(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.
When I lose you,
will you remember the leaves
of my brown name?
Not like an oak, which clings
snow after snow
but like the poplar
spilling her yellow dress
to the insistent fingertips of fall
The mother of grief
is a kind forgetting
and I tell you now
that I will forget everything
I will forget even you, beloved
like a leaf stilled in limestone
who would have thought
we could weigh so little?
Is it only two years the little cat’s dead now?
not in an innocent’s dream
but at my door, so real
I can feel her fur in my tears.
Whoever called the injections
by which we kill our animals “sleep”
had no conscience.
Euphemisms hide facts
but they do not change them, for surely
if my brain believed there was good in her death,
Eemie would not reappear like Banquo’s ghost,
reproaching with her presence
telling me truths I already know:
Even cats can die of loneliness
and she had had enough of being left to fend for herself.
Of course, there was food and water,
but after my father’s death,
she gave up waiting for some density of me
to return, to connect.
Then she gave up wanting me or food.
And when her liver failed
it was too late for anyone’s love to save her.
But what of her last look-around at the stainless world?
How could I think it curiosity,
that sudden raised head,
when it was only a reflex to euthanasia?
How could I not understand such plain table truth?
I asked the vet how long it would take.
“She’s already gone,” the vet said.
Last line inspired by Helen Vendler
who may be sitting as I am
in a green recliner with a cup of tea
staring out through the porch
to a darkened streetlamp outside the diner,
with a book in her lap, mine, I hope
the only one I feel I should have to mention
if I mention a book in a poem I write;
to the reader, the nitpicker, the one
who may be wondering why
on p. 47 there are two ands, one
right after another, and whose fault that is;
and to the reader, who may be tired
after a long ride home on the bus
after dark and a meal not worth mentioning
who picks up my book but finds his eyes
closing before he has opened the cover,
I say: Forgive me
I am only a writer sitting in a green recliner
with a cup of tea, I can’t explain
those two ands or the mysterious
streetlamp or warm the feet of a tired
reader in his bed. I can only put music on
and tell him stories to make movies
turn in his head, to let him wake
with the sudden understanding that poetry
may be all it takes to make a life—
well, my life at any rate, and maybe his,
and maybe the nitpicker’s and yours, too,
staring through the porch to the streetlamp
where what happens so mysteriously is poetry—
and the whole night is wrapped
in the words spoken by two strangers
meeting there, or not spoken, which is poetry too,
and all of us who listen are waiting
with thanks to Susan Danberg, OD
In vision therapy, she says to think
of the eyes as if on string:
your mind must haul them together
hand over hand to see a round world.
Can you make red and green
become one color,
without losing fall or spring?
To see straight,
you must go crooked
cross your eyes a little,
and look into the corners of the world,
see what is hidden there:
sometimes a face
will float up in the emptiness.
Before the mind’s eyes
can see as one,
your right finger must become two
and move as two and feel as two
though it is still only one finger.
Soon you will understand
the secret: how space, embodied,
loves all that it touches.
Yes, a hand reaching out
is a thing of beauty, yes.
Have you seen the trees
for the forest, the bright ones in front
and those in the dark farther on?
They whisper: there is no negative space,
only a shapely void– delicate
as a squash or a pale Arctic lemming.
The full bowl of day spills
Let your eyes fill
with all that is left behind,
adoring everything hollow.
*published in www.collectivedreamartsmag.com in slightly different form, but thank you very much Kayla Bowen!
And now I highly recommend that if you want to see the two art pieces of mine that Kayla chose, as well as another poem, go on over to the website and sign up for a digital copy of the magazine. Also because there are some other wonderful pieces of work there too. I was amazed. Some of them moved me to tears…
Hey, we all dream, don’t we? And this is really a remarkable undertaking. Beautifully done both in art and writing (and I would say that whether or not my art and poems were represented…).
Even the first time, surrender was not hard,
though the grownups and mothers
with their drinks and swizzle sticks
undoubtedly thought it so when you volunteered
your only present that 10th Christmas
to a younger child who wouldn’t understand
being giftless at the tail end of a line to Santa,
nor your inherent sin in being born.
Such generosity should have stayed
between your concept-of-God and you,
but grownup admiration (you could not hope
to make your act unpublic) sullied the soap
of any generosity’s power to cleanse you.
Other atonements followed, only one
almost perfect, being perfectly anonymous
spoiled by an accomplice’s later telling.
Perfection? You never made that grade,
your terrible love for God demanding all life
from your life. No one told you, “Live a lot,”
not in words that made it matter, though
they doubtless counseled, “Live a little.”
You were always in school to be perfect,
never knowing that life is a classroom
where one learns to love flaws
by throwing bad pots, to shatter
them with careful hammer,
assembling beauty from broken things.
I do not believe I posted this poem here before. I may have but I doubt it as I was going to publish it in a print journal. Instead, I never sent it out. So instead I choose to “sacrifice” it here. (meaning: If i publish it online here I cannot do so in a print journal…so this is for you, folks!)
I am going to tell you about the child I was when I was very small, as small as I can remember. The first thing I remember about myself as a self, was…well, what do I remember? This is hard. For one thing, while I am down to only 5mg of Abilify, I still take 160mg of Geodon, but more important I still take 200mg of Topamax, an anticonvulsant that has known adverse effects on memory and cognition. Whether it actually interferes with what I can recall from childhood or not, I could not say…Perhaps ECT did that, 16 plus 5 sessions of ECT could have done a number on my brain, especially as I had active neurological Lyme disease at the time. The Lyme-literate neurologist advised strongly against ECT, but the hospital psychiatrist forced me, at least through the last 8, after I refused to go back, by getting a court order and drugging me on so much Thorazine I had no will.
Ah, but “They,” the faceless They of Authority, They say that ECT affects only short-term memory. Well, then, I guess just being 60 years old and having gone through trauma after trauma in the present decade alone surely could have wiped out memories from a half century ago and before. Whatever is the case, I must now scour my brain to recall what I thought I could recall easily.
Marjorie M, an old friend of my father’s, related a significant story recently — about me at age 6. Given our bedroom when she stayed with our family to recuperate from surgery, while my twin sister and I camped out somewhere else in the house, Marjorie was relaxing in my twin bed, alone, when she was surprised by my little face in the doorway. “Hi, Mrs M,” she tells me I said. “Why, hello, Pammy. How are you?” I looked at her with concern. “Are you all right, Mrs M? Are you lonely? Do you need anything?” (or something to that effect..) I am astonished that even at age 6 I knew I needed to “do this,” although I think that my mother, who disliked Marjorie intensely, was probably ignoring her and I suspect knew it even then. But Marjorie says she fell in love with me at that moment. She certainly never forgot the incident. Bless her heart…
I forgot it, likely I never knew or understood its impact. Given that I was six, I had already made the decision the year before, when Martha was born and I was five years old, that since I would never have the older sister of my own dreams, I would instead have to be the older sister I dreamed about for Martha. I made myself the promise to Martha, the day she was brought home from the hospital, that I would do everything in my power to be in Martha’s older sister the OS I would have wanted.
In all our childhood photos, until the year I turned 14 and stopped permitting photos to be taken, you see two things: I am almost always featured next to Martha, with my arms around her or somehow touching her, protective of her, and my twin sister is with the dog or otherwise occupied. Always. You might not be able to tell which twin is which from our facial features, but you can tell us apart from that. One of us is with Martha, and you know I am that twin for certain.
It is the greatest loss to me, the worst thing, the — I can only say this: I am not a quitter, but I was unable to complete that most important of assignments because of what happened to me in high school, whatever you want to call it. I either became ill, or troubled or had too many problems…whatever it was, I simply could not function well enough to do all that I promised myself (and Martha) I would do for her. I could not BE the person I needed to be, the functioning adequate teenager, in a good enough way to be a good enough older sister to her.
For instance, just take the older sister/younger sister Q and A that ought to have taken place but never did after I was 14. My own menstual periods took me by brutal surprise. In addition, I never did learn “the facts of life” (ie sex) as we called it in those days, not for real, not so I understood them, until after college. I vaguely knew the “birds and the bees” but not really, not so I understood the fundamental mechanics of sex at a time when most teens were experimenting with relationships for real. (Not me… I went to an all-girls high school and even though it was not necessarily true for the other students, for me, sex was never on my mind, I never understood the urge or the drive, not then and frankly not ever…) Given those facts, you can see that the OS/YS tête-a-têtes about sex and dating etc just were not going to happen. I didn’t know enough, one, and two, even if I had, I was unprepared to talk about anything so intimate with anyone.
As it turned out, though, Martha had plenty of friends and soon clearly found people to talk to when I could not. Thank heavens, because if the roles had been reversed, she could have taught me plenty! Only they could not be reversed, because I was the OS and she was the YS and things had to stay that way… I think to this day, though she doesn’t say it in so many words, she misses, if not resents, losing the OS, the me she once had…She misses surely the OS promise she knew I made to her from the outset.
Oh, Martha knows it wasn’t my fault. Life is life and shit happens. But she misses me, the Pam that never quite panned out because of everything that “happened” after I turned 14, 15, 16 and then it went on and on and on…She reminded me recently that even before I was taking any medication I told her that life was a minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day struggle just to survive…and I was only 24 or 26 or…This horrified her. To this day she can scarcely bare to recall my telling her. Or of seeing me catatonic in the State Hospital. She left crying and I think could not bear to visit again for years…
We create our reality, people tell me. Our thoughts are very powerful…If so, I created from a very young age, a very harsh reality, one where in cahoots with a punitive God, I had learned over the years I had to be selfless to the point of self-obliteration, as well as nearly mute. But not so mute as to be noticeable…because if you were noticed then you were not completely self-less. (I told you it was a harsh world…) I had to speak just enough so as to NOT be noticed, but never about me or my concerns. ONLY about others…and then listen to their problems ONLY. I had to be a pair of ears pinioned to the wall. Wear drab no-color colors, unnoticeable. Fade into the woodwork, but only in a way that was unremarkable…As soon as someone noticed that I was fading, it was evil! and I had to add just enough color to fade into the crowd anonymously yet again, self-lessly.
No wonder my handwriting almost disappeared into invisibility. (I would have willed my fingerprints away if I had been able to!) Can you imagine my mortification, and the self-mortification I had to practice when bank tellers noticed the minuscularity of my signature and made me sign checks a second time? They NOTICED my attempts to disappear, and in doing so, made me appear loud and big…which was bad. So the voices took it out on me, making demands that had to be answered and hidden in turn.
Why am I writing about these things? Because despite the pain it has caused me, I still believe in self-denial. I believe in self-lessly doing things for others, and in NOT being the center of our own universes ALL the time. I think a good bit of doing for and thinking about others in THEIR universes is good for the soul, so long as they do not abuse you. And I do not believe that others need to know everything good that we do. I do not think we need to broadcast every good deed on Facebook or to our friends so they know what good people we are! So what if it remains anonymous, or between God and you? Maybe even God doesn’t need to know it if you do something for someone else…and that someone else doesn’t need to know who did it either.
Live with the anonymity. You can do it. You can be self-less once in a while and not die. Your self is strong enough tolerate not telling the world everything you do for others…Trust me. You do not need kudos, confirmations or smiles for everything you do. You just need to know that someone else is better off because you did something or gave away something you could have used, but decided to give it to someone else instead. You sacrificed something. Not that you gave it away because you could not use it but because someone else needed it more than you did.
Try it, a little sacrificing especially in the United States is a good thing to learn. But make it real, don’t do it falsely. Giving up time or giving away something you don’t use or have any need for is no sacrifice. Sacrifice: from the Latin, sacer, “holy” plus facio, facere, “to make.” Something is only a sacrifice, something is only made holy, if it is a real loss and a real gift at the same time.
But still worth reading.
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