Bára Hladík, 136 pgs, Metatron Press, metatron.press, $18
Reading can be a way of better understanding each other; a way to put yourself, in some small way, in someone else’s shoes.
In Bára Hladík’s cross-genre debut, New Infinity, the reader steps into the everyday of a nameless woman living and dreaming with autoimmune disease, specifically ankylosing spondylitis. Her body is pulsing with snakes, she explains to an unbelieving doctor: “There are ten snakes in my hips, thirteen in my spine, four in my ankles, two in each knuckle on my hands. In the morning, there are thirty-two snakes in my neck and twenty-five in each elbow.”
The reader is invited to witness as the woman grapples with the physical and philosophical implications of autoimmune disease. A series of glimpses over a long period of time lay out a tangled web of closing doors and missed connections. Trouble getting a sick note from the doctor leads to trouble at work, which leads to trouble finding a place to stay. As she struggles to find access to care and language for what she is experiencing, it is made clear that late-stage capitalism has little patience for bodies that don’t perform according to ever-accelerating productivity standards.
Slipping between surrealist stories and meditative poetics, Hladík’s writing is honest, insightful, and anchored by a resilient wit. The book is playful with form and experimental in sections with many of the poems coming to life by cutting up medical literature, collecting the cut-ups into a special wine glass, then drawing them in a divinatory reading.
For readers who live with chronic pain stepping into the book, I can imagine how good it will be to feel seen. For readers who do not experience chronic pain, New Infinity is a generous pedagogy that is sure to nourish an emergence of empathy and understanding.