Poems start at around minute 9…If you need or want to skip over my reading of the essay. (!)
Poems start at around minute 9…If you need or want to skip over my reading of the essay. (!)
This poem is in my new book, LEARNING TO SEE IN THREE DIMENSIONS. Alas this final version did not get there as i had misplaced it and did not find it till after the publication date!
(pour ma jumelle)
Sometimes when you’ve spent hours rushing somewhere
and just as many hours rushing back
you ought to make yourself stop ten minutes from home
ten minutes short of where you think
you can put your feet up
finally, and get out at the road’s edge
and ask yourself where you are
going and where have you been and why
are you hurrying just to get it over with, or is there no point
to this day but in the ending of it?
Ten minutes, this pause
wrenched out of the rush by the roadside
getting the kinks out, lets you hear the sudden quiet
of your own thoughts
as the out-of-doors pours in and gives you pause.
What have you been doing all day
racing, rushing, wasting your time all day
for what, to get what over with?
Better to have rested more along the way,
to have seen, to have been, to have watched, listened
to have paid attention
than to have beeped and swerved so much
sped and sweated in bottlenecks
and cursed the traffic for what could neither be avoided
nor its fault, being its nature.
Where had you been all day
in your hurrying to get home, but on your way
along the only way there was: yours.
Oh, but you should have known better–
how all homes are but temporary shelters:
a roadside shack or leafy park bench,
a ramshackle timber lean-to —
each a place to rest as good as any mansion
ten minutes away. Ten mere minutes from home
the roadside beckoned with saffron mustard sprigs,
brave bouncing bet. But you had no time
to pay attention, so nearly home to rest and relax.
Oh, but you should have known better—
The day scattered like dry leaves
and ended without you.
Now you pay with the rest of your life.
SPIRO, Marian Wagner, 89, of Madison, CT and Amherst, MA died on June 18, 2017 at the Hospice of the Fisher Home after a lengthy illness. Marian was born in Fall River, MA on February 16, 1928 to Oliver and Carolyn Wagner. She was raised in Fall River during the Depression and graduated from BMC Durfee High School. She then earned a two-year degree from Vermont Junior College that enabled her to work as a lab technician. It was at a lab at Harvard Medical School that she met her husband Howard Spiro. They were married in 1951, made a home in New Haven, CT and quickly had four children: Pammy, Lynnie, Martha, and Philip. In the meantime, she returned to school, received her undergraduate degree and in 1970 began a twenty-year career as a renowned teacher of science and math at The Foote School in New Haven. She introduced computers to her students long before they ended up in their back pockets and once built a solar-heated oven to bake the Thanksgiving turkey. She helped to revive the school newspaper, which was later renamed the “SPI” in her honor. Her dogs were frequent guests in her classroom, and when she wasn’t helping to train her friends’ dogs or hosting canine pool parties in her backyard, Marian was taking her own retrievers to local hospitals or mental health facilities to hang out with patients. Throughout her life, she was known for expert woodworking skills, her intuitive ability at navigating a sailboat, her competitiveness on the tennis court or in a game of bridge or scrabble, her love of golden retrievers, her lasting friendships, and her deep devotion to her family. She never let the social conventions of her day block her dreams: she embarked on a lifetime avocation of woodworking despite being told it was not for girls, she became a teacher of science before most scientists would accept women as their peers, and she even made the phone call to Howard for a date that led to their eventual marriage. She will be sorely missed by her four children: Pamela Spiro Wagner, Carolyn Spiro Silvestri, Philip Spiro and Martha Spiro; her six grandchildren: Allison Spiro-Winn, Jeremy Spiro-Winn, Hannah Spiro, Claire Spiro, Oliver Spiro and Adriane Spiro; and her many friends and students. She follows the passing of her parents Oliver and Carolyn, her husband Howard of 61 years, her sister Barbara, and her brother Oliver. A memorial service will be scheduled at a later time. In lieu of flowers donations may be made to the Marian W. Spiro Fund for Science Enrichment at The Foote School in New Haven, CT or the Hospice of the Fisher Home in Amherst, MA.
The obituary above was written by my wonderful “cousin in law,” Jere Nash, who is Holly Wagner’s husband, my uncle’s daughter (who was my mother’s late brother, Oliver who died many years ago of malignant melanoma).
All that follows is my interpretation of things, as all observation is of course but in my case you have to understand that I speak largely as an outsider, not knowing very much since I was not “in” the family for so many years…
Although I lost many years with my mother as an adult, due to my father’s “exxing” me out of the family in anger and a profound lack of understanding of “mental illness” and what was going on for me at the time, I still remember her in my childhood, how when there were still trolleys in New Haven Connecticut (oh, how young I must have been then!) she would either bravely or completely nonchalantly wear jeans to go shopping downtown at Malleys or whatever the stores were there at the time. For anyone else this would have been extremely difficult, disregarding all the social mores of the 50s dictating that women had to wear skirts and heels and make-up to go out presentably in public. I do not know how my mom felt about it, only that she did it and did not seem to care what others thought. She cared only that she was more comfortable in pants, and low- heeled “girl scout” shoes, the same kind I wear to this day, and she saw no sense in getting all dressed up just to bring 2 very young children out to go on a stressful shopping expedition. As for that, my mother to my knowledge never wore more make-up in her life than a dash of lipstick, though I do remember her applying that with care every morning and blotting her red lips on a fold of toilet paper, thinking both how beautiful she looked (though she never in her life agreed with me or anyone else on this, even though when she was younger — when we lived in England — my friends thought she looked like a “movie star”) and how I never wanted to have to put “that stuff” on my own lips.
Unlike her children, who suffered from oily skin and troublesome largely untreated acne as adolescents, my mother’s bane of existence was her dry skin and its tendency to wrinkle so her one vanity, if you could call it that, was moisturizers and trying to deal with skin that aged earlier than she might have wished. She was also a outdoors lover, a sailor and a tennis player in the days well before the publicized benefits of sun screen, which may or may not have played a role in this (I am not completely convinced of the safety of sunscreens with their nano chemicals nonetheless)…Whatever is the case, it seemed true that her skin did show the effects of being out in the weather early on, but this to me only gave her face character and the true beauty of an older woman…though I know that as I was growing up it may have caused her more regret than I knew.
We are all of us subject to society’s images and social pressures, and my mother was not immune to these, no matter how iconoclastic and “her own person” she may have been in so many ways. For example, as a result of having been a self-described “chunky athletic tomboy with a tiny petite older sister” — and feeling rejected for this all her life, she fought a poor self-image, body hatred, and deep conflict on that account, such that I have always felt that in some sense while she loved food and eating, she also never took a single bite that she did not simultaneously regret and chide herself for. This was painfully obvious to us children, I think, at least it was to me, and it continued throughout her life. Even after nearly forty years of not seeing her, I would go out to lunch with her when she was in her 80s, and hear her criticize herself about what she was eating. How I wished she could simply enjoy food for once, without the concomitant agonies of needing to punish herself for it.
Maybe she got some peace at some point, perhaps dementia granted it to her, but at what a terrible price.
I think that for my mother, one of the sad consequences of being married to a man like my father was that she never felt that he took her intellect or her creativity seriously or even consequentially. True, he got her to go back to college and finish a four-year degree, and take up teaching, but he never truly treated her with the same esteem he granted an equal, and we all felt it and knew it, and what is more, she did too. No doubt this was largely behind all her words of abuse and rage in later years when she could scarcely speak to him civilly even when he had himself ceased to be abusive. It was hard to listen to her snark and scorn him, when he was trying his best…But by then it was much to late to undo the damage his lack of care and cold abusiveness had wrought for so many years beforehand. It seemed to me that she just could not forgive him, especially not for “changing” on her so unaccountably in his latter decades…
This is the rather in-expert poem I wrote for my mother’s birthday in 2007 about all that she gave us growing up…
You push the wood under the saw,
the sawdust scent is sharp and familiar.
First time in months, you’re in the woodshop;
at the end of the day, you’re sorry to stop.
It’s mid-February, the pale wintry light
has long ago left. You look up. It’s night
and you haven’t appeased yet your hands’ appetite,
their urge to create. I know as I write
that hunger of hands to handle and make,
your children all feel it, the pleasure, the ache.
You taught us love, gave us skills that you knew
copper enameling, pen and ink, too,
the weaving of baskets and papier maché
antiquing desks and working with clay,
sand casting, knitting (you couldn’t crochet).
You fired up a hunger that’s better than food
a hunger that drives us, the right attitude
to make things of beauty, for need and for use.
With paper pulp, wood, fabric, clay, we produce
unique objets d’art not entirely planned.
We make them with care and the love they demand
and when they are finished, we give them away.
(The joy’s in creating; they’re not meant to stay.).
You gave us the spirit, this need and the drive
this hunger, this feeling of being alive.
I don’t know if knowing, you planted the seed
but the plant it grew gives us all that we need.
(A mother like you is so rare you’re worth pay,
which conveniently rhymes with this:
My drawing of my mother, Marian Wagner Spiro, suffering from the effects of dementia, wearing the iPod and headphones I gave her. (from a photo taken by my sister, Martha, in the last weeks of mom’s life…)
There is so much to say, and so little that I find myself capable of saying at this time. The loss of one’s mother, no matter how fraught the relationship, is always incalculable, quite literally unable to be calculated. Because of the divorce from much of my family, included the extended network of cousins and so forth, imposed by my father for nearly forty years, I lost many years and many memories I might have made with my mother, and needless to say with the rest of my native family. However, because of this, along the way I learned the value of friendship, not just the emotional support and love from some one significant other, since I had none, but the kind of friendship about which it has been written: Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. I learned what true friends are, and that they can love a person and care about a person perhaps with deeper love and kinder regard even than one’s family of origin.
This is not to say that I do not love and care about my family, of course, but it is my friends to whom I dedicated my newest book of poems and art, my friends both old and new. And they know who they are, I am sure they do. Because I feel it and I know it.
But that much said, I loved my mother, and what is more, I know she loved me and would have wanted me to have these loving friends in my life, especially once she understood that having a nuclear family of my own was not in the picture for me. I do not believe that she cared about whether I ever became a doctor or even a successful poet or artist, but only that I found contentment and love in my life, somewhere, somehow, and that she would be proud of me now, not for my achievements but for all these wonderful friends whom I love and who I know love me in return ( and in return for nothing except being me).
I love you, Mom, and I wish you well on your journey, wherever that takes you…Be at peace and know that all is well.
I wrote this poem, or started it the night of my last visit to my mother, after weeks of not being able to put pen or pencil to paper. My younger sister, Martha and I had been splitting up the time and watch at the Hospice, though Martha had done the lion’s share of everything, living as it were just around the corner, while I needed a driver to get me first to Agawam and then to from Vermont to Amherst each day. In any event, just as I was finishing it, Martha called me with tears in her voice telling me that mom had passed away more suddenly than expected, no time to call me to come down to the hospice to be with her at the end.
In the snapshot I take, you are almost not there,
barely stitched to your body by broken breathing,
those strands of beads upon which none of us pray
to keep you here, still here, still here…
the seeming years of days and nights
of your going having frayed the long wick of your life
till it seems impossible your heart pulses and breath
still clings to the flesh that clings to your bones.
In the stillness like stopped breath,
as the clock duties our days, from your morphine remove,
you can’t know how we mark a terrible time
while we wait for what is to come,
the inexorable exit-gong sounding: It is done.
All the same, they say life starts over, Mother,
if there is ever any life on earth without you,
as if we believed this day would come, or any other,
as if anything without you can ever be the same.
Available at Amazon.com here (dont worry about the different covers, it is the same book!):
(altered and a tad rewritten to eliminate sexist language)
with humble apologies to Rudyard Kipling
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when neighbors doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with royalty—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all can count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
Your self’s true self in honest honor’s won.
PS if you want to see the original, you can easily google the poem and find it on line.
Living in a hospital is like living in an Ice Hotel
where all the appointments beneath the furs and fleece
are hard frozen to the floor
Like Ice Hotel staff, the nurses try their best
to be kind, to find compassion for those suffering
here on their sub-zero beds.
But really, they have their warm lives elsewhere.
The psychiatrist knows better. She visits briefly
once a day at the height of the sun, chewing her Vitamin D,
and encourages Hotel visitors to Happy Talk
and Life Skills. If she fails to ease their suffering
in any part, it is because she does not see it, blind
to the fact that the beds are frozen pallets that chill
to the bone. She sees only the furs and warm fleeces.
She cannot fathom why one would not rise and walk
under her cheerful ministrations after a few nights
spent on a banquette of ice. Only the aides
are savvy enough, being low-paid and long-working,
to bring in oil lanterns and hot water bottles.
The patients love them and when finally it comes time
to leave, strange how difficult it is to say good-bye
to even the hardest corner of this place.
luckily i no longer live in a hospital but in a little corner of paradise, in Brattleboro Vermont. And soon I will be writing you about my place. All week i had a headache, which was a beach that was decidely not Miami. But I stopped taking the Abilify on a whim, and wouldn’t you know, immediately the headache ceased. I cannot tell anyone this, because they will become up in arms at my stopping a “necessary medicatoin” but if I do not tell anyone, and things go just fine, won’t that be funny as hell? I think so. And that is precisely what happened when I stopped the Zyprexa, the last time. Everything was fine fine fine,. for six months, and never stopped being fine. I mean I did just as good off it as on it, and we never started it with any good being done, again.
But no negativity from me today. Instead I will leave you with the sunny face painting I did for a member of BRattleboro TIme Trade, in preparation for a papier mache sun we want to work on. Love to all of you!
Over the seasons of my sixties
no wonders spark in my visual brain.
But a reason why’s no wonder.
For so many years schooled
into naming everything
words and sounds categorize the world
and wordify my senses.
Precipice, for instance,
with its sliced peaks.
And acrid’s encaustic, that bite on my tongue.
somehow leaves me paler
and more livid than before.
But there are descents into being speechless
for reasons besides pathology.
Although these may not seem any reason
or even be
reason enough, to many,
who believe only talking out pain aloud
Sensible or senseless
I know when shutting up is preventive.
or at least is less insane
than trying to be heard
by those inured to hurting
or being hurtful
when they indeed would rather hurt me
than pay heed, having heard me.
But if silence as you claim
overspeaks the chattering air
why do you refuse
to hear all I cannot use
my voice to say.
Lori Carlson over at her WordPress blog, one of several, AS THE FATES WOULD HAVE IT, http://asthefateswouldhaveit.wordpress.com wrote this lovely passage about why she has to write:
“I enjoy reading poetry and prose that inspires me, that wrenches at my heart, and that puts me in the grip of Knowing — that silent moment when what someone else has written rings so true with you, that you are in complete awe. That is the way I write, or at the very least, I strive to write that way. And so I have made it my life’s goal to write poetry and short fiction, to give back to others the passion that fuels my soul.”
My response to Lori was this: “Passion pushes life to its purest pitch. A passionate enthusiasm is not pathological, as some might have us believe when we are caught up in its grip…Never believe them. Without passion, poetry is just a dim simulacrum of itself, veiled but without mystery, deaf not just to the world but to itself as well.”
Best wishes, Lori, and every one of you writers out there who might have been told to “cool it” or to stop dreaming and “get real.” Best wishes for all the dreams and all the passion your life can encompass, brim over with and then more! more! YES! MORE!
Dear R, you who have asked me,
via my Service Offer (“I write personal poems”),
to “create” you a poem, can’t know,
when my second late night email
fails to elicit a prompt response,
how my certainty of rejection hammers me
into old penances, and how I tinfoil walls
and barricades against my extruded poisons.
Then when your emails resume the next day
mentioning your little white house,
a she-owl who watches you with soulful eyes
and your growing “sense of despair”
I imagine a woman of mature years,
alone, though perhaps through choices
not always made freely. So to meet you
I navigate unfamiliar and unpaved roads
parking behind a half-built barn
and a muddy old green Subaru.
Younger than I expect, you’ve moved here
to escape precisely what we never discuss.
You reference only the need for peace of mind,
and a relief from startling triggers.
Nevertheless, I understand your need to know
that spirit-familiar, the barred she-owl, Strix varia,
roosting on a white pine bough
outside your window all winter,
less guardian than too starving to move away
or predate the small animals atop the ice layer
between her and proper voles held in safety beneath.
Only when deep-freeze breaks in early March
and a shadow swoops silently across your pane,
do you know who’s won the battle,
and cheer for a raptor’s kill that saves her life.
The world, after all, is all about killing or being eaten,
which is true even in the human world
where your neighbors stalk you with barking dogs,
and talk nights, beneath your bedroom window
of that woman next door, who is not like them,
with her window salad garden and that owl.
Fearful, blind, they believe that hoot owls
harbinger death. Instead you try to see
the way a mythical Owl might see,
through cold and black of night
for clarity, for lucency, for whatever it is
that warms the living embers
and rem-embers your mind to peace.
This next poem describes the present situation, which continues…with the following explanations.
In the Greek myth, Philomela is raped and has her tongue cut out by Tereus, the husband of her sister Procne. Rendered mute, Philomela weaves a tapestry detailing the crime to inform her sister, who, enraged, takes revenge on Tereus. At the end of the story, both Procne and Philomela are transformed into birds. In some versions of this story, Philomela turns into a female nightingale, while in others she becomes a swallow. However, neither of these birds can sing.
Jerry Mahoney and Charlie McCarthy are two famous American ventriloquists’ dummies
I haven’t spoken out loud for many weeks,
bullied by “voices” to a frightened into myself silence.
Still, what does “speechless” mean
in these days of text-to-speech software,
with its choice of Vikki or Samantha or Victoria voices,
especially when I’m possessed of a blog and writing fluency
enough to speak my mind to my heart’s content?
Even so, being mute is not a manner of speaking.
Yet I tell you I can talk. Nothing physical impedes
my tongue, or locks my lips
except my brain’s hallucinated snarls,
Jerry Mahoney and Charlie McCarthy thrown
into surrounding shadows
ordering up this stoppage, blockage, blockade.
Now, like Stevens’ fire-fangled bird at the end of the mind
feathered unlucky, tarred, locked in golden cage
my voice remains only a memento
I wanted to say, but could not get out,
I couldn’t get it out, I could not get it out…
This poem is afraid
because I am afraid.
This poem is always cold,
and shivering, making my teeth clatter
like cheap tin tableware
on a bare plate.
This poem wants to die,
and be rescued too late
to regret it.
This poem has been all its life scared,
and still is: scared, trembling
on the brink, trembling,
knowing the truth that lies
beyond the lies
told over and over,
though it has never been taken in.
This poem has a voice
small, smoke-rasped, hungry,
and it has much to say
about what really happened
when no one else was there
to stand to protest.
This time it wants to be heard.
This poem wants to be heard!
It will spit and curse and claw
out bejesus if it has to,
this poem means to be heard!
This poem will tattle-tale
sit back and smile smugly.
This poem will wring satisfaction’s neck
and revenge will taste like chocolate.
This poem is sad as water, poor as sand.
This poem wants to live well,
but it doesn’t know how.
© Pamela Spiro Wagner, 2009 (from WE MAD CLIMB SHAKY LADDERS, CavanKerry Press, Fort Lee, NJ)
I may have posted this before but it is especially relevant at the moment because i have been mute for more than 6 weeks now and do not know why it has lasted or what to do about it…
You nurses who, wanting a quiet shift, shackled me into four-point restraints: you ought to have known better: violence only begets more violence…
I came to you, broken —
speaking only splinters of syllables –
on fire to burn down
the house of my body,
for the meaning of my life
but I was not nice,
not nice, not nice, no,
I was not nice and quiet enough
for the balm of art supplies and human kindness.
Your uniforms ex-cruciated me, tying me
me naked to the four corners of a bed
so your eyes could flay me, the silent shame
gouging my brain to a darkness
years later still vacuumed blank.
Nurses, healers, thieves,
racked there, I lay helpless before you,
even as you raped what was left
of my human dignity.
So intent on getting satisfaction,
you violated my soul
with your smirks
and conspiratorial smiles.
My poor mother is suffering from dementia at 87 and it is very sad and difficult to watch her decline. I will write more if I can at some later time about it but for now I want just to post a poem I wrote for her years ago and then rewrote completely recently.
Over the years we have had some troubled times. Because my father disowned me for some thirty-five years, she had to make a choice between him and me, essentially, and the one she made was obvious. I was out of the house by then and I am not sure it ever really occurred to her to make any other choice, but who knows? I do not. In any event, I bear her no bad feelings for this, I do not think. Though had I been “her son” with schizophrenia i believe the outcome and her choices might well have been very different, as they always were when it came to my brother.
But that is water under the bridge. The choice was made and I was sacrificed. That said, perhaps it is a good thing, I dunno. If she had given up her life for me, I might never have developed any independence at all, or written the poems and books I have. I might never have discovered my art abilities. Who knows? No one knows, of course, what their “alternate futures” might have held. We can only work with what we have and the cards we are dealt. We can’t make others choose on our behalf. Much as we might wish them to.
I never wanted my mother to give up her life for me. I felt guilty enough, just for being the way I was. The worst thing in the world would have been for her to make any sacrifice for me at all. For anyone to have done so would have been damaging to me. So I am glad that everyone went on their way, because otherwise I would have had to kill myself in apology.
I could say much more but I am sleepy so without further fanfare, the poem:
I have not thought of you all day.
A March wind rattles the wires,
wishing you a belated happy birthday.
You are sixty, my grandfather ninety,
my younger sister thirty,
but if there is significance in that,
a syzygy, some conjunction in the heavens
I have yet to figure it out.
Your husband answers, my father,
aligned against me north-north,
between us implacable silence.
So we sidestep confidences,
suspecting he is listening in
until in the distance the line clicks
like a playing card in the spokes.
But even so, how carefully we speak,
expelling words of fragile allegiance
each of us pretending not to know
what the other is thinking.
Suddenly you confide, you feel old:
the baby is thirty, you don’t like
your new job, you miss teaching,
the exuberant children, their bright
and lazy charm. There is so much to do,
so little time. Before it is too late
you want to captain a boat to the Azores,
learn cabinet-making — you have the tools,
a lathe, a power saw, inherited from your deaf father
who never heard you speak
but built you a fabulous dollhouse
and taught you, at ten, to sink the eight ball.
Could I ever confide that I, too, feel old? At thirty-five
you had a husband, four children,
a career in the wings. Older by a decade, I rent
a single room and have no prospects
beyond the next day’s waking.
Instead I carefully quote Joseph Campbell’s
advice: follow your bliss.
And I remind you Aquarians always step
to a different drum’s thunder.
You like these clichés,
and laugh, repeating them, then you say
with a sudden spontaneous sincerity
that moves me how good it is to talk with me.
I think of all the times we have not spoken,
how at sixty it would be nice
to have a daughter to talk with
instead of friends wakened in the night,
reaching over husbands or wives,
to answer the phone, “Hello? Hello?”
their wary voices expecting
death or disaster.
You are tired, you say now,
you have an early appointment.
We promise each other a date for lunch.
But I will not call for a long time.
Or perhaps I will call the next day.
Before you hang up, you let slip
it’s your wedding anniversary, one
marked by some mundane substance —
stone, carbon, foil, rope.
Should I congratulate you, I wonder,
or console you? Finally, we say good-bye.
Across the wires I think I hear
your voice crack, but it could be the wind
or a bad connection.
Written months after my 4-week admission to the psychiatric unit, W-1, at New Britain General Hospital/ Hospital of Central Connecticut, in 2014 where I was “treated” and abused by Dr. Michael Edward Balkunas, MD
Nine days after your worst hospital stay ever
you are still wearing the shades
that protect others from you
though no one else believes they are in danger
Those staff however wrote you up
as “assaultive” and dangerous to self
and others. But they didn’t mean it the way
you do now and their description of your
behavior was neither accurate nor truthful
Often they lied, as liars do,
just for the sake of convenience.
Now you are a week away from meeting new “cousins”
who await your vacation in northeastern Vermont,
a place magically named the Kingdom
and the recuperation your mind-body badly needs.
Still unable to let go, you perseverate over
the half-nelson grip of sadistic guards
bent on eliciting pain.
What happened to the nurses’
their concern for “the dignity, worth,
and uniqueness of every individual”,
or their “primary commitment
to the patient?”
When the guards forcibly stripped
then four-pointed you to an bare mattress
they were just replaying their favorite rape
yanking each limb wide
to expose, degrade, humiliate.
Never mind the nurses’ vow to protect
the vulnerable. The official hands-off policy
protected only their own asses.
So how do Truth and Forgiveness Programs proceed
when so many refuse to acknowledge wrong?
The hospital broke every humane rule;
they only stopped short of murder
because you submitted,
nick of time. Yet they had the last word:
stuffing your screams
when they muted the intercom
and slammed the door between you
and the mandatory one-to-one observer.
No one ever is there to bear witness, is there?
That point has always been the point,
from Daddy to doctors.
and all the hairdressers and nurses in between.
They’ve made a religion of secrecy
and no one wants to know
what they don’t want to know.
Call it “our family’s business,”
call it “a private cut and shampoo,”
or just call it, discreetly, “treatment”–
but they can always do what they want to, to you. .
When they break you, they declare
you’re just “one of the family,”
no different from anyone else,
now that they’ve finally fixed you for good.
TO FORGIVE IS…
To begin and there is so much to forgive
for one, your parents, one and two,
out of whose dim haphazard coupling
you sprang forth roaring, indignantly alive.
For this, whatever else followed,
innocent and guilty, forgive them.
If it is day, forgive the sun its white radiance
blinding the eye;
forgive also the moon for dragging the tides,
for her secrets, her half heart of darkness;
whatever the season, forgive it its various assaults
— floods, gales, storms of ice —
and forgive its changing; for its vanishing act,
stealing what you love and what you hate,
indifferent, forgive time;
and likewise forgive its fickle consort, memory
which fades the photographs of all you can’t remember;
forgive forgetting, which is chaste and kinder
than you know; forgive your age and the age you were when happiness was afire in your blood
and joy sang hymns in the trees;
forgive, too, those trees, which have died;
and forgive death for taking them, inexorable as God; then forgive God His terrible grandeur, His unspeakable Name
forgive, too, the poor devil for a celestial falll no worse than your own.
When you have forgiven whatever is of earth, of sky, of water, whatever is named, whatever remains nameless
forgive, finally, your own sorry self, clothed in temporary flesh,
the breath and blood of you already dying.
Dying, forgiven, now you begin.
by Pamela Spiro Wagner in “We Mad Climb Shaky Ladders” (Cavakerry Press 2009) also featured in “Divided Minds: twin sisters and their Journey through schizophrenia.”
ON NOT SPEAKING
When I went temporarily mute at age sixty,
it sparked no visual wonders.
After decades schooled by dictionaries,
vocabulary categorized the world:
“precipice,” “acrid,” “blanch;”
words even defined my senses.
But one can fall into
speechlessness for reasons
though these may not seem reasonable
to people who believe that only talking things out
or about them makes sense.
Speaking or not, I knew
when silence was less insane
than trying to be heard
by those who would rather hurt me
than pay attention.
But if, as they say, silence is so eloquent,
why couldn’t anyone hear
what I so desperately didn’t say?
© Max Ehrmann 1927 ?
Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.
Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars;
Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be,
“Desiderata” defined means things wanted or needed. A partial version of the poem hangs on the wall of the place where I will be staying for a while and while the piece is well-known, and indeed I have seen it before, the painted version here caught my eye and moved me. For some reason, however, I suspected that this particular version was a quotation only in part, so I looked up the entire poem. What I found struck me to tears.
Well, let me explain.
There are important lines that are missing in the poem on the wall here (important to me):
“You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.”
Also this stanza is followed by the critical word, “Therefore…be at peace with God…” whereas on the wall, the “therefore” has been taken out. But what a difference it makes to keep it in.
The important thing to me in reading the poem in its entirety is that I do not feel I have a right to be here, do not feel I am in any sense “a child of the universe.” I feel instead that I have ruined the universe, and that if I had not been born the world would have been better off by far. That is one critical thing.
The other salient point the poet makes, which made me weep, was his belief, stated well before anyone thought about global warming, but presumably he would have said the same thing even so, if he truly had the courage of his convictions that “no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.”
TO the contrary, it feels to me completely tragic that the world should be ending in our geologic time, that we should be living in the end days, not something that was meant to be or unfolding as it should. ( I say “end times” without any religious intention to those words, only the sense that we have brought about the end of the living world upon ourselves by over-consumption and massively pig-headed over-population.) Of course, the “universe” is much bigger than humanity or even generally speaking the living blue planet called earth, but as a human living on it I have no other way to feel or see but from my puny human perspective. To lose Life on earth, all or most of it at any rate, to global warming feels utterly devastating. Who or what gave humans the right to destroy what might have been the tiniest fraction of a chance at existence, life itself, to throw it all away through the over-consumption of fossil fuel (in the brief span of 2 centuries) and making too many babies, and eating too many cows?
It sickens me that I am so much at fault, that I ought not to have existed at all, that much of this could have been avoided by my never having been born. But it also sickens me that as a species, humans have collectively, since my birth, ignored all the consequences of our “eating the earth” and now we have no earth for our children’s children to inherit…
Vis a vis another line in the poem, I cannot “be gentle” with myself. I do not deserve gentleness! That way disaster lies!
“With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world.” Maybe… But the world is fast losing its beauty and sometimes i think it is only beautiful to those wealthy enough to be able to willfully blind themselves to all the ugliness and injustice around them: blinding themselves to the dying oceans and all the starving homeless people…to name just two out of many.
Nevertheless, the poem is still a miracle of inspiration and remains so after nearly a century. Though not really new to me, it newly struck a chord, though I am sure that people in the know would call it an “old chestnut” of a poem, nearly hackneyed and familiar as that other O.C., “Invictus”by William Ernest Henley, though I suggest Desiderata has always been far better written than Henley’s “chest-beater” of a poem (for all that it is a favorite of many thousands..).
HOLY SHITE AND URINE TEAM
Her cool wordless RN face expresses nothing
as she scoops the ice cream turd and quickly disinfects.
But I think for her, thinking, knowing this:
“Asshole, shithead, you think
your shit don’t stink…” While I have no working sense of smell,
I know I’m an unofficial pain in the ass here
because no one can be officially PIA
on a psychiatric ward, not even I, the wild shit smearer
who knows no disgust first hand
for not smelling it.
What I know well and sadly is
the consequences of disgusting others,
the distancing, the shunning,
how killing the ultimate loneliness is, double-locked away
in a soundproof seclusion cell.
Shackled naked into leather 4-point restraints, I shriek my soul away,
from the bottom of my lungs for 20 minutes straight.
The illegally silenced intercom remains dumb.
Even the 1:1 monitor positioned behind the door.
peering lazily through the judas-eye of a small plexi-port-hole,
doesn’t really pay attention. Why bother, the shit smearer
gets what she deserves.
Oh, I know I disgust them, what with my out of control turd throwing
and my illegible scribbling with my feces on the wall
but they refuse me so much as a marker and board,
and they won’t sit down to listen when I speak.
Mute for 16 days, I will be heard now, one way or another.
But this is no way to think, and i think without thinking, just do with do do, mindlessly, enraged by trauma.
I foul myself because no one cares,
because their disgust is threaded, even so heat-felted with hatred
they have long forgotten I’m just another patient
with problems bigger than the shit I fling.
Instead, cucumber skinned nurses sneer their disgust,
Bad dog! Bad, bad dog!
But I know dog is just God spelled backwards.
And God created the living world
from dust and mud and excrement.
I am no god, I am Live backwards to Evil:
I create chaos from utter chaos within.
There are always turds to form and fling.
And in the end all they can do is kill me.
Fuck me! Do me a favor you turds, kill me!
But first, you have to silence the hate on your faces,
clean the smeared walls,
and pretend I am nothing to you.
When you came in to take me down,
restrain me for any excuse, even for just wanting a blanket.
you had to breath in my shit, that fear,
and knew what it could do to you.
You’d heard the stories, deadly E-coli, C diff.
Something in me might kill you,
I don’t know what scared you more, my wildyelling
or my excrement.
That was always the struggle. Shit stinks. I stank.
You hated me for my smell. You feared me for what I did.
I know your fear. It was: what would happen if you
lost control of yourself.
Would you, control freaks,
too dance naked in dung?
I haven’t spoken out loud in several weeks
bullied into a frightened by myself silence.
Though what does “speechless” mean
in these days of text-to-speech software,
with its choice of Vikki or Samantha or Victoria voices,
Or when I’m possessed of a blogging platform
and writing fluency enough to speak my mind to my heart’s content?
Still, being mute is not a manner of speaking.
i tell you I could speak, I can talk. Nothing physical impedes
my tongue, or locks my lips,
except my brain’s hallucinated snarls, like Jerry Mahoney
and Charlie McCarthy thrown into surrounding shadows
ordering up this stoppage, blockage, blockade.
Now, like that fire-fangled bird at the end of the mind
feathered unlucky, tarred, locked in golden cage
my voice remains only a memento
of everything that I wanted
to say, but couldn’t get out, I couldn’t get out, I couldn’t get it out…
*In the Greek myth, Philomela is raped and has her tongue cut out by Tereus, the husband of her sister Procne. Rendered mute, Philomela weaves a tapestry detailing the crime to inform her sister, who, enraged, takes revenge on Tereus. At the end of the story, both Procne and Philomela are transformed into birds. Some versions have Philomela become a nightingale, the female of which does not sing. In other versions she becomes a swallow, which is a non-singing bird.
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