My Borrowed Face

Nigliazzo, Stacy

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Annotated by:
Davis, Cortney
  • Date of entry: Jun-06-2022


"My Borrowed Face," Stacy Nigliazzo's third full-length poetry collection, contains 55 poems, presented as a continuous flow without division into sections. Once again, Nigliazzo's poems are spare, often only phrases or words scattered on the white page, a form that leads the reader's eye from one image to the next. (For a brief discussion of how this poet uses white space, see the annotation of her second collection, “Sky the Oar” on this database.)  The poems in this collection were written during the Covid pandemic; they speak of the toll the virus has taken and continues to take not only on patients but, in these poems, on the caregivers--specifically the poet.  Nigliazzo, an emergency room nurse who has worked through five pandemic surges, is the perfect narrator to take us along on her rounds.

The book's early poems look back before the pandemic ("5920 Days Pre-Pandemic," p. 11) and then they come closer ("30 Days Pre-Pandemic," p. 12), until they begin to chart, with stark imagery, the beginning and the continuation of the pandemic.  We walk with the poet / nurse as she ticks off the days from "First Sunday on the Ward, Pandemic," p. 15, through "575 Days Out," p. 41. 

The 16 poems that close the book are a rest, in a sense, from the pandemic.  These poems are individual reflections, like quick photographs, that capture a variety of observations both personal and professional. "Self-Portrait as the Pink Moon," p. 42, and "Blue Book," p. 43, hark back first to Nigliazzo's mother, pregnant with the poet, then to her mother's death.  In a way, circling this collection back to the beginning, birth and death, the never ending turning.


Three poems ("30 Days Out" p. 19; "125 Days Out" p. 27; "330 Days Out" p. 32) begin with the phrase "I leave the room," then recount the arduous and complicated steps of removing personal protective equipment, a process that must be repeated again and again: the nurse puts on the equipment before entering a patient's room, then takes it off when exiting. Then puts it on again for the next patient, and takes it off again. Each retelling of this routine grows longer, engaging the reader, revealing the complexity of protection, the fatigue of constant vigilance.  

Two poems are "erasure poems." "Florence," p. 51, distills a page from Florence Nightingale's "Notes on Nursing" to 8 words (one word divided into two parts, a further erasure).  "At Midnight," p. 53, consists of 12 words (two divided) and one dash extracted from Poe's poem "The Sleeper," These two poems seem to underline Nigliazzo's poetic vision--striping away anything that is not "poem," distilling complexity and forgoing expansion, putting pressure on words until they emerge as diamonds.

Finally, an example of the impact and brevity of these poems. Here is "Six days old, total CPR time: 58 minutes" p. 45.  The eight word title is followed by a ten word poem.  Imagine these words flung about the white page, the reader's gaze following down: He's my son,     she says-- don't      stop      until I say.

Although this entire collection might be read quickly, it's only by reading slowly, closing the book often to reflect, that the toll of the pandemic truly enters the mind and the heart.    Nurses--any caregivers--who have survived working during the horrible days of the pandemic will find both comfort and connection in these poems.  Any reader will see, intimately, the stress and heroics involved in such caring. Patients who have survived Covid will recognize their nurses, the men and women who saved them.


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