Diagnostic Error

An Ekphrastic Poem for “Blue Bowl” by Liz Magee

Marble bust goes to the emergency room
complaining of chest pain, loss of sensation 
in arms, lack of facial control (webMD warns
that this is indicative of stroke), vertical rigidity 
consistent with intracranial hypertension—
the intake physician diagnoses the 
stony-faced mistress with blunt trauma 
to the outer extremities; further analysis of injury 
finds evidence of emotional distress consistent 
with watching bits of herself chip away, bit by 
bit, until all that remains is an expressionless maiden
whom the artist, a true Renaissance man, 
had insisted was intended to smile. 

The first step to the recommended course of treatment
entails mirror therapy, reflecting the empty spaces 
where our damsel’s arms would be with the intention
that it may assist with her underlying Phantom Limb
presentation, although the mirrors capture nothing more
than her crumbling around the edges under gravity’s 
relentless desire to minimize her existence. The surgical team
begins packing salt into her wounds in hopes that it might
slow the hairline fractures in her foundation from drifting,
but only the observers in the OR gallery are able to 
acknowledge the beautiful storm of their irony, 
drinking in their anatomically bereft muse 
whose figure has been reduced to mere fractals 
of what she was upon intake.

Patient discharged against medical advice
into the custody of her own better judgement
and has not been seen since.

Maia Joy

What is the significance of this work to you?

This piece is actually the first ekphrastic piece I’ve written in nearly five years. My first work playing with ekphrastic writing was a workshop my freshman year of high school, during which we wrote vignettes from photographs. Although I loved the experience, I never attempted to write a poem from an image until I found Magee’s painting last summer, which produced “Diagnostic Error.” The piece was a lot of fun to write because of this — it felt like coming home to my roots as a writer, back in Mrs. Mastrangelo’s classroom when I was 14.

What is the significance of the form you chose for this work?

I absolutely love playing with form in general, but there’s something so intimate about ekphrastic writing that strikes me personally. Ekphrastic work, to me, is a conversation between two creators who otherwise might not be able to communicate, using their respective mediums as a translator. As I mentioned before, I haven’t written much ekphrastic work since I was in high school, so it’s especially interesting to me to see not only how my writing has grown, but also how my world perspective and perception of an image has changed. 

What was your process for creating this work?

Creating a story from a piece of artwork is actually my first language as a writer, in many ways. Not only was it the first form I experimented with in high school, but my late grandfather was a wonderful painter, and I spent countless hours growing up looking at his work. I always tried to imagine the stories behind his paintings — where the dolphins were going, who planted the flowers in the garden, what he and my grandmother were talking about as they wandered through Boston Common. This piece, as a result, came somewhat intuitively: I noticed the cracked bust, wondered what happened to get her there, and eventually, what her medical diagnosis would be. 

Maia Joy is a queer biracial poet and musician from Boston, MA. A two-time Silver Key recipient from the Massachusetts Scholastic Art and Writing Awards, she is currently studying music and creative writing at the University of Maryland, College Park, where she is a member of the Jimenez-Porter Writers' House. Some of her work can be found in Star 82 Review and JFA Human Rights Journal, as well as on her social media @maiajoyspeaks, and her website, maiajoyspeaks.wixsite.com/website.

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