In Silent Anatomies, Monica Ong investigates cultural silences that shape the medical-emotional landscape of family diaspora, extending from China to the Philippines and North America. Her collection of image-poems juxtaposes diagram and diary, bearing witness to underrepresented histories of the body. Created as an assemblage of poetry, archive, and medical ephemera, it unpacks silence not only as the absence of language, but also as historical erasure, the loss of cultural memory, reconstructed truths, and ghosted identities.
Writing in the voice of Medica, a daughter and witness, Ong questions the social hierarchies and gender roles of her upbringing, particularly their impact on women’s health-seeking habits across generations. X-ray scans and anatomical drawings are rewritten to map identity and elegy, taking us to emotional landscapes in otherwise clinical spaces. Another series of apothecary bottles seeks to remedy anxieties about gender, race, and even mental illness, drawing from a fusion of multicultural folklore and belief. With this experimental debut, Ong invites readers into her complex lineage, much of it fading, with the remains collected here as documentation of nomadic heritage, resilience, and quiet devotion.
Praise for Silent Anatomies
This is one of the most unique poetry collections. It's a kind of graphic poetry book, but that's not exactly it either. Poetry unfurls within, outside and through images. The images are stark representations that include bottles that have been excavated from a disappeared age, contemporary ultrasound images of a fetus, family photographs and charts. They establish stark bridges between ancestor and descendant time and presence.
This collection is highly experimental and exciting.
In her sardonic, thus melancholic, Silent Anatomies, Monica Ong brilliantly skews the marking of surfaces.
Writing—yes—but also defacement / effacement, surgical incision, racism. With text, photography, collage, and illustration, she maps the twisting way of familial shame; dissects metaphor; and hawks (and hocks) “Ancient Chinese Secrets” as medicinal cakewalks (who’s selling what to whom?). Slippery. Ong warns us that “numbers/wet us/with the/illusion of/control” and then laces her fleet, inventive poems with digits re-figuring found medical diagrams into lyric structures, glossing an invisible text, and measuring un-lived lives. See? Slippery. You may not believe your eyes or ears, but read this astonishing debut, and you’ll believe Ong's.
If you combined Marilyn Chin’s audacious underminings of history and gender with W.G. Sebald’s image-gathering forays into memory and loss, you would get Silent Anatomies. In lush visual assemblages and poems that are ironic and moving, Monica Ong delves into the often-silent selves that every self carries. In Ong’s case, these selves include the figures of her Chinese and Filipino backgrounds, the ghosts and demons of familial and cultural history, and the present American self grappling with race and identity. “There is a way to cultivate birds from torn things,” Ong claims in one poem. And, on the evidence of Silent Anatomies, nothing could be truer.