Sunday, May 18, 2014

Colonoscopy - John Updike

Talk about intimacy! I'd almost rather not.
The day before, a tussle with nausea
(DRINK ME: a liter of sickly-sweet liquid)
and diarrhea, so as to present oneself
pristine as a bride to the groom with his tools,
his probe and tiny TV camera
and honeyed words. He has a tan,
just back from a deserved vacation
from his accustomed nether regions.

Begowned, recumbent on one's side,
one views through uprolled eyes the screen whereon
one's big intestine snakes sedately by,
its segments marked by tidy annular
construction-seams as in a prefab tunnel
slapped up by the mayor's son-in-law.
A sudden wash of sparkling liquid shines
in the inserted light, and hairpin turns
loom far ahead and soon are vaulted past
impalpably; we float, we fall, we veer
in these soft, pliant passages spelunked
by everything one eats.
                                   Then all goes dark,
as God intended it whenever He
sealed shut in Adam's abdomen
life's slimy, twisting, smelly miracle.
The bridegroom's voice, below the edge of sight
like buried treasure, announces,
"Perfect. Not a polyp.  See you in
five years." Five years? The funhouse may have folded.

Many people often assume that poetry is about delicate subjects: love, nature, beauty, philosophy, refined topics approached in a professional manner.  Well now, let's do away with that assumption, yes?  John Updike gives us a highly "intimate" view up his ass, for lack of better word, with great humor and unfortunately juicy details.  Besides helping dispel the popular myth that poetry can only broach certain topics, the poem is slightly morbid and delightfully funny.  Though I am too young to relate to the experience of having a colonoscopy, I can appreciate the absurdities and silly indignities of medical procedures.

The opening exclamation, "Talk about intimacy!" sets the tone of the poem.  Updike is prepared to go into details that maybe you'd rather not hear (his diarrhea, the way the intestines glisten and snake, that "smelly miracle"), and even though he'd "almost rather not" he's going to anyways!  From the liquid purge to the doctor (freshly tanned from a vacation away from people's buttholes), no detail is spared.

Updike goes on to describe a bottom clenching scene: in a gown, on one's side, with little dignity, watching the TV to watch "one's big intestine snake sedately by."  I particularly like the line, "we float, we fall, we veer in these soft, pliant passages spelunked by everything one eats."  Updike is become observer to his own insides, that hallway trod by all the food he's ever eaten.  It's a bizarre thought, and quite gross, but charming and funny nonetheless.

The ending, where Updike thinks that the abdomen maybe should have always stayed private, "as God intended it whenever He sealed shut in Adam's abdomen life's slimy, twisting, smelly miracle," contains a note of rueful humor, a brief reflection on mortality.  With his bridegroom doctor mentioning how pristine his colon's interior is, he says "See you in five years."  Updike wonders if he'll have that long.  "The funhouse may have folded" he says, meaning, "If I live that long!"  Somewhat fittingly, this poem was published in 2006.  Updike himself passed away in 2009, presumably still with a spotless colon.


  1. Signs and signage – road signs, movie marquees, newspaper headlines real and imaginary, municipal signs, electronic message boards, storefronts, etc. – function as important indicators of the shifts, changes, and developments in Angstrom’s consciousness as he grows older throughout the decades chronicled in Updike’s ‘Rabbit’ series. Perhaps I should say Angstrom’s awareness of the signs, or, to be a bit more accurate, Updike’s descriptions of Angstrom’s awareness of the signs, rather than the signs themselves.

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