A collection of many forms ranging from epistolary to essay—a knotted body of text talking in the language of pain—queer and trans mixed Arab poet Eli Tareq El Bechelany-Lynch’s debut poetry collection knot body is a playful, curious, and incisive call to return to the body that explores, among other things, the invisible and (trans)gendered aspects of chronic pain.
El Bechelany-Lynch’s work is deeply relational, evinced by the recurring address to “friends, lovers, and in-betweens,” by the ongoing dialogue they maintain with a number of important queer, disabled, and racialized writers, and, of course, in the curiosity with which they approach their own pain.
The concept of “luxury” (defined, in contrast, as a state of great comfort) surfaces several times in knot body and is mirrored on consecutive pages – “I roll around a Lindt dark chocolate in my mouth and feel luxurious” / “When was the last time you had the luxury of forgetting about your body?” Luxury figures as the presence of pleasure in one case and as the absence of discomfort in another. In the context of widespread, chronic pain, this dichotomy of pleasure and pain blurs. When one is always in pain, there is an inevitable concurrence of the two, so that one must get familiar with the pain, learn how to dialogue with it, a constant companion.
In “Betsy,” for instance, a muscle knot lodged in the shoulder is personified as “a big bowling ball dyke,” “a style icon in her own right.” Interested in their own pain, El Bechelany-Lynch wonders if “maybe she’s excited to meet me, maybe she wants a new friend…my stubborn knots are trying to talk / but it’s a language I don’t understand.” This exchange ends in surrender; Betsy is unyielding and “won’t move until she knows where she’s going / when I massage her I don’t know where to tell her to go / so she stays…”
Sense of place is an important quality of this collection, both the broad (geographically, culturally) and the specific (where is the body as it writes in the room?). El Bechelany-Lynch’s poetry feels distinctly “queer Montreal”—“I walk around Parc Ex and the sun touches the buildings quietly with its evening softness”—and distinctly Lebanese—“stairs I used to run up as a kid, making me huff and puff & the roads in lebanon have sidewalks that turn into streets & the roads in lebanon have two lanes that turn into one.” In both cases, these cultural identities are expressed through the body’s transit through space.
The place of the trans body in cultural and scientific representation also features here, as knot body critiques the cisnormative medical complex that consistently fails trans people: “We’re not just looking to be seen on TV, we are looking for our meds to be available and covered, and we are looking to be believed” – which is to say: what is trans cultural visibility without acknowledgement, treatment, and cure for trans pain? And how to arrive at a cure without understanding that pain? Inspired by Bessel van der Kolk’s work on the somatics of trauma, El Bechelany-Lynch asks: “Am I a reliable source if the ache of my body tells me a story truer than any I’ve read?” This question of “reliability” characterizes many experiences of trauma, and it also reads as distinctly trans: “source” as place of departure, from which transition begins.
In these and other ways too impossible to encapsulate in this small space, knot body is a deeply poignant work about how, why, and where pain moves through the body and who gets to talk about it. It is also about pleasure (in queer desire and kinship, in gender-affirming hormones) and longing (for justice, for recognition, for answers).
ARC HITS THE HEART HARD.