cover of book

Radium Girl
by Celeste Lipkes
University of Wisconsin Press, 2023
Paper: 978-0-299-34174-9
Library of Congress Classification PS3612.I6356R33 2023
Dewey Decimal Classification 811.6

The poems in Radium Girl hold dual citizenship in the land of the sick and the kingdom of the well. The point where illusion ends and reality begins is never clear, as Celeste Lipkes evokes saints, magicians, scientists, and caregivers in the process of surviving both medical illness and medical training. Slippery metaphors of rabbits in hats, doves in cages, and elaborate escapes explore the inhabitation of a female body as a kind of powerful and violent performance—where the magician’s trick of cutting a woman in half is never as far away as we’d like. 

With humor (“When the doctor says, ‘We found something,’ / I don’t say: ‘no shit’ or ‘oh thank God, / I’ve been looking for that sweater everywhere,’”) and heartbreak (“Every evening I count the dwindling brass coins / of my patient’s platelets while his wife ices / cups of ginger ale he will never drink”), Lipkes reminds us what it means to feel human, to feel afraid, to feel hopeful, to feel.
I am the magician, even,
some nights alone,
finding inside the darkness
a small, trembling thing
I won’t acknowledge as my own. 
This is someone else’s rabbit, 
I say, and the silence nods back. 
—Excerpt from “Rabbit”

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