Jan M. Steckel's Underwater Hospital
Jan Steckel is a Harvard and Yale trained pediatrician, bisexual activist, Pushcart Prize nominee, and poet whose words are powerful, raw, and insightful.
Most of the pieces in her new chapbook Underwater Hospital are brief flashes of light in a dark world where sadness flows and not everyone lives through the night. Beneath the sheets there are rape victims, those who suffer from hunger, and bleeding balloons ready to burst. There is ritualistic magic and stairwell morgues. As her readers we learn concepts in Spanish, as well as pain in English, as in the poem "Three Little Sisters":
The three little Salazar sisters from Salinas
come crestfallen into my bedroom some nights,
all crying with rotted teeth and gum abscesses.
The younger two are California-born.
I give them antibiotics and sent them to a Medicaid dentist
so the infections won’t spread to their jaw or brain.
For the eldest, eight years old, I can do nothing,
because she was born in Mexico
so doesn’t qualify for Medicaid.
I prescribe extra medicine,
knowing the mother will split it
between all three girls.
I send them out crying.
Night after night, I ask myself,
what kind of country
denies an eight-year-old girl
relief from pain like that
because she was born
on the wrong side of the border
from her sisters?
Steckel's poetry in Underwater Hospital is personal, well stated, and worth several readings on rainy nights while sitting back in the arms of warm chairs, listening the echo of sirens.
(The Underwater Hospital, Jan Steckel www.jansteckel.com, copyright 2006 zeitgeist press, www.zeitgeist-press.com ISBN 0-929730-76-3, $5.)