description in the appendix. They complement the poems, acting either as a visual reminder of the collection’s title or a visual inspiration for one of the poems.

Autumn becomes “winter” and the subject turns to intimacy, “up close how your skin shivers//like a line about snow/in a robert frost poem”. Later Emily massages the stump of Daniel’s leg,

“…………………………i imagine the phantom limb

pouring into your palms like water
………all the cruel words & shame

…………………thrown into the space
………where my leg should be

………………..pulled out like barbs

…………..this is how it feels
to have your trauma held

………….. i tell you your kindness kills me
…………………..your grace kills me”

There’s also a reminder of why the leg was amputated, from childhood bone cancer,

“in an overspilling drawer / of yellowed papers /
…..on the back / of an old hospital letter /
…the odds of my survival / ( post-chemo ) /
notated as a percentage / (30) / in my father’s hand”

That child is now an adult, managing chronic pain and splitting himself between the reduced circumstances brought about by disability discrimination and the life of a husband and writer.

“spring” brings another mood change,

“gallons
of
light
poured
through
like
cans
of
paint
flooding
the
tiny
aperture
yellows
blues
fullthroated
reds
this
glossy
lens
so
much
presence”

Gone is the persistant rain of autumn and confines of winter. Spring and the restoration of natural colours along with the return of birds seems to bring a note of optimism. However, husband and wife are still inhabiting a small, shared space with the fluctuations of disability,

“…………………….dropping emojis & gifs
………..into each other’s phones

…………………the distance between our bodies
………………………. always swelling

…..how a message will hang in the air unread
…………& i’ll know you’ve fallen asleep”

There’s still an irregular schedule, sleeping when pain allows and the desire to continue being a couple,

“………………..we’re two sentences on opposing pages
…………in a cheap book offset

falling into the heart of the spine
……………………………. together”

Two mismatched people flipping between the roles of carer and being caring for when differing disabilities allow. Emily alters a pair of trousers,

“& most will never know this intimacy
how you trace every ridge of the lipped pelvis
with the chime of your scissors
making a space in this world for me to fill
rounding the edge to hang off me like a crescent moon
you ply your love seam by seam”

The caring is not one-sided. In “summer” the husband cares for his wife,

“…………….& i nurse you like this three times a day
……………………….drawing the infection

…………………………………away from the drum

…………..with a patience
i could never summon for anyone else

…………………….the same way you’ll wrap
the gash on my finger next week

……………………….each throb of my pulse
……………….soaking the paper a deeper blush of red”

We don’t typically imagine having to perform acts of intimate care for another, yet, when put in that position for someone we most love, we get on with it as if we’d forgotten we couldn’t imagine doing it. There’s a tenderness here, undermined by the pulsing cut where the imagery is more of passion and desire.

“a single window” is a generous opening into a confined world of disability and chronic pain and pain management. Through it, Daniel Sluman demonstrates that this small world is still full of complexity, love, compassion and tenderness as well as sadness and the trials of managing the side-effects of drugs and lack of outside care. He shows that intimacy and love are still possible in the bleakest of moments and the will to survive can renew. “a single window” is not a polemic or a rant. The poems are closely observed and crafted reflecting the isolation and resourcefulness central to the lives of too many disabled people.

“single window” is available from Nine Arches Press.

Emma Lee’s The Significance of a Dress is available from Arachne Press. The link also has a trailer featuring the title poems and samples of some of the poems from the collection. It is also available as an eBook.

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