Review: “Now Do You Know Where You Are”, by Dana Levin

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“Now Do You Know Where You Are” documents Levin’s various attempts to find a way out of his literary PTSD. She tries writing exercises; she tries yoga; she tries to visit Dred Scott’s grave – with mixed results. It is therefore quite exhilarating when, towards the end of the book, the poetess finds her true muse in the most unlikely places, on the table of a chiropractor:

Jensen cracked my recalcitrant neck and I felt, at last, that I was fully faced with the unpredictable future.

More shaman than chiropractor, Jensen fills his office with “the spiritual figures you’d find in any neo-pagan American home,” Levin observes wryly, “of which there were so many in Santa Fe, including mine.” . His work table resembles a wrestling mat or a lovers’ bed, a site of physical intensity and intimacy:

He mumbled in tongues when he worked on me. It was not a language that I could recognize. I never asked about it. …

Sometimes he dug a finger into the hollow of my deepest scar.

He held me. …

Jensen pressed my collarbones hard on either side of my neck as I cried—

He said, Can you let yourself be completely rewired—

He said, that’s what the earth does, we have to prepare—

I would like Jensen’s contact information. What this caregiver unlocks, beyond musculoskeletal misalignments, is something from before the Trump administration — and memory itself. “Today I realize that I never watched the real biological thing that happened to me,” Levin wrote after one session. “So I googled it. The results are overwhelming.”

The “real biological thing,” we learn, is primordial trauma. Rejected by her mother’s immune system in uteroLevin was “pushed into the light” prematurely, bloodless by a full blood transfusion, surgically incised “from sternum to pelvis”, her gangrenous ileum removed, to endure the first two months of her life in a hospital incubator, colostomy bag attached to her newborn body.

“Maybe it was just the healing,” she mused on Jensen’s table several years later, “outside the portholes, the gloved hands, and the glass house I’d been dropped into, after that a knife wounded me so that I could live.” Its narrow route inward is through the Trump presidency in an epiphanic realm where birth resembles death, healing from violence and trauma care.

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