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"Cavewomen" by Suzanne Kamata

"Brush Strokes" by Barbara Ellen Sorensen

"Roselli's Remains" by Roger Pincus
Number 69
Summer/Fall 2014
A New Freedom 4

Gail Willmott
Balancing Act 32
Sandy Palmer
Cavewomen 6
Suzanne Kamata
The Intersection of Two Lives: 60
A Woman and a Woodland Snail
Gail Willmott
Rosellis Remains 20

Roger Pincus
The Memory of Elephants 29

Leslie Patterson
Paolos Balcony 38

Lawrence L. Emmert
Brother 46

Beth Baker
Pains Wake 10

Ashley Caveda
Braced for Freedom 27

J.D. Chaney
Brush Strokes 12

Barbara Ellen Sorensen
Escape to Dharamsala 52

John Norris
April Eveing at Lake Ponsitte 50
Sheryl L. Nelms
Bradley G. Michael, Purple Flowers, 2011, photography and image manipulation
using Photoshop, 11 x 17
Speed On 57
Clare E. Willson
Art 51

Nicole Jankowski
Panic Attack in Neonatal ICU 58

Jessica Goody
Sunlight Beckoned 45

Andrea Rosenhaft
Thirteen 18

Tony Gloeggler
Finished Symphony 17

Bob Johnston
How Many Hail Marys? 19
Some Bells Should Ring 51

Kelly Morris
David 37

Sean Lause
The Shed and I 49
Joseph R. ONeill
Ive Become a Single Note 50
that Cant Be Sung

Martin Altman
What is Poetry? 11

Straight to the Heart 11

Denise Fletcher
Glad You Asked 59
Alexandrina Sergio
A New Obsession 11

Carol Smallwood
Gary M. Knuth, President/CEO
United Disability Services
Gail Willmott, M.Ed.
Lisa Armstrong
Sandy Palmer

Lynne Came
Paul Gustely
Darshan Perusek, Ph.D.

Phyllis Boerner
is published online semiannually.
Copyright 2014 Kaleidoscope Press
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Jennifer Wexler
Director of Visual Arts
VSA, Washington, D.C.
Fiction Review
Mark Decker, Ph.D.
Bloomsburg University
Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania
Poetry Review
Sandra J. Lindow
University of Wisconsin-Stout
Menomonie, Wisconsin
KALEIDOSCOPE, published since 1979, explores the experience
of disability through literature and the fne arts. Fiction, painting,
photography, pencil sketches, sculpture, poetry, nonfction, book
reviews, and theater are all featured in various issues.
Unique to the feld of disability studies, this award-winning pub-
lication expresses the diversity of the disability experience from
a variety of perspectives including: individuals, families, friends,
caregivers, and healthcare professionals, among others. The mate-
rial chosen for KALEIDOSCOPE challenges and overcomes stereo-
typical, patronizing, and sentimental attitudes about disability.
ssue 69 is the third online issue of
Kaleidoscope. We began publishing
themed issues of Kaleidoscope with
issue 14 in 1987. After thirty-two years
as a staff member and ffty-fve themed
issues of Kaleidoscope, I have decided
to try something different. I would like
to have our summer issues be more
open and not tied to a specifc theme.
There are two main reasons I have de-
cided to try this experiment. The frst,
and perhaps most obvious, is that after
ffty-fve issues it is becoming more
diffcult to develop specifc themes.
The second reason is that we receive
a lot of good material that does not
necessary easily lend itself to a specifc
theme and with our limited number of
pages, there are many pieces that dont
see publication for a long time.
As a matter of fact, I have quite often
had discussions with various colleagues
over the years regarding my tendency
to hold on to pieces (some for several
years) in the hopes of being able to
eventually place them in Kaleidoscope.
From time to time, I have been told to
get a hold of myself and let go of some
pieces, instructions which I follow
with great reluctance.
One problem with holding onto sub-
missions for a long period of time is
fnding the author when I am fnally
able to include these pieces. Some-
times, since most people are not as
stationary in the world as I have been,
this proves to be an impossible task.
However, once in awhile, both the
author and I are pleasantly surprised if
we manage to make a connection. The
authors are often amazed that I have
kept a particular piece and am still in-
terested in publishing it. While all of
the prose pieces in this issue have been
held from one to fve years, one story,
a historical fction piece called The
Memory of Elephants, was sent to us
by Leslie Patterson nine years ago and
I am pleased to be able to present it to
you now. It is a story of the artist Edgar
Degas who comes to visit his widowed,
nearly blind cousin living in New Or-
leans. Degas is frightened because he
too is facing the threat of blindness and
seems to want to learn from her experi-
In addition to The Memory of El-
ephants other fction pieces include
Escape to Dharamsala, based on the
actual experience of a Tibetan monk
who travelled, at great risk, with many
other companions to visit the exiled
Dalai Lama and become exiles them-
selves. Rosellis Remains is the story
of a former policeman and disabled
veteran returning from Afghanistan and
facing the challenges of readjustment
to civilian life. Paolos Balcony tells
the story of a Franciscan monk and
artist who contracted polio as a child
and is now struggling with post-polio
Personal essays include J.D. Chaneys
Braced for Freedom, the story of his
grandparents escape from Russia in the
early 1900s. As Jews they were literally
feeing for their lives. The mother and
her six-year-old daughter who con-
tracted polio were forced to make the
diffcult journey alone.
Gail Willmott
Brother by Beth Baker offers her
refections on the life of her brother
Brad, who is autistic, and the effects
his disability has had on both him and
his family. Pains Wake by Ashley
Caveda is a short piece describing what
remains of pain and feeling after a car
accident left her legs paralyzed. Brush
Strokes is Barbara Ellen Sorensens
tribute to her son Bryon who died at
the age of 24 due to complications of
a seizure, but whose short life was ex-
tremely rich and full. Finally, our fea-
tured essay, Cavewomen by Suzanne
Kamata, who now lives with her family
in Japan, describes a visit to family
in the United States with her thirteen-
year-old daughter Lilia who has cere-
bral palsy and is deaf. They confront
various accessibility challenges in their
quest to visit caves in Chattanooga,
Tennessee including a sanctuary for the
endangered gray bat. Kamata is deter-
mined to make this vacation experience
as complete as possible for Lilia.
Bradley Michael was diagnosed with
schizoaffective disorder, the challenges
of which can be extremely overwhelm-
ing at times. However, Michael has a
strong desire to create, and through his
work his goal is to show the beauty of
nature as well as the chaos inherent in
his disorder.
Of the fourteen poets whose work is
featured in this issue of Kaleidoscope
some of the poems have again been
held for an especially long time. Thir-
teen by Tony Gloeggler recalls his
experience with a boy who is autistic
for whom he has become a substitute
father. Panic Attack in Neonatal ICU
by Jessica Goody imagines the experi-
ence and feelings of a premature infant
in a neonatal incubator. Bob Johnstons
Finished Symphony recounts the
thrill of his frst experience attend-
ing a classical music concert. Finally,
Kelly Morris two poems How Many
Hail Marys? and Some Bells Should
Ring tells of her experience at the
hands of an abusive father.
I hope you will enjoy the variety of
personal essays, fction, and poetry pre-
sented in this frst non-themed issue
of Kaleidoscope in many years. Also,
if anyone has suggestions about themes
they might like to see developed for
our winter issues, please let us know
through the website or by email.
Theres always one more cavern to
Johnny Cash,
Another Song to Sing
ere we are in the Southeast on
our frst mother-daughter trip.
My husband and son are back
home in Japan, busy with work, and
summer school, and baseball practice.
My thirteen-year-old daughter Lilia and
I wont be on our own, however. Weve
made plans to travel to Tennessee with
my extended family.
I dont know what we are going to do
in Chattanooga. Ive left everything up
to my sister-in-law who frst suggested
the trip as an alternative to a few days
at the beach. Although I love the coast
of South Carolinathe salt marshes,
the frolicking dolphins, the sweetgrass
basket sellers on the side of the roadI
concede that its too hot to think about
sitting by the ocean. I can imagine the
white sand searing the soles of our feet,
the sun burning our necks and shoul-
ders. It has been one of the hottest sum-
mers on record, with the mercury top-
ping the hundred degree mark for days
in a row. The mountains of Tennessee
will be cooler, I think. Plus, my four-
teen-year-old nephew, an avid runner
whos been on the varsity cross-country
team since middle school, wants to run
on a particular mountain trail in Chatta-
nooga. Our destination is decided.
Id been to Chattanooga once before
as a child. I remember being on top
of Lookout Mountain, peering down
from dizzying heights. I recall reports
of Japanese tourists whove fallen into
the Grand Canyon while trying to get
the perfect snapshot, and I have a hor-
rible image of my daughters wheel-
chair going over a rocky cliff. I hope
there are guardrails along the mountain
trailstall ones. I also have a memory
of garden gnomes in fairy tale settings,
something that Im sure my daughter
would enjoy.
I entrust my sister-in-law with the hotel
reservations. I dont mention that we
need a handicap accessible room. My
sister-in-law knows that my thirteen-
year-old daughter Lilia cant walk and
that she will need her wheelchair. Sure-
ly, she doesnt need to be reminded, al-
though come to think of it, my husband
rarely thinks to mention our special
needs when making reservations. On
our last tripto Tokyo Disneyland
we had to carry Lilia up the stairs to
our second foor motel room.
I also remember numerous play dates
with mothers of able-bodied kids who
promised to help get my daughters
wheelchair up hills and staircases, to
help my daughter navigate complicated
jungle gyms and climbing structures.
Helping always turned out to be more
arduous than others expected, and more
often than not, I was the only one help-
ing my daughter up ladders, through
tunnels, and down slides while my
well-meaning-but-oblivious mommy
friends chatted on park benches.
But then my parents, who are also
going on the trip, assure me that my
sister-in-law is working on getting an
accessible room. Well, thats one thing
I dont need to worry about.

Chattanooga, a town of brick and crepe
myrtle backed by hazy mountains, is
about a six hour drive from Lexington,
South Carolina, our starting point. It
takes us a little longer to get there be-
cause we make a couple of pit stops
one, at a McDonalds where I fnd that
the toilet paper and soap dispensers in
the accessible bathroom are too high
for a wheelchair user to reach.
Lilia occupies herself with a thick man-
ga and a DVD with Japanese subtitles
that we brought along as we cruise
down Bobby Jones Highway past trees
and trees and trees. About the only
things of interest for many miles are the
sign indicating the exit for the Laurel
and Hardy Museum, and a couple of
fawns lazing by the side of the road.
In early afternoon, we arrive at the
hotel and convene with my brother and
his family. Lilia, who in addition to
having cerebral palsy, is deaf, manages
to converse with her cousins through
fashcards that she made in advance and
Google Translate. (Thank goodness for
My brother has scouted out a cave from
which we can watch bats emerge at
dusk. We make plans to check it out the
following evening.
Nickajack Cave was once a refuge for
Native Americans, and a hideout for
pirates who preyed on travelers who
came down the Tennessee River. Later,
during the Civil War, it was mined
for saltpeter, which is used to make
gunpowder. At one time, the cave was
even used as a dance hall, and it has
been immortalized in song on more
than one occasion. A suicidal Johnny
Cash allegedly came up with the words
for Another Song to Sing inside the
cave. YouTube also turned up the tune
Nickajack Cave, by singer-songwrit-
er Kevin Bilchuk, which is about how
Cash found redemption while crawling
around on his hands and knees in the
cavern. In 1967, the cave was partially
fooded after the construction of Nicka-
jack Dam, and is now a sanctuary and
maternity roost for the endangered gray
bat. When I tell Lilia that we are go-
ing to view bats, she is scared at frst.
She knows bats only from horror mov-
ies and vampire stories in her favorite
manga. All the same, she is willing to
go. My concerns, as usual, are about
We park at the Maple View Recreation
Area near the edge of the reservoir.
Luckily, there is a boardwalk lead-
ing through trees to the bat-viewing
platform. My brother and niece are
already waiting when Lilia and I arrive
with my parents. My sister-in-law and
nephew have gone for a run around the
reservoir. We can see their small shapes
across the water.
Its about an hour till dusk, but already
another group of three has staked out a
spot on the platforma young woman
wearing a ponytail sporting a pink T-
shirt, shorts, and a nose ring; another
young woman with glasses sitting on
the railing, and a bearded guy with a
long-lensed camera. The young woman
with glasses is holding a net, and Lilia
wonders in sign language if its for
catching bats.
The woman laughs when I inquire
about the net. No, its for catching
insects. Her sister, the woman with the
nose ring, is a Ph.D. candidate at the
University of Tennessee in the study of
bats. She already has a masters degree
from the University of Hawaii, where,
she informs us, there is only one indig-
enous specieslasiurus cinereus, oth-
erwise known as the hoary bat.
We can see that the cave is cordoned
off, and a sign juts from the water at
the entrance, declaring it off-limits to
human visitors. This, the bat scholar
informs us, is to prevent the spread of
white-nose syndrome, a disease that
threatens the bat population. Once a
colony is infected, the disease spreads
quickly and has killed at least 95 per-
cent of bats at some locations in only
two years.
As dusk gathers, frefies spark in the
trees. Mosquitoes alight on my bare
legs. I want the bats to come and eat the
bugs. My sister-in-law and nephew re-
turn from their run. A family from Chi-
cago joins us on the platform, and then
a couple of guys and a dog in a boat
pull up in front of the cave, the sound
of the outboard motor disrupting our
peaceful interlude. Their loud voices,
twanged with Tennessee accents, blare
across the water. Cmon bats, one
guy yells impatiently. Like us, they are
here to see the gray bats emerge from
the cave, but they are hardly respect-
ful. They go beyond the sign, into the
mouth of the cave, before anchoring
just outside and diving into the water.
The Ph.D. student is horrifed. She ex-
plained earlier, about the special Tencel
suits that students wear when entering
bat caves, the extraordinary measures
to which they go in order to prevent
the spread of disease. I hope they get
rabies, she snarls.
One of the guys swims to shore and
climbs up the embankment, then jumps
ten feet from the cliff, splashing into
the water below.
We wonder out loud if this is disturbing
the bats.
Meanwhile, Lilia keeps asking me what
people are talking about. She doesnt
quite get this American custom of
speaking to strangers. She thinks that
we must all know each other. I try to
keep her in the fownow were won-
dering if there is poison ivy in these
woods; now were talking about how
those guys in the boat werent supposed
to go near the bats; now were talking
about how a scuba diver in pursuit of
a giant catfsh illegally entered and got
lost in Nickajack Cave for 17 hours
20 years ago, and how the cave had to
be drained. (The diver, David Gant,
thought that his rescuers were angels
and became a born-again Christian af-
ter the event, which became known as
The Bat Cave Miracle.)
Finally, there is a speck overhead, and
I point to the darkening sky. The bats
have begun to swoop and futter above
the cave. First, just a few, then there
are hundreds of them, a swirl of dark
wings. They come diving for insects
just above our heads, and then fap
again into the treetops. Every night, be-
tween April and September, they feast
upon thousands of beetles and moths
and aquatic insects, devouring up to
274,000 pounds of bugs.
Lilia gazes in wonder at the bats, the
frefies, the stars in the night sky.
When we go back to the car, the board-
walk is completely dark. We need a
fashlight to fnd our way. Its too dark
to sign in the car, but later, Lilia writes
in her notebook: Dont go in the cave!
Bats! If you touch leaves, you will be
itchy! She also writes about the man
who went into the cave twenty years
ago and couldnt fnd his way back out.
The following morning, as we be-
gin to drive up to the top of Lookout
Mountain, my dad recalls how terri-
fed Grandma had been on our frst trip
here, over forty years ago. Back then,
there had been nothing to prevent our
freefall should my dad miss a hairpin
curve. Things are different now. There
are guardrails. The road is wider.
Theres even a Starbucks at the sum-
mit, across from the entrance to Rock
City Gardens, one of Chattanoogas
premier tourist attractions, and home
to the garden gnomes I remember from
my youth.
One path, Fat Mans Squeeze, is too
narrow for the wheelchair, so we have
to turn back around. We cant fgure
out how to get to the Swinging Bridge
or the Opera Box Overview, but we do
manage to get Lilia to Lovers Leap,
from which we can view seven states.
Feeling a bit frustrated, I decide to give
up on the more inaccessible areas, and
take Lilia to the Fairyland Cavern, a
cave full of illuminated dioramas fea-
turing scenes from Cinderella, Hansel
and Gretel, and other well-known
fairytales. As a child, I found this cave
delightful. As an adult, I cant help
thinking that its a bit cheesy, but Lilia,
who has been born and raised in the
land of Hello Kitty, loves it without a
trace of irony, and snaps photos of ev-
ery display. At the very least, the dark,
damp cave offers respite from the sum-
mer heat.
We stop by a barbecue joint for lunch
before hitting up our next cave on Rac-
coon Mountain, which according to
the tourist brochure I picked up at a
rest stop, is rated number one in the
South, with more formations than any
other cavern in the region.
Is it accessible? I asked my brother
He told me that hed called to inquire.
They said there are one hundred steps
inside, but no more than ten at a time.
One hundred steps?
He assures me that he will help carry
Im feeling a bit dubious, but I fgure
that if Lilia can make it up three fights
of stairs at school every day by hanging
on to the railing, she can probably drag
herself up these steps, too. So what if
Theres a ramp at the
entranceso far, so
goodbut we quickly
come upon steps.
According to The Enchanted Gazette
(Gnome News is Good News!), a
tourist brochure in the guise of a news-
paper, Lookout Mountain, formerly
inhabited by Native Americans and site
of a major Civil War battle, was frst
commercialized in 1924 by business-
man Garnet Carter. He established Tom
Thumb Golf, the frst ever miniature
golf course, on top of the mountain. He
was also responsible for Fairyland, a
residential community inspired by his
wife Friedas interest in European folk-
lore. That explains the gnomes.
Theres a ramp at the entranceso far,
so goodbut we quickly come upon
steps. Our group has scattered by now
and my wheelchair bearer brother is
nowhere in sight. A Rock City em-
ployee tells us that to get to the Mother
Goose Village, well need to go through
a back entrance. We start by exploring
the rest of the site.
Theres a wide, sloped path going past
various fowers and herbs. Lilia likes
to take advantage of inclines and coast
whenever possible, but I hang on to the
handles of her wheelchair. Its a good
thing that I do, because I discover that
the end of the path drops off into a
she slows down the guided tour? And if
my brother wants to volunteer to carry
her wheelchair, then fne. Maybe my
able-bodied fourteen-year-old nephew
will pitch in, as well.
against us! If Mammoth Cave can ad-
mit wheelchair users, then so can you!
What about the Americans with Dis-
abilities Act? And what do you mean
our tickets are non-refundable?
However, I dont want to ruin this fam-
ily outing by making a scene, and were
already holding up the tour group, im-
posing on strangers. When the manager
offers to allow us access to the frst cav-
ern and give us credit in the gift shop in
exchange for our tickets, Im willing to
compromise. We have forced the staff
to confront our situation. Maybe thats
a start. Maybe they will consider ways
to make the cave more accessible to
wheelchair users in the future.
I would like Lilia to be able to see the
stalagmites and stalactites, the rimstone
pools and fowstone, the so-named
Crystal Palace and Hall of Dreams. I
would like her to feel the spray of the
underground waterfall on her face and
to be able to cross the natural rock
bridges formed by centuries of min-
eral deposits deep inside. But when
I imagine the additional construction
that would be necessary to make this
cave fully accessiblethe concrete and
drills and sawsIm not so sure its a
good idea. Maybe not everyone should
go into this wild place, especially if
it would mean desecrating its natural
beauty. Maybe like Nickajack Cave, we
should let it be, a pure place of mystery.
Maybe there are some places that Lilia
in her wheelchair, and me with her, can
do without visiting.
I urge my parents and my brother and
his family to go ahead into the cave.
Lilia and I wait for our guide, a lanky
young man who takes us into the empty
frst cavern and shines a fashlight on
rock striated like bacon, and a cave-
dwelling salamander while giving us
the offcial spiel. Its Lilias frst time
But when I imagine the
additional construction
that would be neces-
sary to make this cave
fully accessiblethe
concrete and drills and
sawsIm not so sure
its a good idea.
in such a cave. She likes the sparkle of
the quartz, the blue of the salamander.
We learn that this dark place is home
to a blind species of spider, and also to
bats. She takes pictures of various rock
formationsa straw, a stalagmite. Our
guide lets Lilia hold the fashlight and
explore as much as she likes, as long as
we dont touch the cave walls. The oil
from human skin can hinder the natural
fow of water and mineral deposits.
When my daughter is satisfed, we go
back out into the gift shop, into the
Lilia goes straight for the stuffed ani-
mals on display and picks up a plush
gray bat. I discover that, as in the case
of Johnny Cash and David Gant, our
evening at Nickajack Cave has made
something of a convert out of my
daughter. Instead of being chiropto-
phobic, my daughter is now a bat fan.
We get a T-shirt for her brother, and the
stuffed gray bat to commemorate our
When we are back in Japan, and she
begins to tell about our trip, the caves
are the frst thing that she mentions.
She tells how gray bats few in a funnel
up to the sky, how she saw seven states
and scenes from fairytales, and how the
stone in Raccoon Mountain Caverns
sparkled. Kira kira, she signs, her
fngers wiggling in the air.

Weve already purchased our non-
refundable tickets on-line via my
brothers smart phone. We pass by a
group of muddy-kneed spelunkers, just
back from a guided wild cave tour, and
go into the gift shop/reception area. The
young guy at the cash register insists
that we need a printout of our reserva-
tion, and that the cave is not wheelchair
But we called in advance . . . my
brother protests.
No matter. Whoever talked to my
brother, must not know the cave well.
We cant take the wheelchair into
the caverns. And our tickets are non-
My frst impulse is to launch into a
rant. What do you mean this place is
inaccessible? My daughter has a right
to go into that cave and behold its natu-
ral wonders! You are discriminating
hells from the bottom of the lake
pricked without piercing my toes
the last day I could feel pains
full crescendo in my lower half, before
a car accident numbed those nerves.
Since that day, Ive had to learn the
texture of my feet, the stretch of my
pale, thin legs, the smooth expanse of
my stomach, the frm curve of my back,
and the soft underside of my breasts
through the kneading pressure of my
fngers, the reassurance of blind hands
that my joints are still in place, that
my skin remains uncompromised, that
the ballpoint pen somewhere on the
bed that I now cant fnd, displaced by
weight and movement, is not beneath
the legs I cant feel, is not scratching,
penetrating the fesh that wont warn
with the sharp, now undeliverable rise
of nature.
I know the cold shock of water fow-
ing over dangling legs by the involun-
tary pull of thigh muscles, so strong I
teeter. Ive learned the nuances of my
knees, testing them with the pressure of
thumbs and fngertips for some change,
some indication of something gone
awry. At the jerk of a leg spasm, I halt
to see the metal lip of the ovens broiler
pinning the center of my foot, my toes
spread out, stretching refexively from
the purple bruise that appears like a
birthmark on a strangers body. And
sometimes I must stop moving alto-
gether, sit like a hunter watching for
prey, waiting for some slight tug from
within, for strange chills that reverber-
ate like music through the walls of my
sides, contracting my stomach muscles
like an accordion, the after effects of an
injury that is no longer painful.
Sticks and stones may break my bones,
but I will never feel it. Rather Im left
with the sensations that slip below
the surface that I must await to know
theyre there. A subtle echo of pain un-
released by red alert of able nerves, that
unmistakable cry of No, Im hurting.

A New Obsession
Nothings worse than having another obsession:
Pain, depression, poverty are a piece of cake.
Post-traumatic stress hits in any profession
Leaving one vulnerable with much at stake
Pain, depression, poverty are a piece of cake
Because from what I read theres no cure,
Leaving one vulnerable with much at stake
For when theyre triggered one can but endure
Because from what I read theres no cure
So you must use whatever works on hand
For when theyre triggered one can but endure
Until free from the sloops of suffocating sand
So you must use whatever works on hand
While you question your sanity, if reason exists
Until free from the sloops of suffocating sand
And you can again relax, unclench tight fsts
While you question your sanity, if reason exists
McDonalds golden arches beckon, embrace
And you can again relax, unclench tight fsts
As arches are symbols of freedom, wide open spaces
McDonalds golden arches beckon, embrace
As you fght not to be crushed, defeated
As arches are symbols of freedom, wide open spaces
You fnd a blue booth and are seated
As you fght not to be crushed, defeated.
Recalling the obsessions that have come before
You fnd a blue booth and are seated
While striving, struggling to come ashore
Recalling the obsessions that have come before.
Post-traumatic stress hits in any profession
While striving, struggling to come ashore
Nothings worse than having another obsession

Straight to the Heart
The computer chair sits empty now.
It was his chair
For working on his laptop;
Technology was his game,
Far be it from me
To tell him anything.
Sugar beat him down,
Gangrene took his leg.
It started in the foot
And worked its way up
Straight to the heart
Determined to take him out.

What is Poetry?
Scraps of the past
Thoughts that pass
Thru your memory
Bank on the way
To oblivion

Previously published
in Open Minds Quarterly,
Summer 2013.
Art is everywhere you look for it, hail the twinkling stars
for they are Gods careless splatters.
~ El Greco
I like dark paintings.
~ Bryon Michael Sorensen
hen my son, Bryon, was a baby, I could not put
him down. Even when he grew and grew into
a hefty toddler and would scream and pitch fts
out of pure spite and obstinance, I was compelled to pick
him up and press his hard, determined little body next to
my heart. I loved him with a sort of desperation. I loved
him when he was in his dark moods and when he was in his
light moods. He was mercurial by nature and I knew he was
to be my last baby. I had premature births so my ob-gyn ad-
vised me not to have more than two babies. So Bryon was,
without a doubt, the last child I would ever have. My sons
were the frst grandchildren in my huge, extended family,
and Bryon became the frst grandchild to die. When he died,
at age 24, he broke many hearts. They are still breaking.
On a bright, sunny day in October, 2011, my husband and
I went to see Bryon. It was the type of day that Bryon
lovedcrisp and cool, copper-bright sun careening off
highway asphalt, illuminating everything in its perfect path.
It was a day much like the day Bryon was borna day of
beauty, light, and darkness, all mixed together. On this par-
ticular day though, we would not come home cradling a tiny
body ripe with life; this day we would leave behind a grown
sons body prepped for cremation. In the car, we were quiet
as we made our way down the canyon road toward the mor-
tuary that was keeping our youngest sons body. Bryon had
died just four days earlier from complications of a seizure.
He had been suffering from seizures originally brought on
by an arteriovenous malformation (AVM) for about fve
At the mortuary, the receptionist exuded a cheerful nor-
malcy, evidently trying to make the best out of our family
tragedy. When we were fnally allowed to see our son, how-
ever, normalcy became a dream, a surreality that infused
every corner of the room where his body lay. The room
seemed unnaturally gray with an under painting of white,
like brush strokes of the Greek artist, El Greco. I like his
[El Grecos] dark paintings, Byron had said to me as we
walked through the Prado in Madrid, Spain, seven years
earlier. Bryon had lingered in the rooms that displayed these
types of paintings.
At the funeral home, a single, white sheet covered Bryons
body so that only his head and shoulders could be seen.
Bryon looked as though he was sleeping. Though the make-
up on his face had rendered a natural tone to his skin, the
unmistakable signs of bruises were visible across the bridge
of his nose. I remember analyzing his face as though it was
a rare painting. There are overlayers of color and tone val-
ues, I remember thinking. I felt detached, cold. It was clear
that Bryon had fipped over onto his face during his seizure.
He had smothered himself in his pillow. He was a big guy
and his body had fought hard to stay alive.
I knew that as soon as we left, the perfunctory cremation
would take place and I thought I saw an impatience in the
undertakers gestures. Was he trying to push people through
the viewing? I watched him and wondered aloud to my hus-
band and oldest son, Aaron, Why dont they have a place
where the parents can sit in the room and watch and wait as
their childs body is burned? Why cant we keep the bones
of his body? But my small, immediate family could not
answer; they were lost in grief. I busied myself with greet-
ing friends. When I fnally got the chance to sit down, I sat
with a blank mind and stared at my son, who was not really
my son any longer. I remember I asked people to leave the
room so that I could sit for a few minutes with him, alone.
I tried to feel his spirit, I tried to pray. I tried to speak to
him; I called him sweetie. I tried to remain still and feel a
presence. But in the funeral home that day, my son was not
there. There was just a body beneath a clean, white sheet,
and the body that the sheet lightly covered, was not my
Bryon loved certain aspects of Catholicism. When my hus-
band, my son Aaron, and I went to his house to collect his
clothes and sundry belongings, we were surprised to see so
many deliberate displays of Roman Catholicism. Next to
his bed, on his dresser, there was a white candle. Next to
the candle was a string of translucent glass rosary beads.
Next to the rosary beads there was an icon of a very young,
sweet-faced Mary. Next to the icon there was a prayer card.
Next to the prayer card there were medals of saints that
Bryon had collected as a student at Sacred Heart of Jesus
Elementary School in Boulder, Colorado. Bryon had been
baptized and confrmed in the Episcopal Church, yet his
heart leaned toward the benevolent fgure of Mary, and the
forgiveness of sins espoused by many of the Catholic saints.
Bryon had so much love in his heart, that the universe
needed him. God needed him, said Drew Carter. One of
Bryons dearest friends since middle school, Drew had gone
with Bryon to Baton Rouge right after high school gradua-
tion to serve in AmeriCorps. I had called Drew one morning
to meet me at a local coffee shop. I needed to see Bryons
friends; his friends were all part of the inextricable link
to his painfully short life. Drew had also been the frst of
Bryons male friends to witness one of his seizures. The son
of a Jewish man, Drew had prayed over Bryons body at the
funeral home like an evangelical pastor. He had placed both
his hands on Bryons body, and weeping quietly, he had
spoken words and prayers to Bryons soul. When I asked
him about it over coffee, Drew could not remember a single
thing he had said that day.
Drew recognized the enormity of Bryons love of humanity.
Bryon would have eventually worked with kids, Drew
told me. I saw how he interacted with the school children
in Baton Rouge. He loved them and they loved him.
Months after he had died, I pulled out a folder full of emails
from Bryons year in Baton Rouge. The emails sparkled
with energy, excitement, and humor. They were written in
what I called Bryons slash-and-burn style of writing
no regard for grammar or punctuation.
September 21, 2006
Hello mom, please deposit more money and tell my dog
I love him how is work going fne here I fnally have an
actual 9-5 amazing huh? well anyway hate to pester you
for money but as you know I havent had time to get food
stamps and i havent gotten paid yet but like i said at the
end of this month i get a phone and money so i will become
more self-reliant. Tell my dad not to work so hard, is he
still enjoying his motorcycle? oh and also when you get
a chance give me a list of all the familys email addresses
your side of the family obviously with love your sweet Bry
September 27, 2006
. . . my rent is due on the 1st i am going to pay my utili-
ties out of my paycheck and hopefully by next month Ill
be able to work out a system to set aside the money for rent
Ive been making a budget and its defnitely possible with
food stamps. i get to go into my classroom today Im teach-
ing second graders!!! it will be fun Im a material and lo-
gistics man on my team and in the class i will be a student/
teachers aide and a literary tutor.
November 28, 2006
Hey mom, i havent had access to a computer in some time
but everything is fne and i love you. i get minutes so feel
free to use a fantastic invention called a phone.
Bryon had a girlfriend, Jennifer, whom he had been dat-
ing since he was a sophomore in high school. A year ahead
of him in school, Jennifer had left for Colorado Springs to
attend college. Willowy and blond, with perfect skin, Jen-
nifer was like a small bird that curled on top of Bryons
chest when they slept together. I knew this only because
once I had inadvertently opened the door to his room. I
remember Jennifer opening one sleepy eye to register my
shock. They were still dating when Bryon graduated two
years later. Bryon came home for Christmas, and it was dur-
ing this break that he had his frst seizure. It was January
2, 2007, and Jennifer was sleeping over. In just a few days,
Bryon would have to fy back to Baton Rouge. At 3:30
in the morning, January 3, I woke to hear Jennifers soft,
breathless voice, Mrs. Sorensen, something is wrong with
Bryon. My husband and I scrambled from our bed, and
rushed downstairs. I had never seen anyone seize before so
I wasnt even sure what was happening to my son. Finally,
I realized that the blue tint on Bryons face was intensify-
ing. Behind me, Jennifer was screaming. My husband rolled
Bryon onto his side because it seemed as though he was
choking. The seizure only lasted about three minutes, but
it seemed like an eternity. I felt as though all of us in that
room were foating in some obscure space. We would never
again touch the ground with our feet in the same way.
Years later, after I had been through many of Bryons sei-
zures, I thought of a quote by the art critic, David Davies.
Remarking on El Grecos paintings, he had once said:
Space is perceived in the imagination rather than misused;
light is incandescent, ftful and unreal; colours are pure, lu-
minous and unearthly; fgures are elongated, energized and
dematerialised. All are illuminated and quickened by Gods
Seizures were a part of Gods grace, too? The moments of a
seizure ft perfectly into El Grecos surreal world; there was
a light that was shimmering and ftful behind every move-
ment during seizure activity. Color was intensifed. This pe-
culiar light would return many more times, and remain until
the end of Bryons life, unearthly. Bryon spoke of light and
sound often in reference to the auras he would have right
before a seizure occurred. Once, we were alone in the house
together, just he and I, and he felt something, a movement
of sound and light. He rushed upstairs to tell me he felt he
was about to seize. I made him lie down on my bed and I
talked softly to him. Eventually, the feeling of the seizure
diminished, and Bryon turned to me and said, We have to
take care of each other, Mom. I smoothed his hair and felt
as though, through Gods grace, I had just been informed.
Now I knew that I could talk my son out of a seizure. Then,
as he cried and asked, Why is this happening to me? I
held him like he was not my huge, muscled, young man,
with wild, lupine-blue eyes, but a little boy.
Bryon returned to Baton Rouge a month following his sei-
zure. He resumed his teaching role and received his educa-
tional award money from AmeriCorps. One day, he showed
me all the letters the children had written him after his frst
seizure and subsequent cyberknife surgery. There were so
many. All of them were addressed to Mr. Bryon, in the
formal vernacular of the South:
You is my friend Mr. Bryon.
Mr. Bryon we had so much fun with you and I hope we see
you again and when I see you please please give me some
more goldfsh and I love you Mr. Bryon.
Mr. Bryon thank you When are you comeing back to these
Mr. Bryon I miss you Bryon will you come back. Can you
come. We all ways like you.
The moments of a seizure ft
perfectly into El Grecos surreal
world; there was a light that was
shimmering and ftful behind every
movement during seizure activity.
Mr. Bryon You is my friend.
I like you Mr. Bryon. You is my best teacher.
Dear Mr. Bryon I know that we are going to have fun and
we is going to have a pinick outside and you help us do our
homework and I thank you. For helping our children and
teacher to get done with the work.
Each time I read these letters, I feel what I think is Gods
quickening, but it is not an incandescent feeling. There is no
grace, no growth, no expedience. There is only my empty
heart and its resounding thrum of despair: I have lost my
youngest son, my last baby. There will be no others after
him. I am the mother of one child now.
* * *
An autopsy report is a strange item to receive in the mail.
The wording is succinct to the point of being blunt. I do not
know how else it could be. It reads:
I. Cystic, gelatinous, remotely hemorrhagic lesion of left
frontal lobe of brain:
Seizure disorder
Vascular malformation or capillary hemangioma with recent
II. Mild pulmonary edema
III. Borderline cardiomegaly
IV. Toxicology:
Blood drug screen: positive for cannabinoid
Ethanol, whole blood: none detected
Dilantin: less than 3.0 ng/ml (10-20)
Based upon the history and autopsy fndings, it is my opin-
ion that Bryon M., a 24-year-old white male, died as the
result of his seizure disorder from the lesion in his left fron-
tal lobe of the brain. The manner of death is natural.
Pathologist: James Wilkerson
My son died because he had failed to take his seizure medi-
cation as prescribed by his neurologist. He just decided one
day that he did not want to take them any more; he did not
like the way they made him feel. On the anti-seizure meds,
he was often cranky, violent, sleepy, and/or irrational. How-
ever, he might have come out of that one grand mal and
realized that he must take his medication. But, you know
how Bryon was. Drew said to me as I picked at a cin-
namon roll. He was hard-headed. He thought he was too
strong to ever die. Then, I asked Drew the question that I
asked many, many people: Do you think he knew he was
going to die? Do you think he wanted to die? Drew looked
at me and because he had been weeping through much of
our conversation, his eyes were very red, No, he said.
No. Bryon wanted to live.
Months after Bryons death, I typed his name in a search
engine. To my surprise, his name popped up under the AVM
Survivors Network website. As I read through the posts,
Drews words resonated in my heart. Bryon had responded
to a forum question about switching medications. It was
dated May 3, 2010, just fve days before his 23rd birthday.
For me switching medications is a huge deal. Just the other
day I caught a seizure by the tail with an ativan, with slow
steady breathing and some relaxation my aura faded and I
came back down to earth. My neurologist is switching me
from dilantin to zonisimide. I know that zonisamide is a
second generation medication and I am eager to be on a full
dosage. The real shitty part is that I do not have health in-
surance and therefore sometimes receive a generic form of
dilantin that does not work at all. Case and point the seizure
I abruptly caught by the tail was defnitely caused by the
generic dilantin. So hopefully zonisamide will work like a
charm because in the process of switching I am taking so
many pills and they do not seem to work quite right. The
neurologist wants me to keep an even keel with my frustra-
tions with life and school and everything else but I try and
then my medication does not work. With luck after I make
the switch to zonisamide I will not have trouble getting dif-
ferent forms of zonisamide and therefore will not have these
darn seizures. Health, love and happiness to everyone.
He just decided one day that he
did not want to take them any
more; he did not like the way they
made him feel.
On February 27, 2012, I fnally realized I should write
something about Bryon. I had joined the 5,000-member
AVM survivor group and had just lurked. I think I was try-
ing, in some way, to disbelieve his death. I was receiving
good-natured and hopeful posts from all the people who
suffered from AVM-related seizures. They were living full
and happy lives! So I wrote with trepidation, because I
knew responses would inevitably come fooding in:
I just wanted to thank everyone who knew my son on this
website. He died this past October, the day before Hallow-
een. He stopped taking his meds because they made him
feel so bad. However, he had a major rebound seizure that
killed him. Please, please do not stop taking your meds cold
turkey! My Bryon was the love of our lives and we miss
him terribly. He had such a big heart and was a loving, good
soul. Thank you to all of his friends on this site!
The responses are still trickling in and they delight and
soothe me. At the same time, I know someday Bryons
memory within this small cohort will cease. Then, I think I
will truly be bereft. For me, the sorrow will never end.
* * *
Bryons dark painting is fnally complete. His image comes
to me in dreams, but he is never fully grown; he is always
still a child. In one dream he stood across a street, hold-
ing a balloon. He was telling me something. What I heard
was: Over and over again, Mom. Over and over again. I
wondered about this for a while, until I reconciled it with
my spiritual belief. I believe we are all born again through
love. This is as simple as I can explain it. When I think of
seeing Bryon again, I am comforted not only by the words
of the dream: Over and over again, Mom. But also by the
words Bryon said to me in the Prado as he examined the
phantom-like fgures of saints, angels, counts, and animals
all swirling about with no frmament above or below them:
I like the dark paintings. I know now that he saw himself
in those paintings. He had aged quickly, speeding through
time that carries darkness and light, simultaneously. I be-
lieve Bryons life was accelerated because, like Drew said,
the universe needed his gigantic, loving, child-like heart.
When he died, he had experienced deep love for a young
woman, had traveled extensively, had hundreds of friends
that spanned several continents, had worked hard, and he
had recognized that beauty and art surround human beings.
As I was searching for the perfect readings to incorporate
into the funeral service, I found a poem Bryon had written:
Looking Out the Window
Looking out the window,
I saw things for what they were.
Each blade of grass stood out among its green peers
and it seemed as if the whole outside was part of some giant
painting and without that one stroke it would be imperfect.
Yet who says imperfection isnt beautiful?
The almost citrus-colored lighting accented
every shadow and dimple on the earthen foor.
Everything in it was endowed
with eternal beauty in my eyes.
Bryon had once said to me: Mom, my neurological prob-
lem is like having a bomb in my headI could die at any
moment. I denied this vehemently. I even laughed. I told
him he would not die if he just stayed on his medications.
This was not entirely true. For this reason alone, I am happy
that Bryon did all of the things that he was not supposed
to do. Bryon engaged in top-roping, worked construction,
lifted weights, and romped with his new puppy, alone.
These were all marked MUST NOT DO by his neurolo-
gist. Bryon played even in the midst of discord and the un-
certainty of seizures.
I have tried to be angry with Bryon for not taking his medi-
cations. I have tried to be angry with him for breaking our
hearts. But when I begin to speak to him, I fnd myself call-
ing him sweetie, and honey. It was always hard to stay
mad at Bryon. He never was the type of guy who paid much
attention to scripture, or lists, or reprimands. He was busy
laughing and loving. He was busy with the short life he had
been given and great splatters of color trailed behind him,
wherever he went.
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this award-winning publication expresses the diversity of the disability experience
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Finished Symphony

My frst twenty years Id never heard an honest-to-God
live symphony, and then I started at the top:
Koussevitsky and his Boston combo,
Carnegie, Wolfgangs G minor.
When those frst notes hit, they lifted me out of my seat,
foated me somewhere above the proscenium,
where I stayed for the next two weeks.
I can still hear those notes.
The slow movement was from Brahms. The violins spun it out
into a single white flament that looped over my head
and back to the stage. I tried to hold onto it,
but it slipped through my fngers.
Instead of a minuet we had Ellington. This was early Ellington,
before he got delusions of grandeur. The mood was indigo
and the stage rocked in rhythm while the brass growled,
the A-train rumbled under the auditorium
and I danced in the aisle
until they put me out.
The last movement capped the climax with Mahlers Resurrection Symphony.
Naturally, it was too loud, too long, and out of tune. The violins
begged for mercy, and the concertmaster took a swig of water
or possibly gin. The notes heaped up in weary piles,
waiting for the fnal
molto ritardando.
It ended, with no applause and no encores. The audience was long gone.
I sat alone in the darkened hall, waiting for the lights to come up.
They never did. The conductor disappeared in a puff of smoke
and the weary musicians fled offstage. I clapped and clapped
for an encore, anything
to break the silence.

Previously published in Rattle, Vol. 12, No. 2, Whole No. 26, 2006.
Three states away, Joshuas
celebrating a birthday. All
last week he read social stories
trying to learn what cake, lit
candles, pizza, party hats and gifts
are supposed to mean to him.
I play the jumpy email video,
watch as he slides into a booth,
shakes salt into his palm, tilts
his head sideways and, like always,
his eyes light up as crystals pour
from his fngers like fairy dust.
He makes his infamous shrieking
sound when the teacher hands
him a hat and he doesnt stop
screaming or pounding the table
until she stuffs it in the trash.
A few kids slide in
next to him, across from him
and take turns slapping,
grabbing his hand in different
secret ways and Joshua doesnt
start howling, doesnt try
to hide under the table or yell
for his moms blue van.
He just covers his mouth
with his hand as he laughs
so hard that goose bumps
start to crawl down my arm.
Patiently he waits for the pizza,
blows the candles out, takes
a slice, nibbles counterclockwise
around its steaming edges,
drinks half a Snapple
and then rips his gifts open.
When I visited last winter,
he spent nearly four hours
repeating Tony airport bye
and I wasnt sure he knew me
until the next morning when
he placed his face close to mine.
He put his fnger in his mouth,
tried to make that popping sound
I showed him the frst time
we met and I remembered
how hed jump with joy,
crumble into a soft, giggling,
every time I did it. Hed grab
my fnger, lift it to my lips
and say Again Tony again.
Later, he sprawled across
my lap, let me rub his feet
as he turned pages of shiny
alphabet books, slid his fngers
over the illustrations like
he was speed reading Braille.
At thirteen, hes bigger, stronger.
He throws clothes, magazines
across his bed, desk and foor
like any teenager and he plays
his MP3 endlessly. Still
he listens to the same six
Sesame Street jingles over
and over. Recently hes pulled
hair, torn shirts, bit teachers
and attacked Helen in the middle
of the night once. She never
told me how badly he hurt her,
but shes having trouble sleeping
and feels more overwhelmed
than usual. Hes started
on a low dose of medication,
but she cant tell how much
its helping and no one knows
about long term side effects.
I want to book an early
morning fight, drive over
the hills, ride to the rescue
like John Waynes cavalry.
I want to remember how
much I miss and love both
of them, forget the part
of me thats relieved
I no longer feel guilty
for not spending every hour
of every day trying to cure
his autism, that even if me
and his mom still loved
each other the way we swore
we would, hunkered down
close and deep in our bunkers,
there may never be a way
to make a place in this world
for Joshua or either one of us.

Previously published in the authors book,
The Last Lie, NYQ Books, June 2010.

How Many Hail Marys?
Forgive me, Father, for someone has sinned.
Never mind who; I will do the penance.
It has been seventeen years since my last confession
and then I may have lied out of shame or pride.
Here is the truth and I know it will not set me free:
My fathers sins were in his hands
and he left them imprinted on my skin.
Those hands broke fesh and bone and soul,
and I am left with open fractures that may never heal.
My mothers sins were those of omission.
Her hands are clean but not her heart.
My sins are in my marrow, bone-deep and viscous.
They swim in the cerebral-spinal fuid
that cushions my mind inside my skull.
If we are all sinners, why is there such shame in sinning?
How many Our Fathers until I am clean?
How many Hail Marys until I am whole?
Lord knows, Ive already prayed.
oselli wheeled himself to the edge of the ramp
and relaxed his grip. Smooth rubber tires brushed
against his fngertips as he descended. The chair
landed on the sidewalk with just the slightest bump. After a
few breaths, his lungs felt better, cleaner. Even on a sticky
September afternoon like this, when the air hung heavy
with automobile exhaust, it was much better outside than in
the veterans home, which stood behind him, the blinds in
every window shut tight against the suns strong rays.
He placed a hand above his eyes. It looked as if he might be
trying to home in on something in the towns modest sky-
line. But he was simply creating a bit of shadow to fend off
the suns glare for a few seconds while his eyes adjusted.
He lowered his hand, still squinting, the paleness of his
freshly shaved face fully exposed to the brightness of the
If you examined Rosellis face carefully, with its lines and
scars and hard expression, a face that looked older than its
twenty-eight years, if you really looked at him, you prob-
ably would be able to gather some idea of who he had been.
But hardly anyone looked at Roselli that way anymore.
He planned to take himself to Main Street and from there
to the Yorktown Alley Pub for a bite to eat. With luck, he
would arrive before the evening rush and have a chance to
talk to Amy. The sun beat down on him as he pushed his
way uphill along the sidewalk, but he didnt sweat. The
wind cooled him off and ruffed his thick hair. Hed let it
grow so he wouldnt resemble a former cop or infantryman.
He was someone new now, or at least someone different, a
civilian who no longer chased criminals down the street or
exchanged automatic weapons fre with ragged, lethal men
in the mountains of Afghanistans Nurestan province.
He passed a barber shop and a diner as the incline steep-
ened. The veins in his forearms bulged as he turned his
wheels forward. He wondered, as he pushed the chair hard,
how what was left of his body would hold up without shins,
calves, or feet. The wind billowed his shorts and caressed
his knees and the stubs beneath them, the false beginnings
of his missing lower legs. The stubs completed themselves
as smoothly round, free of edges or bumps, weirdly perfect
in their curvature. A rocket-propelled grenade and the dili-
gent work of surgeons had left him this way, maimed and

A strong gust blew and Roselli stopped the chair. He held
still, closed his eyes, and focused on the wind. He felt it
wash over him, beginning at his stubs. This reassured him,
for the moment, that what was left of him wasnt disappear-
ing. The doctors told him that the numbness that sometimes
invaded his knees was normal and harmless, but their words
werent enough: he needed the sensation of the wind against
his knees to feel whole, or as whole as he could. As the gust
tapered off, he opened his eyes and started pushing with
renewed strength.

Brightly dressed Sunday crowds flled both sides of Main
Street. Roselli stayed in the right lane of pedestrian traffc,
careful not to wheel too fast, not to run into anyone. Parents
pushing strollers, pretty girls in sandals, and teenage boys
in baseball caps all passed by. Some of them looked down
at him and promptly averted their eyes. Others stared, and
from time to time someone accidentally bumped his chair.
He wanted to be able to move along the street comfortably,
to enter a store spontaneously like anyone else. But in the
crowded shops, the stares, bumps, and whispers of excuse
me rained on him even more relentlessly, and his move-
ments were even more confned. So he continued along the
He felt a thump on the left side of his chair. A heavy bag
hanging from a shoulder strap had struck him. The bags
owner, a middle-aged man with black-rimmed eyeglasses,
asked Roselli to excuse him, then darted away before
Roselli could respond, weaving through the crowd while
clutching the bag under his arm remorsefully. The man
was nervous, and even seemed afraid, but Roselli knew
he wasnt, not really. He recognized real fear and knew it
couldnt be shaken off by a few quick strides on a sidewalk.
He had seen fear up close, in the widening eyes of a drug
dealer looking at the barrel of Rosellis Glock. He had
even heard it, in the screams of a Taliban fghter hed shot
to pieces. No one on the force or in his unit had caused as
much fear as Roselli, and there were times hed been told to
let up. He had saved so many lives, though, in this towns
dirty alleys and in Afghanistans sun-drenched landscape
of reddish-brown rocks and pristine dust, that no one ever
came down on him too hard.
A round-faced girl of about six walked past him slowly,
holding her mothers hand. Her blond hair was gathered
under a barrette. She looked directly into Rosellis eyes
and then at the rest of him, and at the air below his fapping
shorts. A tiny gasp escaped her mouth and she buried her
face in her mothers dress. Roselli looked away and shiv-
The shivering continued, and at the corner of York Street
and Main, it worsened. It was a full case of the shakes. He
slowed the chair to a stop immediately next to the Farm-
ers and Mechanics bank. People streamed passed him, no
longer appearing as individuals but as a babble of color and
sound and movement, their particularity muted but their
raw presence intensifed. Rosellis jaw trembled, his hands
did the same, and his mouth dried up. His breath tasted
foul with fear. He wanted to rise from the wheelchair and
fnd a safe place. This was much more frightening than
Afghanistan, where what threatened him was tangible and
he and his M-16 could fght back. He missed his M-16. The
Glock he had used back on the police force felt like a toy in
comparison. It was registered to him as a civilian now and
rested snugly inside his jacket with his pills.
He looked down, focusing on a bottle cap on the sidewalk,
steadying himself enough to turn the chair right onto York
Street. He made another right into a quiet, wide alley, where
he pulled out the bottle of anti-anxiety medicine the VA
psychiatrist had prescribed for him. He rushed two of the
one milligram pills into his mouth, swallowed them, then
took another. He closed his eyes and sat motionless, wait-
ing. Quickly his tension subsided. His heart slowed down
and moisture returned to his mouth. A chemically induced
calm took hold of him. He had skipped lunch and the medi-
cine worked fast.
Soon, he felt even better than calm. He pushed his wheels
along effortlessly, coasting down the slight slant of the al-
ley. He barely felt the chair roll over the seams in the con-
crete; bumps came to him only as muffed sound. The pub
was coming up on the right. It was a favorite haunt from his
days as a cop, and hed been back more than a dozen times
since coming home at the beginning of summer.

As he approached the pub, his wheels squeaking, he heard
a shout from the narrow loading area that ran off the alley
to Main Street, a shadow-covered ribbon of asphalt that ac-
commodated small delivery vehicles. A tiny, frail man in
torn jeans and a plaid fannel shirt emerged from behind a
dumpster, yelling incoherently, mainly cursing. He dragged
a flthy brown sack along the ground and walked, slowly
and with a slight limp, toward Roselli, who recognized him.
He had arrested the man a few times. Chops, he was called,
for reasons Roselli didnt know. Chops was a perpetual
disturbance, especially in jail, where he kept other guests
awake. On the streets, people just avoided him.
No, you get out of here, Chops said to Roselli. I dont
need no motherfucking cripple to compete with.
Its all right, Roselli said. Chops shuffed closer, his neck
bent forward, his eyes moving rapidly, left to right, up and
Dont be telling me its all right either, said Chops. I
aint been taking in nothing lately as it is. He pointed at an
aluminum bucket back near the dumpster with a few dol-
lar bills in it. People see you, theyll give you their extra
cash. Go on somewhere else or Ill kick your ass out of that
Roselli smiled. The anti-anxiety medicine cruised his body
at peak levels; besides, he knew Chops was harmless. No
problem, he said. He pointed to the pub. Im going in
there. I wont take away any of your business. Chops tilted
his head dubiously to the right. His yellow eyes glowed.
As a matter of fact, Roselli added, heres a donation.
He reached into a pocket of his shorts and held out a dollar.
burger and the fries and the Budweiser tasted better tonight
than they ever had. Roselli knew this was at least partly be-
cause of the medicine.

He ordered another Budweiser and watched SportsCenter
highlights on the wide fat-screen television behind the bar.
More customers entered the pub and some of the regulars
shook hands with him as they arrived. A few knew him
from before; others knew him as the ex-cop whose legs
had been blown off in Afghanistan. Some of them stopped
to talk about the stretch run of the baseball season or who
would beat the spread in next weeks NFL games.

The pub wasnt too busy yet, and Amy came over. She sat
down across from him and folded her hands together on
the table. She smiled and asked how things were going.
The steam from the kitchen had put a sheen of sweat on her
face, giving her a pleasant glow. She and Roselli had firted
with one another back before the war, when hed come to
the pub, checking on her when she worked a late shift. She
seemed more serious these days. Roselli felt uneasily re-
sponsible for this.

Hey, she said. I asked how things are going. She
squeezed his right forearm gently, the warmth of her hand
radiating through his sleeve. Roselli smiled back but with-
drew his arm.
Things are good, he said. He told her how Chandler, his
former partner on the force, had paid him a visit earlier in
the day. He didnt mention the many awkward silences the
visit had included or how relieved hed been when Chandler
left. He let her know how hed been starving when he got
to the pub, and how the burger had hit the spot. And you?
Hows school?
Good, she said. Classes are keeping me busy. She
laughed when he asked whether her accounting texts were
giving her headaches, and whether she really liked crunch-
ing all those numbers. Yes, she answered, she did; she liked
it when assets and liabilities balanced out.
You should try it, she said, teasing him back.
No thanks. He smiled and raised his palms in surrender.
Not me.
Okay, then maybe something else. She had been bring-
ing up this something else during his last few visits. She
meant his future, his plans, what he wanted to do next. Hed
always changed the subject, or if he didnt, shed change it
for him. But now she drew her mouth into a straight, serious
line. She wasnt going to change the subject, he sensed, and
she wasnt going to let him change it, either.
She had been bringing up this
something else during his last
few visits. She meant his future, his
plans, what he wanted to do next.
Chops snatched the bill. All right then, he said, turning
away. Mans all right! he shouted up toward Main Street,
where no one could hear him above the bustle of cars and
people on foot. He hobbled back to the dumpster, bellowing
more curses. He put down his sack against the wall, then sat
on it.
The sky began to darken. Roselli wheeled himself up the
ramp to the pubs front door. He pulled the doorknob hard
with his right hand while pushing the left wheel of the chair,
which crossed into the doorway. He turned both wheels
forward a few more inches, just in time to avoid the doors
The smell of fried onion rings and breaded fsh and ciga-
rette smoke mingled in the pubs cluttered air, undisturbed
by the slow-turning ceiling fans. To Rosellis right, steam
and sizzling from the grill fltered out of the kitchen, which
was visible just past the bar.
Amy was behind the bar, emptying ash trays and putting
down coasters. She smiled at him and walked over to his
usual table, then pulled a chair away to make room for his
wheels. He thanked her and ordered a half-pound cheese-
burger and fries, with a Budweiser from the tap.

He devoured his meal, the charred exterior of the burger a
delight to his tongue. His stomach warmed. He had always
loved red meat, had practically lived on it as a kid. The
Sure, he said. With his right thumb and forefnger, he lift-
ed a packet of sugar from the top of the stack in the metal
caddy and pushed the granules around. Im going to come
up with something else. Its just a little tough, though.
Right, Roselli said. He sipped his beer. Insurance. The
fatness of his voice matched his expression, and several
seconds of silence passed.
There are other possibilities, Amy said. Maybe you
could go back to the force. Help solve cases. Help question
the guys who are brought in.
Roselli looked at her skeptically. You can still be a good
cop, she added.
No, Roselli answered evenly. I never was a good cop. I
was a bad cop. He smiled now, and a bit of his old feeling
came back.
Amy shrugged. No one can throw punches forever, she
said. At some point, youd probably want to switch to
good cop anyway.
Roselli laughed. Maybe, he said. But not now. Def-
nitely not now, he thought.
Amy shook her head, smiling again. He hoped she was let-
ting the subject go.
Whatever you decide to do, she said, youll be great at
helping people. Even if you insist on being a badass while
doing it.
You really believe that? Roselli said, chuckling. That
I can help people? He raised his hands above his wheels
Sure, she said. Anyone who knows you would believe
it. Her tone was casual, as if she were saying something
Roselli wondered where the certainty of her belief came
from. He woke up every morning in a state of disbelief
about how the smallest task required the greatest effort, how
hard it was to use the bathroom, to shave, to get dressed, to
move from one present moment to the next, too drained to
think about the future.
Amy kept watching him. Thanks, he told her fnally.

He knew shed have to get back to work soon. Hey,
he said, why dont we catch a movie when your shift is
done? He was surprised to hear these words come out of
his mouth. Over at the Colonial, he added, gesturing with
his thumb in the direction of the old theater a few blocks
away. If youre free.
Amy shrugged. No one can throw
punches forever, she said. At
some point, youd probably want to
switch to good cop anyway.
Why? she asked quietly. Why is it tough?
He looked at her and shrugged. Im just not sure what to
do. A lot of the things someone in my situation can do in-
volve sitting. He spoke the last word sharply. Sitting,
he repeated. At a desk. Ive never been much for sitting at
a desk.
He took a breath. The things Ive done have all been out-
side. He fipped the sugar packet back onto the table. And
Ive always been able to see the results of what I do right in
front of me.
Amy unclasped her fngers and placed her hands on the
table, close to Rosellis. Her long, light brown hair with its
layers of wavy curls framed her face asymmetrically, pulled
behind her left ear but hanging forward over her right. She
had a few tiny freckles on each cheek that Roselli had never
noticed before but that nevertheless reminded him of some-
thing, took him back to the times before the war when hed
kidded with her and she would blush or laugh hard and let
him buy her a drink when her shift was over.
There are all kinds of things you can do that would let you
keep moving, she said. Where you could help people out,
Like what? He leaned forward and raised his eyebrows.
Who could I help? A tinge of bitterness pushed its way
into his question.
Plenty of people, Amy said. You could go into insur-
ance. You could visit people whose houses have burned
down or whove been hurt in an accident. Go out and meet
them. Help fx their problems.
Id like that. She stood from the table and smiled.
What do you want to see?
Pick something, she said. She squeezed his arm again, her
fngers still warm.
They agreed to meet in front of the movie house at nine-
ffteen, and Amy walked over to another table where two
customers had seated themselves. Roselli looked into the
kitchen and gave a salute-wave to Mel, the pubs owner,
who smiled and waved back from behind the bar.
Roselli took a breath and felt a warmth spread inside him, a
different kind than the one that had accompanied the burger.
It was a feeling he hadnt experienced since coming home.
He fnished his beer and watched the crowd thicken.
He didnt recognize any of the customers fowing through
the door now, bumping into each other, then jamming to-
gether near the bar and in the pubs small foyer, waiting in
a messy semblance of a line for tables to become available.
Roselli felt his medication begin to wear off. His stomach
futtered a little. He closed his eyes and sought distraction
by picturing Amy still sitting across from him, recalling the
feeling of her fngers as she touched his arm, then imagin-
ing the two of them at the Colonial, both seated quietly, his
awareness of her next to him cutting through the theaters
darkness. He took a deep breath and opened his eyes.
A big man, about Rosellis age, stood a few feet away. He
wore a leather jacket zipped only at the bottom and looked
at Roselli and his table. The woman on his arm did the
same. They separated themselves from the congestion by
the pubs front door and hovered nearer to him, like Christ-
mas shoppers closing in on a parking space at the mall. The
mans eyebrows were tensed into a hard expression as he
surveyed Rosellis plate, clean except for some grease and
a few spots of ketchup. Looks like this guys about done,
he said, more loudly than necessary, nominally addressing
the woman.
Roselli thought about ordering a cup of coffee, returning the
mans scowl with a nod and a smile, saying something like,
Busy night, huh? But the futters in his stomach became
more insistent and severe, as if hed swallowed something
unstable. He needed fresh air. He calculated his tab in his
head and decided to pay without waiting for the check. He
placed the cash on the table and secured it with his empty
beer glass.
A hand touched his shoulder from behind, and he started. It
was Amy. She knelt to bring her face down close to his so
she could be heard above the crowds rising din.

Im glad I caught you, she said. Mel is insisting that I
work late. He says its too busy for me to leave at nine.
Sure, Roselli said. He lifted his right arm and gestured
toward the crowd. I can see why. But even as he spoke,
he felt the disappointment sink in, another ingredient added
to the cauldron of anxiety inside him.
Roselli took a breath and felt a
warmth spread inside him, a differ-
ent kind than the one that had
accompanied the burger.
Is this table open? The man in the jacket now stood at
the spot behind where Amy had been sitting earlier, his jaw
jutting out. His thick fngers rested on the top of the chairs
curved back. His girlfriend stood next to him. He wasnt as
big as Roselli had been. Roselli knew the look, recognized
how quickly the tough veneer could be melted away when
confronted by someone tougher.
It is, said Roselli. I was just leaving. He broke eye con-
tact with the man.
Are you all right to get through this jam? Amy asked, giv-
ing a quick nod toward the crowd.
Yeah, said Roselli, quietly. He turned the chair until he
was perpendicular to the standing customers lining one end
of the bar to the other. Excuse me, he said. The crowd let
him squeeze through. He didnt look up at any of them.
The temperature outside had dropped considerably, and the
sudden chill and change of scenery made Roselli shiver.
He grabbed his tires for a moment to steady himself. His
breath fogged the air and he zipped up his jacket. The rush
of patrons entering the pub had ended just as hed left. The
alley was as quiet as it was cool; even the buzz of Main
Street had eased. Its all right, he said in a whisper as he
wheeled his chair slowly toward York Street, taking in the
relative peace. Its quiet out here, no crowds. Its wide open.
Everything is wide open.
But his heart began to race. Its all right, he said again.
This had been a good night. It was all good.
Like hell it was, some other part of him said. Like hell. He
chastised himself for putting Amy on the spot. What was
she going to do, say no right away? Sure, she had to work
late. Sure she did.
Roselli shook all over. Then the sweating started abruptly,
quickly soaking his back and chest. He zipped his jacket
open, desperate for a breeze that would dry him off. First
too cold, now too hot. He had been so comfortable at the
pub, until the end. Had it all been just a buzz from his pills?
He heard a shrill cry. God-damn! Chops roused himself
from the ground by the dumpster and limped towards him.
I knew youd fuck me up! he shouted. I just knew it!
The little man stood in front of Rosellis chair and looked
down at him. All them people lining up to get in, he said,
waving an arm toward the pub. And none of them give me
a dime.

Roselli looked at the ground.
And you know why?
Leave me alone, Roselli said, still looking down. He
gripped his tires and took a hard, shaky breath.
Ill tell you why. Because of you! Chops poked a bony
fnger into Rosellis chest. They knew you was in there and
they kept their money in their pockets until they got inside
and gave it to you!
Rosellis chest stung where Chops had poked him. People,
he told himself, didnt do this to him. No one did, not some-
one like Chops, and not the hard guy in the pub. The guy
with the girlfriend. This was not something he could stand
Get away from me, he said. Anger mixed with his fear.
Ohhh, no, said Chops, bending his neck forward, coming
face to face with him. Not so fast. Let me see what they
give you. You give me half, cripple. Give me half and well
call it even. He reached inside Rosellis jacket.
Rosellis left hand, as if moving on its own, darted for-
ward and grabbed Chops by his collar. He breathed hard
once, then twice. The second breath came more easily
and the third felt deep and healthy, reminding him of how
hed breathed during a frefght in the mountains or in the
rough neighborhoods in the town, his adrenaline at full tilt.
He squeezed Chopss frayed collar inside his fst, dug his
knuckles into Chopss throat, and yanked. The wheelchair
rattled as Chopss face collided with the left post support-
ing the backrest. He kept a tight grip on Chopss collar, then
brought him forward and shoved him away as hard as he
could. Chops few backward and landed on his rear, hard.
Roselli smiled.

Chops struggled to stand. He rose slowly, his movements
spasmodic, as if his limp had intensifed and spread to all
his limbs. He touched his face, saw the blood on his hand,
and hurled a stream of expletives at Roselli before charging
Shut up, said Roselli. He felt
calm, like himself. His old, real self.
No more shakes or sweating. Maybe
this was the medicine he needed.
Roselli caught Chops with his left hand again, absorb-
ing most of the shock from the collision. The wheelchair
backed up only about a foot. He took hold of Chopss collar
and pulled him down until the foreheads of the two men
touched. Chops cursed and tried to get loose, failing his
fsts ineffectually into Rosellis upper arms. Roselli could
do whatever he wanted with Chops nowpunch him out
with a right hand, head-butt him.
He reached his free hand into his jacket and found his
Glock. His palm and fngers eased around it. He pressed the
barrel against Chopss left temple. Put your hands on the
back of your head and stay still, he told him. His voice was
Chops obeyed. Shit, man, let me go, he said in a faint,
raspy whisper. You can keep all of it. Just let me go.
Shut up, said Roselli. He felt calm, like himself. His old,
real self. No more shakes or sweating. Maybe this was the
medicine he needed.
He pulled the trigger slightly, just enough to release the
safety on the gun. Keep your Glock cocked, as theyd said
back on the force.
Did you know Im a war hero? he asked Chops. He
watched the beads of sweat squeeze out of the pores of the
little mans leathery skin, just above where the Glocks bar-
rel pressed into him. Thats right, Roselli thought. Your turn
No man, I didnt. I didnt know. Just let me go, all right? I
wont mess with you no more.
Roselli looked into Chopss eyes, saw red lines in the yel-
lowed, watery orbs, and felt the vibrations in his armnot
his own trembling, but Chopss. It was different to feel it,
different than just watching him shake. But he also felt the
steel of the Glocks trigger, smooth and cool against his
forefnger. It pleaded for him to squeeze it. He pushed the
end of the barrel harder into Chopss head. Chops closed
his eyes and his trembling grew worse. Please, man. The
rasp was barely audible now.
Roselli breathed in, gathering his resolve. At that same mo-
ment, Chops exhaled a long breath of stale air. Roselli rec-
ognized the smellit carried the distinctive, acrid favor of
the fear hed tasted in his mouth on Main Street a few hours
ago. It was still there when Roselli took his next breath. His
right hand began to shake while it pressed the barrel of the
Glock into Chopss temple, and Chops shook even harder
as a result. They both trembled violently for several seconds
longer, or maybe several minutes longer. Roselli wasnt
sure how long hed been shaking when he fnally let go of
the trigger.
The guns safety reengaged. Roselli relaxed his grip on
Chopss collar and slowly uncurled the fngers of his left
hand. He removed the gun from Chopss temple, revealing a
circular imprint, a temporary tattoo from the Glocks barrel.
He put the gun back in his jacket.
Chops, no longer in Rosellis grasp, still didnt move, and
kept his hands on the back of his head.
Roselli backed up a few feet, but Chops remained bent
forward. Roselli nodded at him. Stand up, he said. Chops
complied, tentatively, and took a few small steps backward.

Take it easy, Roselli said calmly. I wont hurt you any-
Chops lowered his hands. He looked left, then right. Then,
in a burst of movement, he took off toward the dumpster.
Roselli had seen him run before, but never this fast. He
thought about shouting after him, telling him something
to take his terror away. But he couldnt come up with the
words. Chops grabbed his sack from the ground without
breaking stride and kept going, disappearing with a left turn
onto Main Street.
Roselli breathed in deeply, then exhaled, fogging the eve-
ning air as he had before, as anyones breath would. But the
cloud he produced this time was shaped differently from
anyone elses, and differed from the one hed made earlier.
He felt his heart beat again, this time not too fast or hard.
He reached back into his jacket, feeling again for the gun.

He took the magazine out and removed the ffteen car-
tridges with his left hand, one at a time. He placed them in
his pocket in groups of three. He pointed the gun downward
and pulled the trigger, disengaging the fring pin, and then
held the gun in his right hand. He squeezed the levers on
either side of the weapon with the thumb and index fnger
of his left hand and, with his right, pushed the slide forward
off the frame. He put the magazine, the barrel, the spring,
and the slide in the same pocket as the rounds; they all
pinged against one another as he wheeled himself to the
dumpster. He reached up and opened a side panel. Gently,
he tossed the frame of the gun inside. It vanished and barely
made a sound, its fall cushioned, Roselli supposed, by a bag
of garbage.
He turned his chair around and wheeled it back to the
broader alley, feeling the bumps but not bothered by them.
The muscles in his face were relaxed. If you looked at him
now in the bright light thrown off by the neon sign outside
the pub, you would see a man of twenty-eight, seated.
Tomorrow, he told himself, hed come up with a plan. For
now, he was grateful to have made it this far. He pushed his
wheels toward York Street.
Previously published in
The South Carolina Review, Spring 2010.
t was in the late spring of 1906
when the decision was made. The
Russian government was instituting
pogroms, an unoffcial systematic kill-
ing of Jews in small Russian villages,
and it was only a matter of time before
the Levines poverty-stricken village
was attacked. Thus, Sam, Sheba, and
polio-stricken daughter, Pearl had de-
cided to come to America. The only
problem was because the family was
so poor, they only had enough money
to send one person abroadand that
person would be my grandfather, Sam
Levine. The plan was for him to get to
America and save as much money as
necessary before sending for his wife
and daughter.
However, Sam whose family lived in
Northwestern Russia, just south of St.
Petersburg, couldnt simply cross the
border into Finland, pay his travel fare
from Helsinki, and sail to New York.
First hed needed to bribe the Russian
guards and that was a risky situation.
Luckily, he came across an apathetic
guard who regarded him merely as a
peasant. He made my grandfather open
his satchel, searched through it, found
a newly knitted scarf and grabbed it
for himself. He then demanded a few
rubles as a transfer fee. Had the
guard known Sam was Jewish he could
have reported him and had him thrown
into prison.
In the meantime, Sheba and baby Pearl
waited, living in their one room shack,
hoping from one day to the next that
word would come from her husband.
The wait was longso long in fact that
Sheba began to lose hope, until one
day, a letter arrived. Sam had arranged
passage for her and Pearl and it had
taken nearly fve years. Pearl, now six
and wearing heavy wooden and metal
braces could no longer remember her
father, but when she saw the excited
countenance upon her mothers face,
she too smiled. America, was all She-
ba could say to her daughter. Were
going to America.
Gathering their belongings, along with
her most precious wedding gifta pair
of silver candlestick holders, the two
left their village late one summers
evening, knowing that they had sev-
eral miles to travel before confronting
the border. Since little Pearl had dif-
fculty walking with her heavy braces,
her mother placed her on an aging
mule they kept in their pasture. Sheba
walked in front of the mule leading it
by the reigns. As they got within sight
of the border crossing, Sheba led both
mule and rider into the woods. There
she helped her daughter dismount, then
reaching in her bag of knitting yarn,
had Pearl hike up her long, frilly skirt.
The crude braces stretched from the
heel of her boots up to her thighs. Metal
hinges crisscrossed over the elongated
wooden braces and a leather strap belt
cinched each leg at the thigh.
Thinking quickly, Sheba reached back
into her bundle and removed the can-
dlestick holders. She then tied each one
to the back of both legs, making sure
they were as fush with the metal hing-
es as possible. Hence, if a guard were
to feel through the skirt for anything
amiss, he would only sense the elon-
gated wooden and metal rods that were
of standard use for polio survivors.
Within minutes they were back on the
road and as they approached the two
border guards, both mother and daugh-
ter tensed. One guard held his hand up
indicating that they were to go no far-
ther. I just saw you go off the road and
into the woods. Explain yourself.
My daughter needed to relieve her-
self, Sheba answered.
That seemed to satisfy the frst guard
and he motioned them forward. The
second guard regarded the young girl
on the mule. He studied her for a mo-
ment, then asked her to get down. She-
ba reached up and lifted her daughter
from the mule.
Business in Finland? the frst guard
questioned. Sheba nodded, saying her
aunt had been living there but had
passed away. Sheba claimed she had
received a letter telling her of a small
inheritance, and she was on her way to
collect it.
The two guards looked at each other.
Sheba realized her mistake immedi-
ately. An inheritance meant that the
guards would require a larger than
normal bribe. She spoke up. Whatever
money was left to me will go to pay our
doctors bill. Pearl has polio, as you can
see, and she will need many treatments
if she is to have any chance to walk.
It was diffcult to sense whether the
guards were sympathetic to her plea.
Both stared at the child until the one
who had ordered them to stop, walked
over to Pearl, knelt down in front of
her and placed his hands on the hem
of her skirt. He gently worked his way
up, feeling the heavy metal clinging
to those tiny legs. He then pressed his
hands to Pearls inner thighs, where
upon he was met with the same struc-
tural casing. He sighed momentarily,
then said softly, Youre a brave girl.
Pearl smiled back, her head coyly
tucked into her chest. She watched
him as he stood up, ambled over to the
other guard and whispered something
to him. The second guard nodded and
turned, lifting a long vertical bar. You
may cross, he announced. A massive
wave of relief passed across her face.
Quickly, she placed Pearl back on the
mule and as they approached the gate,
the same guard announced, . . . and
that will be three rubles. The price was
high but it was within her means. She
turned her back on the men, reached for
a small purse tucked under her belt and
withdrew some coins.
The guard took it, then nodded. Das-
vidanya, he shouted. Sheba looked
back, stunned by the raised voice. She
noticed, however, that the word was
meant for little Pearl, for he spoke
again, completing the sentence . . . my
little Jewess princess.
My grandmother Sheba died many
years ago along with my Aunt Pearl
who lived another 35 years with her
polio. But as a child I can still vividly
remember the silver candlestick hold-
ers, brightly polished and centered in
the middle of my grandparents large
dining room table. Today, they belong
to my mother and whenever I visit her
Im always reminded of the remarkable
story of my grandparents escape from
Russia and the brave little girl with
polio who would become a wife and
mother herself despite her disability.

ven though my eyesight has become nothing but
fog and shadows, I know the way the sun shining
through an iron balcony makes a lace of light on
the side of a house. I know how the Vermillion Flycatcher
that winters in our Louisiana trees sets fre to a cloudy sky.
Ive seen the fuchsia bougainvillea that clambers over iron
fences and topples onto the banquettes, the verdigris metal
of the covered market, and the tables in my fathers of-
fce piled high with snowy white cotton. I know that even
though I am unable to see them, steamboats still crowd the
muddy river and their smokestacks still punctuate the sky
along the wharf like minarets. Surely my artistic cousin
should want to paint that.
I had such hopes when my husband wrote me from his
business trip in Paris, saying that Cousin Edgar would be
coming for a visit. I thought that Edgar, the great artist,
would see for me all the beautiful things that I have missed
in these ten years of gathering darkness. He would go out
into the bustling streets of New Orleans or the surround-
ing sunny cane felds and come back to our familys rented
mansion on Esplanade to tell me all that he saw. He would
say how the little houses along the streets of the French
Quarter are painted the colors of faded fowers and how the
green stalks of cane ripple in the wind. He would have the
eyes to show me these things. He would have the time to
tell me about them.
Mais non, Edgar stays inside and dwells on his memories
of Paris and the Franco Prussian War of almost two years
ago. And because I am blind and a woman and heavy with a
child waiting to be born, I am stuck inside our family house
with him, seeing all the horrors he conjures up for me.
Today he says, By December, the siege seemed as if it
would never end. Hunger set in. Horsemeat was scarce.
Grain had to be conserved, and the animals at the zoo were
getting thinner and thinner.
Edgars voice goes raspy with emotion and warns me that
his story is going to be particularly unpleasant. I try to shoo
my ten-year-old daughter from the room. Jo, I say, go
outside and play with the little ones.
But my effort is pointless. I can feel her standing half-
cocked by the door, trying to convince me that she is about
to leave.
The elephants, Castor and Pollux, were pitiful to behold,
but still people would see them and drool.
What does an elephant look like? I try to remember. I
shuffe through images like a deck of cards: Hannibal in the
Alps, an oriental prince seated high on the back of a leath-
ery beast, a poster for a circus that I was forbidden to at-
tend. Then I think of the Noahs ark I played with as a child.
The toy had a full complement of garish animals in grinning
pairs. The elephants had wild blue eyes.
Some entrepreneur decided that he would buy the el-
ephants, slaughter them, and serve them up at a New Years
feast. Unfortunately, there was a problemthe butcher and
his cronies had no experience killing such large animals.
First, they shot the elephant called Castor with a carbine.
For a moment, Castor seemed to hardly notice the wound,
but his blood spurted everywhere. The gun was reloaded
with steel-tipped bullets. Castor began to shriek. It took
two more shots to put the poor fellow down. And then, they
began on Pollux. Despite the killers practice, the second
slaughter was no more effcient.
battlefelds. I see the Comedie Francaise turn into a hospital
and the marble bust of that old empiricist Voltaire smirking
down at the wounded.
In the midst of this hot Louisiana autumn, I shiver with the
sensations of a French winter so cold that the stars jangle in
the sky. When Edgar speaks, I feel like a prisoner in a city
at war. I imagine myself in Paris at dusk. I see a red hot air
balloon rise into the pink sky and wish that I were a passen-
ger. Amidst a cloud of futtering carrier pigeons, the balloon
foats off to a land beyond war.
By the third week of his visit, I have seen enough of my
cousins war. I resolve to force him to confront some new
scenery. I knock on the door of the apartment on the ground
foor of the house, the one my father shares with my spin-
ster sister Didi and, now, with our guest, Edgar.
Oui, Edgar replies to my knock without bothering to
open the door. His voice is cranky with sleeping late.
Edgar, I need you to accompany me to the market.
He opens the door. In your condition? Are you certain
thats wise Estelle?
I pat my bulging belly. The baby will be fne, but I need
apples so that Clemance can make a pie.
Surely she can get them.
I point to my nose. Apples are best picked by smell, and
Clemances nose is hopeless.
At the market, Edgar and I must seem a sad pair. I grip his
arm and trip along with my stuttering blind womans walk,
probably embarrassing my cousin who chivalrously tries to
guide me through the maze of tightly stacked merchandise.
He cannot believe that I know where I am by the sounds.
I listen to the calls of the various vendors to fnd the fruit
seller I like. At her stall, I inhale the waxy peels of oranges
and bananas speckled soft-ripe. Edgar helps me pick apples,
holding each perfect globe up to my nose so that I can enjoy
the delicious nip of a northern fall.
On the walk home, he says, Everything attracts me here:
the orange trees, the Negroes in old clothes, the white,
white children in the arms of black nursemaids. He sighs
before he says the thing he really wants to say. If only I
He is not used to children and
the children of blind women in
particular, obsessed with how
things taste, touch, and smell.
I am so busy imagining a blue-eyed elephant bellowing and
bleeding that my daughters voice comes as a shock.
What does elephant taste like?
Edgar pauses before he answers Jos question. It is clear
that he thinks my child is a ghoul. He is not used to children
and the children of blind women in particular, obsessed
with how things taste, touch, and smell.
Can you believe I didnt even get a bite? The price they
were charging! But ask me what cat and rat taste like
those favors I know.
And so it goes. Day after day, Edgar uses his words to paint
war scenes for me. I see a thunderstorm light up the sky
above Paris. The news has arrived about the defeat at Se-
dan, and rioters are beginning to set things on fre. Gusts of
wind carry furries of burning paper. Then Paris turns gold
with autumn, and the people hunker down in the city under
siege. Fashionable ladies climb to the heights of the Tro-
cadero to view the Prussian enemy through their lorgnettes.
Leaves fall. As cold weather arrives, the trees in the Bois de
Boulogne are cut down for fuel. Barges bearing frozen bod-
ies stacked like frewood foat down the Seine from distant
felt that my eyes werent so fragile. The sun here is so bril-
liant. It hurts my eyes. Imagine the things that I could paint
He is quiet after his outburst, uncertain how to discuss fail-
ing eyesight with a blind woman.
* * *
I met Edgar ten years ago, during the last years when the
light leaking into my eyes could probably be described as
sight. It was during the war.
I was a widow then. Jo was a newborn. Jos father had been
killed wearing a gray uniform on a battlefeld in Corinth,
After Balfours death, I cried so often that it was easy to
believe I blinded myself with my tears. I would kiss the top
of Jos head as I nursed her and taste brine.
Still weeping, I went to France with my baby, my mother,
and my practical sister Didi. On our journey, I complained
to my mother and Didi of pain in my eyes. Then stop cry-
ing, was Didis reply. In France, I dried my cheeks and
realized that my sight, particularly in my left eye, was wan-
In Paris, we met Creoles on every corner. Women and chil-
dren and old men escaping the occupation of New Orleans
and indulging in the comfort of French friends and rela-
tives. Mr. Slidell, the Confederate ambassador, held parties
and tried to make things gay, but his guests would wind up
huddled in corners holding worried conversations about
money and politics. To escape this dismal community, we
went to stay in sleepy, cold, Bourg en Bresse.
Cousin Edgar came to visit us there, bringing bonbons and
stories to cheer us up. Before his arrival, we were warned
that our thirty-year-old cousin already had the prickly ways
of a confrmed bachelor, but with us, he was utterly charm-
ing. He sketched Didis hands and painted my portrait. As
he positioned me in a wet feld, he touched my face and
angled my chin toward the wan sun with such tenderness
that I cried again. He let me weep as he painted. In the end
the portrait was blurry, as if my cousin saw things through
my eyes, weary with grief.
* * *
After our trip to the market, Edgar decides to fll his after-
noon painting another picture of me. Ten years have passed
since that sad time in France. I have remarried and had two
more children. I am eight months pregnant with my fourth
child and hardly a conventional subject, but I suppose that
blind women are not allowed to be vain.
He perches me on the edge of a chaise longue. I feel as if
my left ear is facing him rather than my eyes. And indeed,
my ears have taken over for my eyes. I am alert to every
noise, ready to break up a fght between the children or to
rush to the assistance of Didi.
Isnt it unfair to paint a blind woman? I tease.
Edgars brush stops its gentle scrape on the canvas.
Youre not totally blind, he says quickly. What can you
Since he arrived in New Orleans, he must have wanted to
ask this. He wants me to offer him some tale of my blind-
ness that will contradict the symptoms of failing sight that
he is experiencing. He wants me to be his personal blind
Even though Edgar has only just positioned me into the
pose, I rise. I walk toward the place where I can feel that he
is standing. The November sun streams through the win-
dows and heats up the carpet. I pass Edgars easel with its
damp, buttery smell. I walk behind him and allow my hands
to travel up to his face. Edgar clatters down his paintbrush. I
put the palms of my hands over his eyes. His eyelids futter
beneath my touch. This is what I see.
* * *
Months later, as Edgar is packing to return to France, my
sister, Didi, looks at our cousins painting of me.
It is beautiful but odd.
Whatever do you mean?
It is as if he has painted you from the inside out. The entire
canvas is covered, suffused, I mean, with a hazy pink light.
Like sunlight through skin.
I know now that my cousin has understood. He must devote
himself to seeing while he can. For my part, I see very little.
For my pictures, I must rely on the pink warmth of touch
and the memory of toy elephants.
Previously published in Ballyhoo Stories (now defunct).
Bradley G. Michael, Peace, 2002, airbrush acrylic on canvas, 2.5 x 2
If you have a passion for anything in life, follow it. If you
have inspiration to do something that involves that passion,
run like the wind with it.
~ Bradley G. Michael
n art and life Bradley G. Michael has juggled the ex-
tremes of beauty and horror. Balancing life precariously
he revels in the magnifcence of creation, nature, and
all things lovely while enduring the darkness of depression,
anxiety, and terrorlife in continuous, sometimes chaotic,
motion. Voices in his head are deceptive. Frightening. Con-
fusing. Disruptive. Miss a beat and it is a struggle to regain
He had a seemingly idyllic early childhood growing up
on a small farm in Iowa. He remembers running through
corn felds with his dog, playing with pigs, and riding on
his fathers Harley Davidson. When he was 5 years old his
parents sold the Harley and used the money to put a down
payment on a small house in Cookeville, Tennessee. He en-
joyed being outsideplaying in the mud with the turtles by
the pond, and insidecreating things with Legos, Play-doh,
paper, and crayons.
In high school he began selling wearable artwork. He
painted on shoes, shirts, and jackets. By that time he had
already experienced an intense battle with depression that
began when he was 12 years old. During his frst semester
at Nossi College of Art he earned a 3.8 grade point average
but he began having hallucinations and mood swings that he
says, would keep me up and laughing, for no apparent rea-
son, for many days and then I would feel so hopeless that I
wouldnt eat, get out of bed, or take a shower. He experi-
enced panic attacks and paranoia. I felt I was going to die
Bradley G. Michael, Balance, 2014, stock photos manipulated using Photoshop, 8 x 10
many times and other times I wanted to die. The artist was
diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder (schizophrenia cou-
pled with a mood disorder) and after multiple admissions
to psychiatric hospitals he was forced to drop out of school.
He was taking antipsychotics but still struggled with de-
pression and anxiety. Months would go by and he wouldnt
paint or draw anything and then with a sudden burst of
overwhelming inspiration he would complete several pieces
in a very short period of time.
His father had been diagnosed with schizophrenia late in
life. He was very strict and would sometimes sit in the
dark with cigarettes and ask me to stand beside him in the
dark . . . I loved him dearly but he frightened me. When
Michael was only 20 years old, his father died in his arms
from a bleeding ulcer while he waited for the paramedics to
The trials he has endured, and his hopes for the future, fuel
his desire to create. I want to show the beauty of creation,
hoping that people will take a moment to see things through
his eyes when they view his work and fnd love, beauty,
and joy within. With an appreciation for the artistry found
in nature, he uses photography to preserve what he sees.
On a trip to Gatlinburg, Tennessee he captured a glorious
sunset, combined it with a photo of some fowers he took
in Cookeville, and manipulated the image in Photoshop
by adjusting the contrast and adding a lens fare in the sky.
The result, Purple Flowers, bursts with deep violet hues,
warmth, and sheer beauty.
Conversely, he tries to provide a glimpse into the horrors he
has experienced as a person with schizoaffective disorder.
Dark Voices was created to show how I feel on days that
my mind screams at me. The image has a triple exposure
with a squeezing, plastic wrap flter. The distress is evident
and disturbing as hands over the ears try in vain to drown
out the noise that comes from within. Through his work he
hopes to comfort those who have mental illness with the
knowledge that they are not alone. He also hopes to dispel
the fears that many people have regarding people with men-
tal illness, helping them realize they are ordinary people in
need of compassion, understanding, and acceptance.
He is his own worst critic. If he wont hang something on
his own walls, he will destroy it. Although he now creates
most of his work in Photoshop he says, I do feel that a true
piece of artwork should be done by hand. In addition to
Bradley G. Michael, Dark Voices, 2005, photography (triple exposure) and image manipulation using Photoshop,
11 x 17
photography, Michael enjoys playing the guitar and work-
ing with a variety of media including clay, pen and ink, and
acrylics. He prefers to use acrylic paints with an airbrush so
he can meticulously layer colors to achieve the desired ef-
fect. The image of a Siberian tiger titled, Peace, is symbolic
and one of his favorites. He had been contemplating suicide
when he says, I got saved in a church in Cookeville and I
have never felt so much peace. He worked on the image of
the tiger during that tranquil state and says once it was com-
plete, he could see himself within the painting.
His work has been on display in a gallery in Cookeville as
well as at the local county fair. Some of his art has been
used on book covers. Elements and Dark Voices have won
frst place in art contests sponsored by, a site
founded by Francis Ford Copella.
Although he is honored to have his work recognized, he is
most proud of his role as a husband and father to 9-year-old
twins, Bradley Jr. and Katie Ann. His wife Nadia is from
Scotland. They met online and have been married for 12
years. He is grateful to his wife and his mother (who he
describes as his best friend) for their ongoing support. His
mother lives nearby with and cares for his younger brother
who has a developmental disability.
The artist takes a combination of medications that control
most of his symptoms although bouts with depression still
plague him. He turns to family, faith, and art during formi-
dable times. He creates when he feels inspired and sees art
as freedom of the soul. To learn more about him or to see
more of his work, visit

Bradley G. Michael
Bradley G. Michael, Sister, 2012, stock photos manipulated using Photoshop, 8 x 10
Bradley G. Michael, Brother Eternal, 2005, photography
(double exposure), 11 x 17
Bradley G. Michael, The Great Escape, 2011, stock photos manipulated using Photoshop, 11 x 17


In my eyes, he still spies on me
in dreams suspended
in mirrors that descend.
His head a broken drum,
born at a twisted angle,
as if some god of spite
snapped it to one side
before hurling him into the world,
his eyes question marks, his bony arms
pointless exclamations.
When he was a boy, the other boys
chased him, stoned him, but I
snapped my big slingshot
to drive them away.
Write this in your tablets:
I did something.
David read books and books
in a school where ignorance
was a blessing, and he loved Star Trek,
the nerds foating paradise.
Sometimes Id follow him down the halls,
through secret paths
behind the lockers, his whispered words calling me,
his hands thrusting through darkness
like wingless birds.
Mr. White, World History and Gym,
had clichs caught in his moustache.
He hurled them at David every day.
Be a man, David, get laid, David,
Number Two is the First Loser, David,
Stop being the dork of the world.
Mr. Dark, the basketball coach, a legend,
could skip whole classes when he won,
and he sucked a Tootsie Roll Pop of victory
and called David The Hebrew Crip.
And I did nothing. Yet no one came for me.
No voices condemned from behind lecterns.
No slide shows showed the truth. Besides,
there were always others to take the blame
The girls who giggled when he passed,
And tugged at their skirts . . .
If only he had cured cancer or committed suicide,
I could be done with him.
But in my dreams
he only turns, silent,
and walks away from my words,
descending in a storm of night
before I can call him back.
rant Samson stood in the foyer, his slippers em-
bedded in a round shag rug. One hand was frmly
around the doorknob. The other hand, wrist turned
inward, gripped the edge of a package causing the package
to lay face up on his forearm.
We have something from Italy he said closing the door,
his backside giving it a push.

Giving the package two suspicious shakes, he motioned
Madeline, who had heard the doorbell, to follow him
though an archway into the living room. A television set
stood against the right wall. On the left wall a clever pre-
sentation of framed pictures was hung above a davenport
where they sat down. Madeline hefted the parcel and then
held it with the tips of her fngers as she read:
Grant and Madeline Samson
4914 Popular St.
Ajax, Michigan 48357
The postage (in euros) was metered at the right corner. The
return address was St. Francis Friary, Assisi, Italy. Other
than its one inch width, the package had the dimensions of
an old 33-rpm phonograph jacket.

Its got one of those clever tab releases that needs a knife
to open, Grant said as he sawed at a corner and tore off
an end strip. Upending it, he shook the box until a book
clumped onto the glass surface of the coffee table.
The book was titled Origins of Greatness; written and illus-
trated by Brother Paolo Zucara, OFM.
The jacket cover was designed in four equal panels entitled,
Literature, Sculpture, Architecture, and Painting. Each
panel had an illustration of a youthful boy or girl with enig-
matic expressions as if they were waiting for someone to
teach them how to use the writing quill or chisel or brush
that they held in small fsts.
On the inside fap of the dust jacket was a picture of the au-
thor. He wore a brown cassock and sat forward on a bench,
one forearm loosely idle over a knee. In the other hand he
gripped a staff that was planted on the ground off to his
Madeline sat back on the davenport with her legs crossed
at the ankles, the book held open on her lap. With her chin
thrust forward and eyelids half closed, she tilted her head
down to read what had been written beneath the photo:
Brother Paolo Zurcara, OFM. 1937-2003, Administrator-
Curator of the Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi.
A neuron of memory ticked in the corner of her mindlike
an errant phone number or a relatives birthdatea latent
coda playing at the cusp of recollection.
* * *
On the third foor of the Fiat Automotive building in Turin,
Italy, Sandro Zucara stood before the wall of glass that
flled the east wall of his offce. He watched the movement
in the shipping yard below and imagined hearing the fa-
miliar sound of precision engines as new Fiats were driven
onto railroad transport cars. Miles away, beyond the load-
ing yard, above the sunlit spires and rooftops of Turin, the
northern arm of the Apennine mountains rose and stretched
south across the Piedmont region, painting the horizon in
ripples of orange and pink beneath a waning flament of
velvet sky.

The memory of Paolos early departure still on his mind,
Sandros fnger absently traced the contour of a distant
mountain peak on the window.
* * *
At the time Sandoro Zucara had been standing at his offce
window, lamenting his sons departure and trying to gain
solace from the natural splendor of the Apennine chain, his
son Paolo was traversing that same range of mountains. On
his lap was a nylon duffel bag containing his sketchpad and
two books, one about art history and the second, a novel by
Victor Hugo. Paolo had also found room in the duffe for
two sandwiches wrapped in brown paper that his mother
had handed to him before he boarded the train. Under his
seat was a small carry-on in which he had packed socks
and underwear along with a few other personal items. That
morning, Paolo had taken a taxi from an apartment he had
been living in outside of Turin and found both his parents
waiting at the train station. His mother, a practicing catho-
lic, endorsed her sons decision. As if she were sending her
son off to his frst day at school, she handed him two sand-
wiches that she herself had made the night before. Sandro
Zacura had withheld approval until last month when Paolo
had shown him the train ticket and a letter of instruction
from the friary in Assisi.
The train engineer blew a fnal boarding whistle. Sandro
removed his wristwatch and took hold of his sons wrist.
You must have a watch to keep time, he said with a faint

I should not accept such a valuable piece, said Paolo,
watching his father secure the clasp on his wrist.
Franciscans do not use sundials. Sandro laughed. The
watch is Swiss. It belonged to my grandfather. I want you to
have it. So take it. Paolo recalled how his father had tightly
held his forearm, pulling him close.
We are father and son. And you will forever be in my
heart he said, slowly releasing his hold.
* * *
The train entered a tunnel and the hollow roar of com-
pressed air interrupted Paolos thoughts. The strident echo
of the tunnel subsided, replaced by the rhythm of wheels
that moved smoothly along the rails giving off measured
thumps of muted harmony. Paolo became restless. The
sensation that now visited him was not the raw anxiety of
a boy leaving his home. It was an odd, lugubrious unease
that spurred the restlessness and tugged at his spirit. Paolo
placed his head back on the seat and closed his eyes think-
ing a short rest might be the bromide for the sudden unfa-
miliar melancholy. He dozed. The feeting hypnotic lights:
the steady roll of wheels . . . entered his dream.
* * *
Paolo was a child of six. The smeary blue lights that passed
rapidly above and the faint faraway sound of impersonal
voices gave him an empty, lonely feeling. He had felt secure
when his parents brought him here, but now he sensed iso-
lation and anxiety. The muscles in his neck hurt and an odd
prickly feeling crawled over his young body; the feverish
heat of his skin sensing each thread in the fabric of the blan-
ket that he was wrapped in. For a moment, he thought the
blue flmy lights that streaked above were the streetlamps
of the lane outside his home in Turin. But these lights were
strangely different because the colors changed whenever
he blinked. He wanted to rub his knuckle over his eyes but
his arm would not move. Lying on his back, he had tried
to smile at his parents but he was too weak. In the dream,
he saw the unusually somber face of his father and in his
mothers eyes, a fear he had never before witnessed. She
said, Well come back to get you tomorrow Paolo . . . But
there was a certain fnality expressed by his surroundings
and Paolo feared the wheels that rolled smoothly below the
gurney, were taking him farther away from home to a place
he had never been.
When he awakened, the train had passed through the
mountain and sunlight flled the passenger car. He did not
remember the dream. The ineffable despair that had caused
the restlessness had vanished. Paolo unzipped the duffel bag
removed a book and began to read Les Misrables.
* * *
With wide searching eyes, Paolo stood inside the Florentine
train depot. He wore a khaki jacket with a blue suede col-
lar. On his wrist he felt the leather band of the watch that
his father had given him before boarding the train in Turin.
Everything else he owned was in a carry-on, its strap slung
over the left shoulder, and in a duffe bag which he held by
a handle along his right side.
Ah, food. Salami, my favorite. Dont have much salami in
Assisi, said Jim after taking a bite. When he had chewed
through half the sandwich, Jim reached across the dash-
board, and with long fngers opened the glove box. It is
still cold . . . fresh from the clear mountain streams of the
Apennines, he said, as he handed one of two bottles of wa-
ter to Paolo.
After a mile, Jim said, We need a guitarist for our band.
Its not hard to learnIll teach you. Becoming a friar is
not all study of Latin and theology. And you will discover
that it is bad to become too serious. There is a power, im-
possible to ignore, that exists here in the mountains. It is
well to fnd a diversion . . . something to keep you from
imagining miracles.
Well, how about it? I tell you, it will be good. After the
guitar, then the piano. Thats what I play.
Why, I . . . Ill think about it.
* * *
Back in Turin, Sandro Zacaro walked pensively along the
train siding, his thoughts going back to 1943 when his son
was a small child. Poliomyelitis surged virulently across
Italy. Sandros son Paolo contracted it. Sandro, after eigh-
teen years, could not prevent the dire thoughts that played
on his mind. His son had been granted a reprieve from the
paralysis that usually befell a victim of the virus. After
months in a hospital, doctors discovered that Paolo had
been infected with non paralytic polio and a full recovery
could be expected.
Sandro recalled the day when Paolo told him about the vol-
unteer work he had begun in the poverty stricken suburbs
of Turin. Assisting in a soup kitchen, he had met a number
of Franciscan friars. These men are admirable, Paolo re-
marked. They meet challenges without hostility and solve
problems with calm persistence. As a college freshman,
Paolo gave more time to the Franciscan Mission than to his
studies. Sandro was ambivalent. On one hand he wished his
son to become part of Fiat Motors. On the other hand, he
had been the benefciary of his sons full recovery from the
dreaded childhood disease. Sandro believed in destiny and
when Paolo said he wished to become a member of the Or-
der of St. Francis Minor, Sandros efforts to convince him
otherwise were exerted halfheartedly and without rancor.
* * *
While Jim fueled the auto at a service station, Paolo cleaned
the windshield and, since both men were anxious to reach
their destination before nightfall, they took little time re-
Sandro believed in destiny and
when Paolo said he wished to
become a member of the Order
of St. Francis Minor, Sandros
efforts to convince him otherwise
were exerted halfheartedly and
without rancor.
He had waited only a few minutes when someone shouted
his name. He turned on a heel peering about him. Again he
heard his name called out. Paolo threw his arm up over his
head and stood for a moment on the balls of his feet, the
strap from the carry-on sliding up his collar.
Ah! Here you are said a man who had been obscured by
the matrix of milling people. He walked with long strides
toward Paolo with his right palm extended. Im James La
Sole, your guide, taxi driver, and your roommate. The man
wore blue jeans and a green polo shirt with short sleeves
and was taller than Paolo by six inches. He possessed a
whimsical mouth with lips that angled up at each corner and
his shaved head glistened in the light that entered through
the large windows of the train station.
They traveled south toward Assisi in a small car belong-
ing to the friary. The temperature rose and Paolo pulled at
the sleeves of his windbreaker. He unbuckled his seat belt,
folded the jacket, and turned around to place it on the back
seat near his duffe bag. Before settling back in the seat, he
unzipped the duffe bag and removed the two sandwiches.
turning to the highway. The road ran seamlessly through the
countryside. Outside his window, the Apennine lowlands
became a blend of wind rippled felds and rolling hills,
distinguished now and again by a cluster of distant cypress
trees or herds of sheep grazing on the slope of a green pas-
ture under the mantle of hazy sunlight. Paolo turned, and
bracing his weight on one knee, reached back to retrieve a
sketchpad from his duffe bag.
Ah. You are an artist, said Jim glancing down at the
sketchpad. Here, take my pen. He reached up to the visor
where a ballpoint was clipped to the fabric. Paolo began
tapping the end of the pen on a blank page and then twirl-
ing it like a small baton in his fngers. Jim turned off the
highway onto a narrow country road and drove for several
miles. When the road started to incline, Jim gave Paolo a
side glance. We will see the town of Assisi over that hill.
When the Renault had reached the hilltop, Paolo stared
through the windshield, awed by what he saw. The late
afternoon sun outlined a rectangle of a high, sun-bleached
wall that framed an ensemble of buildings roofed with scar-
let tile work. The grounds inside the wall were immersed
in flmy pink shadows. The sun had passed its zenith and
was angling western rays over the city and, in the haze of
the late afternoon, the town seemed to levitate on spangled
blankets of violet and yellow wildfowers that grew behind
the city and up a misty slope ending at the tawny cusp of a
Paolo Zacara and James La Sole were both 20 years old.
They sat perched atop the hood of the Renault that had been
parked off the country road. One opened a new bottle of
water and drank as he watched the other who, with a swift,
confdent hand and an ardent expression, was drawing on
a sketchpad. After formal ordination, Jim would answer to
the name Brother La Sole and Paolo to the name of Brother
* * *
Back in the Samson living room both Grant and Madeline
agreed that the picture on the dust cover was of a friar who
they had met in Italy some years before. As they pondered
the unanswered question of why the book had been mailed,
Grant began to recall that frst trip across the Atlantic.
A Get Away Vacation to Italy was how the glossy bro-
chure described it. Grant recalled landing in Rome where
he and Madeline boarded a luxury bus flled with other
tourists. Before jet lag had abated, they trudged up and
down the Spanish Steps, explored the Roman Coliseum and
snapped pictures of the ruins at the Roman Forum. The fol-
lowing day they were treated to a tour of St. Peters Basilica
and later were enchanted by the frescoes of the Sistine Cha-
pel. On the third day, the bus headed out of Rome. The next
stop was Assisi, a three hour ride north into the Umbrian
Province and through the foothills of the Apennine Moun-
After formal ordination,
Jim would answer to the name
Brother La Sole and Paolo to the
name of Brother Zacara.
The bus driver got out and shouted a perfunctory This
way! and the group followed him up a series of wide steps.
At the top, a mezzanine of pale, white fagstones, spread
to the left and right and then outward where it ended at the
base of a cathedral. A man holding a wood staff and wear-
ing a brown cassock stood waiting amid the fagstones. He
grimaced slightly behind wire rimmed glasses but, as the
group approached, his face became pleasant, his demeanor
scholarly and somewhat biblical.
I am Brother Zacara of the Order of Francis Minor. Let
me welcome you to Assisi. Behind me is the Basilica of St.
Francis of Assisi that we will enter in a few moments.
He lifted his staff and directed its nub upward at the bell
tower looming above the basilica. That bell still peals each
hour. It is a marvelous design by craftsman of the tenth
century. Several years ago, it crashed to the pavement when
the region had an earthquake. But do not fret about the bell
tower falling on you. He paused briefy and grinned back
at the group. The engineers have repaired it with modern
reinforced alloy. Fortunately, the earthquake did only minor
damage inside the basilica. There is much to see, so lets
begin. Then the friar beckoned the group with his forefn-
ger, glanced over his shoulder like a shepherd leading his
fock, and, using the long wood staff for balance, he led the
tourists over the threshold and into the church.
When the tour ended, the travelers meandered outside
where a row of kiosks displayed arrays of mementos and
souvenirs. Grant casually picked at a few items and mut-
tered to himself that the setup was a tourist trap. Just then
he came upon a kiosk that had several rows of pictures at-
tached to each wall. One was a sketch of a distant landscape
that captured the city of Assisi. Its charming perspective
impressed Grant and after paying for it, he scrolled it up so
Madeline could ft it in her travel bag.
The string of shoppers started back toward the bus when
they were intercepted by the bus driver who, with his grey,
peaked hat pushed back on his head and a somewhat dole-
ful expression, explained that a tourist had fallen ill and
had been taken to a clinic in Assisi. Shrugging helplessly
with his hands palms up, the driver said there would be at
least an hour delay. Brother Zacara, who had agreed to pose
for pictures in front of the basilica entrance, overheard the
driver and walked over to speak to him. Grant recalled how
the friar raised the sleeve of the cassock to check the time
on his watch. Brother Zacara then told those within earshot
that there was a place near the basilica where the travelers
could wait until the bus was ready to leave.
I say we go down to the bus and wait, Grant said quickly.
Madeline, curious and still flled with energy, told him to
go ahead but she was going with the friar. Grant rolled his
eyes, jammed his hands into the pockets of his trousers and
* * *

Brother Zacara had led the small group to a side of the
basilica away from the kiosks. He came to a high, wooden
gate that was part of a latticed trellis covered by thick,
green ivy. He swung the gate inward and a small group
fled past him into an enclosed space that had the sweet,
spicy fragrance of burned incense. There were matching
wooden tables and benches placed in an oblong space with
the ground covered by worn cobblestones. The brown feld-
stone of the basilica rose high above on one side. The other
side was an ivy covered wall of red brick. Opposite the
gate, a row of low mulberry bushes, framing a small, che-
rubic fountain, opened to a view of the Apennine lowlands.
Grant and Madeline bent their knees and wiggled along a
bench that serviced one of the four tables and by happen-
stance, Brother Zacara sat down on the opposite bench, lay-
ing his staff on the cobblestone near his feet.
Madeline broke the silence by saying how much she loved
the murals inside the basilica and admitted not knowing that
the famous fresco of St. Francis Preaching to the Animals
had its home in Assisi.

Most are not familiar with the treasures found in Assisi,
said the friar. There are many stories that I have heard
about the grounds here at the mission, and his eyes swept
over the patch of cobblestone, his voice becoming wistful.
This ancient courtyard is where the frst Franciscan friars
tied their donkeys and horses after preaching the gospel in
the village down below. He pointed over the row of mul-
berry bushes to a valley steeped in the afternoon shadows.
Legend has it that St. Francis slept on a bed of straw, per-
haps where we are sitting, to keep the donkeys calm when
wolves came down from the mountains. Some say that this
is where Giotto made the frst illustrations of the frescoes
that I showed you on the walls of the basilica.
Keep trying. Few artists are born,
many are made, she said.
The tourists who had sat at neighboring tables left to go
back and wait on the bus. Grant Samson, being more at
ease, decided to contribute an anecdote of his own, the
cooling evening air and long day releasing his inhibitions.
Madeline, somewhat taken aback by her husbands offer to
join the conversation, resolutely placed her entwined hands
on the table near her travel bag. Brother Zacara removed his
glasses and leaned over with elbows on the table as he and
Madeline waited for Grant to speak.
Sister Rosemarie, an art teacher in the ffth grade, was the
frst person, outside of my parents who helped me believe
in myself. Even the troublemakers in the class came to at-
tention when she took charcoal to an easel and ran lines this
way and thatthe results were like magic. It was when we
returned from Christmas vacation that she assigned a class
project; a topographical map of the United States to be de-
signed on the top of a thick sheet of poster board. Modeling
clay was used to make mountains and Elmers glue to stick
on tiny cutouts to represent farms, ranches, and factories.
The prize for the best map was to be a blue ribbon. One
morning, Sister Rosemarie was inspecting our work and
stopped behind my chair. I had been trying to add the new
state of Alaska to the map using pieces of white chalk and
wasnt sure if it was right.
Now that is smart thinking and I like your imagination.
I turned around and looked up at her. Keep trying. Few
artists are born, many are made, she said. And then she
moved to the next table.
Did you win the blue ribbon? asked Brother Zacara who
had listened intently.
No, there were other maps better than mine. But when I re-
fect on that episode, I realize it was not the prize that mat-
tered. The important thing was that I learned I was capable
of creating that map . . . and of fnishing what I started. That
is a big thing for a 5th grader.
Instilling confdence in the young is honorable, com-
mented the friar whose demeanor had become pensive, his
upper lip covering his lower, his brows arched. After a mo-
ment, he said, your story of Sister Rosemarie has given me
an idea. May I have permission to use it?
Use it as you wish, said Grant, fashing a smug glance at
The bells in the tower above them clanged seven times.
The friar looked at his watch and informed us that we had
been talking for two hours. It is the time for vespers, and
it is my turn to lead the prayers. I must leave you now or
my superior will send me to bed without dinner, he said
with a chuckle. The friar swung both legs from beneath the
table and reached down for his staff. With hand over fst, he
braced his weight on the staff and slowly raised himself up
saying, Im not so young anymore.

It was getting late and the Samsons did not want to chance
being left behind. A tall friar with dense, white eyebrows
was scurrying nearby, removing empty bottles from vacated
tables. The man stopped them as they passed and introduced
himself as Brother La Sole. He noticed Madeline carefully
tucking the scrolled Assisi drawing inside her travel bag.
Ah, you have purchased the best picture of Assisi that has
ever been created. I will tell you a secret, he said, hold-
ing up a forefnger, tilting his bald head, and smiling a sly,
prideful smile. The artist who made the original drawing
was sitting at your table.
Brother Zacara did this? asked Madeline, taking the
scrolled print from her travel bag. If I had known, perhaps
he would have signed the copy.
Ah, let me have it, please. When I met him a moment ago
he was as gleeful as a child and may be willing to forego
his usual humility. If he agrees, I will have the autographed
picture delivered to your bus.
Indeed! Brother Zacara autographed the picture.
* * *

For months, Brother Zacara had been trying to decide upon
a theme for his manuscript. He had serendipitously discov-
ered one this evening during the discussion with Mr. and
Mrs. Samson. However, his excitement was stifed by the
fatigue that slowed his movements as he walked from the
small mission chapel out into the dim light of evening. The
ache in his legs was something new and for some reason
he had diffculty relaxing his shoulder muscles. Relying on
assistance from his wooden staff, the friar walked past the
terrace where he had sat earlier with the Samsons and then
entered the peacefulness of the basilica where he walked
down the nave, the tapping of his staff the only sound.
* * *
When Sandro Zacaro was informed that Paolo was visiting
doctors in Assisi because of a strange illness, he arranged
for his son to be fown to Zurich, Switzerland for an ap-
pointment with an orthopedic physician who Sandro knew
and trusted to be knowledgeable. On the telephone, the spe-
cialist reported he had administered a wide range of blood
tests and found no inherent virus or bacteria but that an
examination detected considerable atrophy of muscle mass.
He then reminded Sandro that the medical records he had
reviewed indicated the son had contracted poliomyelitis at
the age of six.
Ah, you have purchased the best
picture of Assisi that has ever been
created. I will tell you a secret, he
said, holding up a forefnger,
tilting his bald head, and smiling a
sly, prideful smile.
Yes, of course, how could I forget? It was a horrible time.
Thank God that Paolo had a full recovery, said Sandro.
The specialist fell silent for a few seconds.
The original contagious virus ran its course when your son
was ill at the age of six. But residual effects have devel-
oped. This is not uncommon among those who contracted
the disease before the Salk vaccine was discovered in 1955.
It is possible your son is suffering from post-polio syn-
It has been forty years. How could there be such a thing?
Sandro exclaimed.
The doctor explained there were limited case studies on the
illness because poliomyelitis, in the industrial nations, had
been neutralized by vaccination and relatively few polio
survivors were still alive. He told Sandro that the diagnosis
was not grounded on the clinical examination but on logical
extrapolation based on what he had heard from colleagues.
Not all patients with polio are affected. Each case is dif-
ferent depending on what muscle had been weakened and
the severity of the original viral attack. When Paolo had
been infected by the disease at the age of six, the virus may
have caused minor damage so when he recovered, his body
functions appeared completely normal. My suspicion is that
there may have been a scintilla of nerve injury, but enough
to require other muscles to take up the slack. Over a long
period, weakness and atrophy have occurred. It is like aging
before your time, said the specialist.
hours with Brother Paolo Zacara. (A passenger on the bus
had become ill; the tour was delayed and you both waited
at a table on our terrace with Brother Zacara.)
With much sadness, I must tell you that Brother Paolo
Zacara died a year ago. Brother Zacara and I joined the
Order of Francis Minor in 1960 and were close friends for
the decades that we ministered to the people in the region
of Assisi. No one at the mission knew him better than I.
Brother Zacara was an excellent artisthis forte was black
and white drawing.
He admired great artists and said once that these renowned
masters may have been average men or women, motivated
to great achievement by someone who inspired them at an
early age. I did not question him about this since he had
become an expert in the feld of Renaissance Art. Shortly
after his ordination, Brother Zacara began a study of Giotto
and Cimabue, his interest generated by frescoes painted on
the walls of the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi. His efforts
resulted in two volumes of history about pre-Renaissance
masters and he was in demand as a lecturer on the art of
Assisi; all the while he continued his duties as a friar at the
Assisi Mission.
One afternoon he confded that he was having diffculty
rising after kneeling in the chapel. I chided him about get-
ting old. However, the weakness persisted and worsened.
The medical advice was to slow down and get more rest.
Brother Zacara was not a person who would accept such
a prescription. (When you met him on the tour of the ba-
silica, Brother Zacara had been ill for a number of years.
By then, doctors had diagnosed the illness as post-polio
Looking at Brother Zacaras book, you will see how he
skillfully arranged his illustrations from the hundreds he
had drawn. Note that many pages show iconic masters as
young, fedgling apprentices being guided by a mentor. A
commentary at the bottom of the page captures the mood
and message of the illustration. If you look on page 75, you
will see how Brother Zacara benefted from your rendition
of the art of Sister Rosemarie. He repeated many times
after the frst galley was completed, without you, he would
never have found his road through the woods. Before he
died, Bother Zacara wrote to me expressing his wish that
if the book was published, I take the time to send a copy to
you with a letter to explain how your experience in the 5th
grade had been an inspiration.
I need not say more about the book. It is a beautiful visual
essay. All of the Brothers of the Order who minister in Italy
have heard of it and are very proud.
He repeated many times after the
frst galley was completed, without
you, he would never have found
his road through the woods.
Sandro, his hand gripping the phone, said that he would pay
whatever price was required for any treatment that might
cure his son.

My opinion is a personal one and I trust you will accept it
in confdence. The doctor paused for a moment and contin-
ued. I believe pharmaceutical companies have concluded
that when the present corps of polio survivors dies, the
problem will die with them. Therefore, it is not proftable
to invest money to discover a viable means for treatment. I
could tell you that certain kinds of exercise will combat the
deterioration. This would give you false hope. Moreover, I
have been told by my colleagues that exercise actually can
have negative results.
* * *

Did we meet Brother James La Sole in Assisi? asked
Madeline, bringing Grant Samson back to reality. He now
realized that a nexus existed between their visit to Assisi
and the book that had arrived in the mail that morning.
Grant reached for the letter that his wife had discovered in-
side the packing box. It was written on offcial stationery of
the Mission of St. Francis, Assisi, Italy.

October 4, 2004
Dear Mr. and Mrs. Samson,
It was four years ago that we met in Assisi and it is under-
standable if you do not remember me since our time togeth-
er was short. However, you must recall speaking for a few
I invite you to visit anytime you come to Assisi. We can sit
at the same terrace. Outside the gate, on a wood beam, we
have installed a plaque that reads: Paolos Balcony.
My best regards,
Brother James La Sole OFM
Director of Music, Mission of St. Francis
The arrival of the book was no longer a mystery. It was
done in a simple but consistent, artistic modeillustrations
in charcoal, pen, or pencil; sketches of young people work-
ing with a mentor actively engaged in some creative project.
Grant and Madeline turned to page 75. There sat a young
student at a desk. On the desk was a large cardboard square
with a map drawn on the surface. The country depicted on
the map was Italy. Behind the desk was a nun, bent over,
pointing at the drawing. At the bottom of the page was the
caption: Talent and genius are inherent, but are useless
without will. The will to achieve is never inherent. It is in-
stilled by encouragement of the imagination.
Grant placed the book down on the coffee table and he and
Madeline stood to look at the montage of travel pictures on
the wall behind them. Their eyes focused on one that hung
close to the center. It was the autographed sketch that Grant
Samson had purchased at the kiosk outside the basilica in

Sunlight Beckoned
The sun had started to rise over the asphalt track where I was walking slowly.
I felt the pain in my joints start to ease and my Swiss cheese bones begin to knit.
Approaching a narrow tunnel of sunlight, I closed my eyes and lifted my face toward
the warmth, savoring the few steps that crossed its luminous path.
Later, locked on the eating disorder foor of the hospital, a random shadow of sunlight
teased me, dancing on the foor, echoing the pattern of the grate fxed to the window.
What would I have to do to get out? Eat hated foods. Gain unwanted pounds.
Force myself to comply with their rules.
Meal after meal, I staggered back to the living room, stomach protesting,
jeans growing tight. Terrifed, I cursed everyone and everything.
But sunlight beckoned. I persisted. Belly swelled. Doors opened. I walked out.

atery light, the pale blue color of skim milk,
angles through the narrow window in the living
room. I dont have to look outside to know what
I will see: wet black streets, a low grey sky, snow falling in
sheets across blurred Montana hills.
My sister Britta clumps up the stairs and into our apartment.
I slouch on the couch and watch as she shakes melted snow
off her coat. She slips out of her rain boots, crosses the
room in her stocking feet, and sits down on the couch under
the painting of our brother.
I look at the painting above her. Brad stares back at me,
eyes obscured behind glasses. His face is unreadable. He
stands in an undefned shadow landscape, the sun glowing
red over dark lake water behind him. He holds a silver fsh
up by a string, the shape and color of the fsh echoing the
shape and color of his long exposed bicep and fst, raised
high, in anger? In defance? In triumph? In resignation?
I made the painting many years ago. Brad is a silent pres-
ence in our home, the third child, the outlier. Our blood is
closest to his. We are the ones who got away. He is hooked
by an invisible line to all of us.
As an infant and toddler Brad didnt meet Moms eyes or
want to cuddle. He was solemn, plump, and precocious.
He didnt speak until later, around two, but then he really
took off. Our dentist once offered to pay him if he could
shut up for fve whole minutes. From the time he was fve
until eight or nine, he was obsessed with dinosaurs. Brad
could rattle off their long complicated names without pause,
though in other conversation he stuttered. Stegosaurus, of
the many bony plates. Allosaurus, the meat eater. Pachy-
cephalosaurus, the one with the hard skull. Archeopteryx,
the early bird ancestor. There was no stopping him once he
got started.
My brother and I have long had an uneasy relationship. I
am more easily provoked than my sister, and Brad and I
have bickered for over a quarter century, picking at each
others sore spots. I was less able to let him get away with
things, with his outrageous statements, with his frequent
taunts and insults.
But we were allies once. Brad coined the phrase the pa-
rental interrogators, which my sister Britta and I adopted.
He did the best imitations of our cat hacking up a hairball:
his back arched, his torso rippling as he pretended to vomit
while Britta and I cheered him on. We played together,
though our play usually involved battles. In the humid heat
of Minnesota summers, I ran wild over the lawn, shrieking
as my brother chased me with a green plastic Super Soaker.
In the fall, we pelted each other with rotten crab apples.
The apples exploded against our shoulders and chests, and
marked our T-shirts with a galaxy of dark red blotches. Our
skin beneath was marked with raised pink welts. Once Brad
pilfered mounds of vegetable scraps and slimy banana peels
from the compost bucket and hid them under the covers
of my bed as a prank. He trailed after me as I went to my
room, and his face lit up as I found the compost in my bed.
In retaliation, I pulled out all the underwear I could fnd in
his drawer, soaked it in the sink, and tossed it into the chest
freezer, where it froze solid into a block of tighty whities.
As many autistic people do, Brad has some sensory over-
load issues. When we sat at the dinner table, if a knife or
fork scraped against a plate, he shivered and hunched his
shoulders up, tilted his head to one side, and squeezed
his eyes shut. Once in a while when I was mad at him, I
stabbed a potato with unnecessary vigor so the fork tines
skidded across the plate. I watched his reaction from under
lowered eyelids.
When Brad was fve and I was seven, I came home from
school to my mothers set face. Brad hid behind her back.
Beth, your bird is dead, she told me as gently as possible.
I dropped my backpack and stared at her.
Brad just wanted to give Cheeper a drink of water, honey.
He didnt understand.
Brad had taken the canary from his cage that morning,
thinking he looked thirsty. I had been so proud of teaching
Cheeper to hop from his bar to my outstretched fnger. In
retrospect, it seemed like a bad idea. With the bird in his
pudgy fst, Brad went to the bathroom and flled the sink
with water. Cheeper didnt stand a chance. Brad stuck the
birds head under the water and held him there so he could
get a good long drink.
Now, looking back on this childhood tragedy, I try to parse
the behavior. Is this something any fve-year-old would do?
Or is this something that an autistic fve-year-old would do?
What exactly is the autistic part of Brad? How much does
autism defne a person? Is it worthwhile to try to normalize
an autistic person, to train the autism out of him, so he
behaves like any other socially well adapted human being?
How much do my parents expect Brad to change? Mom and
Dad have tried for years to school him in socially accept-
able behavior, always thinking ahead to his future. No loud
belching in public, Brad! Do you hear other people doing
that? They knew that things that are forgiven in children
are less easily forgiven in adults.
My parents are proud of all of their children and the choices
weve made. They were game when my sister decided to
major in art in college, instead of becoming a doctor and
supporting us in our old age, as my mom half-joked. On a
scale of left versus right-brained, Britta falls in the middle,
between my brother and I. She is the most competent; how-
ever she is also the clumsiest. I can imagine her in surgery,
dropping scalpels and slopping fuids around, and nurses
looking sidelong at each other. Art seems like the better
choice. My parents were supportive when I decided to trav-
el to the Occupied Palestinian Territories indefnitely. When
I fell in love and considered marrying a Palestinian man,
they traveled to the West Bank to meet him and his family
and had a grand old time.
Well honey, you have a tough decision to make, they said
before fying home laden with homemade apricot jam and
Turkish coffee.
This May, my brother hopes to graduate from St. Cloud
State University with a degree in hydrology. He is the most
left-brained of the three of us, and sees the world in a strict-
ly practical, scientifc manner. He has no use for the arts
or humanities, and belittles Brittas and my choices every
chance he gets. What kind of a job can an English major
get? he asks me. Its a good question.
Lame-ass hippies, he calls us. Affectionately, or so I
choose to believe. I can remember only one time my brother
ever told me I love you.
As with any sibling, my feelings for my brother are a tan-
gled mess of tenderness, annoyance, and ferce protective
loyalty. There were always differences, but we overlooked
them. Its just Brad. Its just our family. Thats the way we
Autism gets a lot of press these days, perhaps because so
many kids have it. As of 2008, one in every eighty-eight
children were diagnosed as on the autism spectrum, and
the numbers seem to be increasing. Scientists are not sure
what causes autism, whether it is genetic or environmental
or both. There is debate about higher levels of seratonin
or neurotransmitters in the brains of autistic people. For a
while people talked about vaccines as the culprit. Before
that, people blamed it on frigid mothers. The upshot is,
no one knows. However, Ive heard autism called an epi-
demic, an epidemic with an unknown cause and imperfect
treatment. Society is scrambling to adapt itself to these
children. Schools have behavior modifcation programs.
The internet is awash with diets which supposedly cure
autism. Parents of autistic children are rabid in their pursuit
of a cure. The New York Times even lists Broadway show-
ings of autism-friendly plays, designed to alert parents as
to when loud noises or bright lights will occur, so that they
will have time to hustle their children to the lobby. There
are even iPad apps for autism, to assist non-verbal autistic
people with communication.
I didnt realize how culturally widespread autism was until
I was in a check-out line a few years ago at a department
store. The clerk asked me, as she rang up my purchase,
Would you like to contribute to the Autism Research
Foundation? I stared at her, then blurted, My brother is
Oh, she said, and beamed. Is your brother a special per-
No, hes kind of an asshole, I said, then contributed ten
dollars and hurried away from her shocked face. There are a
lot of programs out there to help autistic kids, its true. But
what about the generation of autistic kids who have grown
up? What services exist to aid them in the transition to the
real world?
Once I saw a play about an autistic boy. He worked in an
amusement park, and a roller-coaster snaked around the
set. The boy befriended his coworkers, who accepted him
despite his quirks. I sat in the darkened audience, arms
crossed, stared at the boy in the lights on stage. Brad sat
two seats down from me. The boy in the play was different
from Brad, but he had the same kind of lack of expression
on his face. He moved with jerky motions of arms and legs.
He played the part sensitively, and didnt try to make the
boy grotesque or stupid.
It was a good play, and I stood at the end and clapped with
the rest of the audience as the lights came on. Brad was al-
ready shoving his arms into the sleeves of his coat, his head
down. Then the actors came on stage for their bows. The
actor who played the autistic boy came out last, and bowed
to whistles and cheers. He rose from his fnal bow, I stopped
clapping, and stared. He had shed his autism, slipped out
of it like it was a skin hed molted. It was gone, and he was
normal, his movements smooth, his smile full, his eyes
meeting those of the crowd. I burst into tears.
He is angry, my brother. He has been angry for a long time.
I remember his fearful rage one day ffteen years ago as
he tried to open our houses wooden front door, which had
swollen in the summer heat and was too large for its frame.
He hauled at the doorknob.
Son of a bitch, he muttered, then repeated the curse loud-
er. I heard him from the kitchen and went to help. He ham-
mered his clenched hands against the door. He kicked and
growled in his rage. As I approached, his fying fst punched
through the window next to the door. Shards few. His hand
was lanced with red, and a tiny glinting chip sliced my arm.
I had to sit down, dizzy, as hot blood ran down my elbow.
Im not autistic, he has repeated over and over again
through the years. His voice crescendos. Im not autistic.
This winter and spring, he is completing his senior project
for his university degree. He has taken calculus, advanced
math, and science courses. He spends his time deep in equa-
tions and data. And worrying. We do too.
Weekends, he drives from St. Cloud to the tiny town where
our family lives. Dad helps him with his homework. At
night, Brad cant sleep so he paces through the house, mut-
tering, his footsteps dull thuds on the hardwood foor. He is
lanky, with frequently greasy brown hair, small eyes behind
smeared glasses, with a tendency to pick through his hair
for skin fakes. His stride swings at the hips, like my Dads,
except exaggerated, more stiff. He looks normal though,
like any unkempt college kid.
Sometimes at night he becomes so angry; he goes to my
parents bedroom and stands in the doorway and tells them,
over and over, that they should have forced him to take
math earlier in high school, that his public education was
terrible, that he shouldnt have been put in special ed. All
these things contributed to where he is now, seven years
spent in completing a degree that does not guarantee him a
job, a future, a life.
My parents lie in bed and listen to his rants. They have
learned not to defend themselves, as this only enrages him
further. They tuck themselves under the blankets and wait
for their son to be done.
Many years ago I dreamt I was livid, so angry with my
brother that I somehow knocked him down and accidentally
smashed his head into the ground. He didnt move. After
a moment I reached down and cradled his head. The back
of it was pulpy. His glasses were gone, and his eyes were
I woke up sick to my stomach. He is the vulnerable one,
and I know my role. I must be his protector, not his enemy.
I divide the world into two classes: those who get Brad,
who joke with him, who treat him like a human being, and
those who dont. My dark dream, I think, hints at an unspo-
ken fear: that I am one of those who dont get him, that I
ignore him out of shame, and dont let him be himself.
I too am angry. I want things to be different. I want my
brother to know what love is. I want people to listen to him.
I want him to have a good life. I want him to have friends.
What will happen to him? My mother and I ask each other
this question each time we talk on the phone. Will he fnd a
job after he graduates? Is there some kind-hearted employer
out there, somewhere, who will overlook his hygiene, his
rudeness, his slow pace, his black and white view of the
world, his occasional outbursts of rage?
When he isnt seething or muttering dark imprecations
about his parents and the public education system and the
world in general, Brad knows what he wants.
I want a job, he says. I dont want to live in the base-
ment of my parents house for the next twenty years. And I
want to get laid, he says, grinning.
My mom thinks that everyone has some autism in them. It
is a spectrum disorder, after all, running from the savants
to high functioning Aspergers individuals to non-verbal
people. We all have diffculty at times interpreting facial
expressions. Sometimes we founder in social situations.
My dad and I both focus so intently on what we are doing,
we block out the world around us. Time passes with no rec-
ollection. We look up from our computers, we blink at the
faded daylight, we stretch.
What will happen? We ask it over and over.

The Shed and I
Blanketed in a bed of wild roses, the weathered shed appears to sleep.
Though while standing in a meadow of grass, a vigil it now does keep.
For now the structure of that shed lies as fragile as myself.
Like a book never read and placed upon the shelf.
Yes, once my life had served a purpose, like that weathered old shed once did.
I was once but a simple shelter where quaint dreams and memories were hid.
A safe haven where one could run, among the splendor of wild roses.
The beauty now is that we both still stand with a door that never closes.
For this shed and I are opened to the elements of this earth.
Though protected by a blanket of roses,
That never judges the value of our worth.


Ive Become a Single
Note that Cant Be Sung
Caruso found the passage from diaphragm to lips,
Past larynx, anaerobic inch.
Voice crawls along the esophageal road
Up mucus lining from utterances home.
Voice is the visage of the larynx,
Larynx the vessel of the voice.
The throat is a hoop of fre,
Voice the tiger jumps through it.
Vacuum is the soil of the root of speech,
Silence is the rivulet that shrouds each word,
The breath between each utterance is heard.
Breaths together are a silent speech,
Breath is motion out of reach.
My whole body a mouth of limbs.
My voice a corpse.
My voice-box a coffn.
Yet this mute got up and danced,
Like Ezekiels bones.
The bird extends its arms to me
Thin twig snapped by the cold.
What can I offer
But the dream of fight?

April Evening
at Lake Ponsitte
the wind
has relaxed
the sun
gone down
sitting cross-legged
on the wooden dock
I listen
to the
of frogs
along the
moonlit shore

Theyve all gone to look at the mummies
So it is just my boy and me
And Diego Rivera
and the limestone foors
that bounce his contented shrieks all around
Detroit Industry.
Sooner than usual,
the exhibition becomes him
and a school group is noticing
the odd shape he makes, his color and lines
wondering, what is he trying to say?
But my boys
eyes are pressed together tight,
His face tilted to the skylight
Where a cacophony of color and inescapable warmth
collide in his frontal lobe
in some great collage of
And abruptly
Rivera and the birth of manufacturing
go pale
the luminous breath of yellow sunlight
is paler still
to the view of my boy gazing up
with the art behind his eyes.

Some Bells Should Ring
you were born on Easter
toes small as peas, hands clawing the air
my womb collapsing with the sudden emptiness
blood spreading like night beneath me
please God youd think
at least some bells should ring
fourteen days and I signed the papers
stepped out into sunlight
that melted over me like butter
my breasts still weeping
my womb still bleeding
your hands, Im sure, still reaching
please God youd think
at least some bells should ring

hat October night, twenty-eight of us hid under a
tarpaulin in the back of an old truck on its way to the
Tibet-Nepal border. I knew no one else. Those with
friends and family huddled in knots, secure that the roar of
the motor drowned their private conversations from eaves-
droppers. But I read their lips. They chattered and chuckled
about where they were staying in Katmandu and what plans
they had. Everyone seemed happysafe, they believed,
under the tarpaulin.

We were on the road headed southwest from Lhasa about
four hours, when the driver slammed on the brakes. The
truck jerked to a stop.
Whats happening, Mother? said the little girl opposite

Shh! her mother said, and placed her hand gently over
her daughters mouth. The girls brown pupils swelled and
darted back and forth.
The truck left the highway, ambled over rough terrain, and
then stopped again. I peeked through a small hole in the
tarpaulin, saw bright light, and heard voices shouting in
Mandarin. I prayed to Buddha and to His Holiness the Dalai
Above me, the tarpaulin quivered. A man whipped it off
and swooped a rife barrel over us. Everyone, get off! he

Four Chinese Liberation Army jeeps formed a rectangle,
corralled the truck into it, and shone their beams at it. In
front of each jeep stood two Chinese border guards in cam-
oufage uniforms with rifes aimed at us. To my left, I spied
two Tibetan border guards, their rifes also aimed at us. We
jumped down.
Line up in single fle! the guards shouted. The mother and
daughter stood frst in line; I stood next to them. A guard
yanked the driver from the truck and pushed him into line at
the far end. We all lowered our heads.
The sergeant, tall, with oily, caramel skin, strode to the
middle of our line. Get down on your knees, he shouted
at us, place your hands behind your back and keep them
there! We did as he ordered. Then he marched up to the
mother frst in line.
Where are you going? he demanded in Mandarin.
She glanced up at him. Were going to see His Holiness
the Dalai Lama, she replied in Tibetan.
With the butt of his rife, he struck her twice across the
head. She collapsed, bleeding, to the ground. Her daughter
cried out, Mama!

And you, the sergeant said to me next, where are you
I kept my head low to the ground. Im going to see His
Holiness the Dalai Lama, I answered in Mandarin.Were
all going to see His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
The Dalai Lama is a bad person! the sergeant shouted
down the line. What will you do when you see him and he
cannot even feed you? If you stay here in Tibet, you will
have lots of food.
Were going to see His Holiness the Dalai Lama, I said.
The sergeant turned to his men. Search the Tibetans, re-
move their IDs and all their possessions, and then herd them
back onto the truck. Put their driver into the back of a jeep.

Once we were all back on the truck, a Chinese guard
jumped into the cab and drove us back to Lhasa. A jeep
followed closely behind. I dabbed the mothers cuts with
water, applied an herbal ointment from a vial the guards had
not confscated, bound her forehead with a handkerchief,
and then prayed.

Whats your name? I asked the little girl.
Kamala, she replied, and nestled her head in her mothers
I am Bayarmaa, the mother said. And you are?
Chenpo, I said.

Bayarmaa was short, lean, and pretty, and, like Kamala,
wore a European jacket, shirt, and trousers. I asked if her
husband was on the truck.
Hes in prison, said Bayarmaa. The Chinese authorities
believe hes a member of the Free Tibet Movement. He told
me to fee Tibet with Kamala and live with my parents in
Katmandu. Theyve been exiled there since 1959. Will you
be living in Katmandu?
No, Im going to see His Holiness the Dalai Lama in
In Lhasa, the Chinese border guards turned us over to uni-
formed Chinese jail guards who separated the men from the
women into different rooms. The guards removed my belt
and then placed me in a cell with nine other men, a mix of
Chinese and Tibetans. The guards gave each of us a bowl of
raw noodles, the only food we received nightly during our
stay. Occasionally, some relatives of the Chinese prisoners
brought in rice and vegetables which they shared with us
Tibetans. In a corner of the cell sat a pot, our communal toi-
let. That frst night and thereafter, I slept only intermittently,
fat on the foor, fully clothed, with no sheet over me.
The next day, two of the guards, one in uniform, the other
in plain clothes, handcuffed me behind my back and led me
to another room. I glanced at the plain clothes guard who
was short and burly with a shaved head and a black mous-
tache hugging his pursed lips. What are you staring at?
he shouted and kicked me hard in the groin. I groaned and
collapsed to my knees. The guards lifted me up, stripped me
down to the waist and then interrogated me.
Whats your name? said the uniformed guard, lanky, with
pale skin.
Chenpo Dolma, I said.

How old are you?
Where are you going?
To see His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
The Dalai Lhama is a bad person, the uniformed guard
said. He wants to separate Tibet from China. Why would
you want to go see him?
His Holiness the Dalai Lhama is Tibets spiritual and po-
litical leader.
How can that be? said the guard China annexed Tibet.
Tibet is now a province within China. Your leader is Jiang

My only leader is His Holiness the Dalai Lama, I said.
The short, burly guard pushed me onto the seat of a chair
and forced my head down. Keep it lowered, he ordered.
Then, using electric cattle prongs, he poked along the top
of my bare back. I winced with each jab. (Later, the other
prisoners told me the top of my back was dotted with red,
disk-like sores. To this day I bear the scars.)
The uniformed guard lifted my head. Where are you go-
ing? he said.
I ground my teeth together. To see His Holiness the Dalai
The guards led me back to the cell, uncuffed me, and threw
me onto the foor.
The next day, they took me to the same room and repeated
the questions. They also asked who was going with me to
The Chinese border guards stopped us. I was in jail for the
past two weeks.
Anil pointed to the feces caked on the bottom of my trou-
sers. No shower, I bet, he said. Use mine, please. I
showered then changed into the fresh clothes Anil gave me.
Did you phone your two brothers and father and tell them
the Chinese jailed you? Anil asked.
Narayan and Sonam are herding yaks. I couldnt reach
And your father?
I didnt phone him. I dont want him to worry. He still
thinks Im touring Tibet.
And your sisters?
Contacting them is not easy. They continue to work on a
Chinese commune.
How can I help? asked Anil.
I need a place to stay, I said, till I fnd another driver to
take me to the Tibet-Nepal border. The last driver cost me
800 Chinese yuan and he drove twenty-eight of us Tibetans
straight into jail.
If hes the driver I heard about from gossip in the streets,
said Anil, Chinese authorities sent him to prison for two
Anil let me sleep in his apartment, and I borrowed another
thousand Chinese yuan from him. Daily I inquired in the
streets for a driver. Finally, in late October, I found one,
Shamar, a small, roly-poly man. For 900 Chinese yuan
each, he was willing to drive me and other Tibetans in his
truck to the Tibet-Nepal border.

The next night, forty-two Tibetans boarded Shamars truck.
As I climbed up, I noticed Bayarmaa and Kamala huddled
in a far corner. They waved at me to come to them. Impos-
sible, I thought, and shook my head no. The forty-two of
us were all so crammed into the back of the truck that all
the younger single men and women had to stand and lean
against the sides. My legs throbbed till they turned numb,
and a torpor spread upwards till my whole body felt light,
empty, as if I was a mere presence foating in space.
We were on the road six hours, when Shamar stopped the
truck, got out, and lowered the back gate. Everyone get
off! he shouted.

My legs throbbed till they turned
numb, and a torpor spread
upwards till my whole body felt
light, empty, as if I was a mere
presence foating in space.
No one, I said.
Have you brothers or sisters?
What are your parents names, and where do they live?
Theyre both dead, I replied.
At the end of two weeks, the guards took my photo, and
warned me, If you ever try to cross the Tibet-Nepal border
again, you will be arrested and imprisoned for life. Then
they released me and the other Tibetan refugees onto the
streets of Lhasa.
Bayarmaa and Kamala called to me. Bayarmaa placed her
hand gently on my arm. Thank you, Chenpo, she said,
for healing my head woundsyoure a monk, arent you?
I was.
Kamala wiggled her index fnger and bade me bend down
toward her. When I did, she kissed my bald head.
I had many cousins throughout Tibet. One of them, Anil,
was my age, and lived in an apartment in Lhasa. Id bor-
rowed money from him to get to India. I knocked on his
Chenpo! he said, and hugged me. Come in. What are
you doing still in Lhasa? I thought by now youd be phon-
ing me from Dharamsala.
Were Chinese border guards stopping us again? I wondered.
Would I be arrested again, and this time sent to prison for
life? I prayed.
Chinese soldiers, I whispered back. I peered over the top
of the boulder. About two hundred yards ahead of us, on
the north shore, stood two tents with four armed Chinese
soldiers bantering around a campfre, their jeeps parked
nearby. The shortest soldier walked to the river, rolled up
his shirt sleeves, bent down, and splashed water on his face.
On each of his arms, I spied a tattoo of a writhing dragon.
The soldier glanced around, stared for a while east along the
river bank, then walked back to his comrades.
We have no choice, I whispered to Bayarmaa, but to stay
here till late at night when the Chinese soldiers are asleep in
their tents. Only then can we continue.
Bayarmaa pulled Kamala close to her. We must be very
quiet, Bayarmaa whispered. Remember the frst trip,
when the truck stopped and we heard Chinese soldiers
Kamala nodded.
We had to be very quiet then, and we must now, said
In the late afternoon, I peered again over the boulder. Only
two of the soldiers sat around the campfre. Where were the
others? I wondered. On patrol? What would I, weaponless,
doall of us doif even one of the soldiers walked our
way and caught us hiding? Buddhism and His Holiness the
Dalai Lama preached non-violence. Was I willing, there-
fore, simply to let them arrest me and return me to Lhasa
and prison?
Then, in the distance, I spotted two of the soldiers returning
by foot to their camp. Would they patrol past it as well? If
so, they were bound to spot us. I alerted the others, picked
up a small rock in each hand, and waited . . .
Minutes passed. The soldiers did not come our way. I lay
against the boulder and splayed my legs out onto the cold,
hard ground. A phalanx of wisps of clouds, white like an
eagles down feathers, drifted eastward across the light blue
sky. I prayed. I prayed, but I didntcouldntsleep. The
unmarried men took shifts watching the soldiers, but even
when it was not my turn, I watched the Chinese.
Well after dark, when I saw the lights extinguish in the sol-
diers tents, I gathered the refugees together and told them
we couldnt take a chance crossing the river so close to the
Chinese soldiers camp. Wed have to retrace our steps part-
ly and cross upstream where the soldiers, if alarmed, were
unlikely to notice us.

When we arrived upstream to a shallower fow in the river,
I bent down and encouraged Kamala to hop on my back. I
swung my hands behind to cradle her then waded across.
I pointed at the sky. A full moon,
creamy like yaks milk, mottled like
blue cheese, stared down at us.
Why did you stop, Shamar? everyone demanded.
Walk the rest of the way, said Shamar. Good luck, every-
one! He climbed back into his truck and drove off.

Everyone grumbled. We had with us only the clothes and
shoes we wore. In Chinese army backpacks, we carried
tsampa, butter, dried yak meat, bottles of waterlater
replenished from the many rivers we crosseda few cher-
ished possessions, and plastic sheets.
Abandoned like this we have much to fear, an older,
bearded man among us said. I know these mountains. Chi-
nese soldiers are everywhere hunting for feeing Tibetans to
capture and return to Lhasa, maybe even to jail or prison.
What do we do then? another elder asked.
We do what Shamar told us to do, I replied. We walk the
rest of the way. We must walk the whole night. Keep your
fashlights in your knapsacks. I pointed at the sky. A full
moon, creamy like yaks milk, mottled like blue cheese,
stared down at us. The moon is fashlight enough to guide
our steps.
We walked in pairs and passed a small village of four huts,
slivers of candlelight blinking through their front windows.
Tempted to visit we were, but dared not. We also passed
a nomad asleep under a yak skin blanket at the foot of a
boulder while his fock of yaks and sheep rested or grazed
on the grass about him. I thought about Narayan and Sonam
now shepherding their focks in Amdo Province, and about
how I helped them when I was young; my father Tashi, too,
before his stomach pains gnawed at him and he retired to
Maiwa village.
The next day we were about to ford a river when I ordered
everyone to hush, hide behind a wall of rocks, and keep
hidden. Bayarmaa and Kamala crouched down beside me
behind a boulder Whats wrong? Bayarmaa whispered.
The water, waist-deep, gnawed at my bones. I stumbled
over slimy, slippery stones coating the river bottom, and the
undertow tugged at my legs, yanked me off balance, and
lured me downstream. Bayarmaa followed closely behind,
her hands extended should Kamala loosen her grip. When
we got to the other side, I set Kamala down.
Then we headed southwest into the Himalayas where the
knee-deep snow and thin air sucked life out of our every
exertion, and the cold burrowed like a leech through our
clothes, numbing us. I glanced behind me. Little Kamala
was stuck in a drift.
frst truck. The shortest soldier waved a large sheet of plas-
tic in his hand, and pointed to the Himalayas. Then the sol-
diers got back in their jeeps, and led the convoy east along
the highway. I crawled backwards to the waiting refugees.
The Chinese border guards found shreds of our plastic
sheets, I said. They know were somewhere in this area.
Theyre looking for us right now. We must move faster, yet
still stay hidden as much as possible.
We stayed high up on the ridge, trekked farther west, till
we came to a smaller mountain slope, rested on the summit
till dark, then climbed down to the road and slipped up the
other side of a hill. Northern Nepal lay ahead of us.
We trekked four more days into the interior. When we slept,
occasionally a woman would scream out and startle us. Had
the Chinese soldiers found us? I wondered.
I checked my arms and legs. Two ticks had bitten into me.
Their oval bodies swelled with blood to the size of pimples.
Only salt poured over them will force them to release their
grip, an elder said. Unfortunately, none of us had brought
salt, so we gripped the ticks legs underneath their swollen
bellies, tugged at them till they ripped from our skin, and
then freed the ticks back into the grass.
Ahead lay a Nepalese village. We paid for food and clothes
with Chinese yuan hidden in our tubes of toothpaste, be-
hind our belts, or under our hat bands. One of the villagers
told us we could take a bus to Katmandu, but warned us it
stopped at every village on the way to pick up more passen-
gers. That afternoon, we boarded the bus and headed south.
But at the next stop, three local Nepalese police detained us.
Where are you going? the sergeant, a husky man, asked
We all placed our hands together as in prayer, bowed our
heads, and shouted in chorus, His Holiness the Dalai
Lama! His Holiness the Dalai Lama!

The sergeant ordered the driver to take us to the local po-
lice station. I thought, hes going to contact Chinese border
guards! Theyll arrest us, return us to Lhasa, and Ill go to
prison for life!
When we got to the station, the sergeant interrogated each
one of us separately.
Where are you going? he asked me.
To see His Holiness the Dalai Lhama, I replied.
The next morning, we approached
the Tibet-Nepal border. The air felt
warmer. We breathed more easily.
Hop on my back, Bayarmaa said to her. But even without
Kamala, Bayarmaa plodded through the snow, gasped for
breath, and stopped often to rest.
I knelt down. Up you go, I said to Kamala.
She scaled my back, hugged my neck, and gently kicked
my rump. Giddyap! she said.
When we were not trudging through deep drifts, we slept
for just a few hours during those two days and nights in
the mountains. The second night, when it stormed, all of us
wrapped plastic sheets snugly around our shoes and trou-
sers. Some of us fashioned tents: A husband and wife blew
up a large plastic sheet, crawled inside and tied the ends in a
knot, forming a warm, snug cocoonand slept soundly.
The next morning, we approached the Tibet-Nepal border.
The air felt warmer. We breathed more easily. Yet we could
not relax: Chinese authorities routinely paid Nepalese
border guards to detain Tibetan refugees. We never knew
whom to trust, especially men in uniforms.
We climbed almost to the top of a hill, when I heard the
whir of motors on the other side. I raised my hand. Hide,
everyone! I said. Hide! Hurry!
I lay fat on my stomach, waited till everyone was safely
hidden, then crawled to the edge. In the distance, I spied a
convoy of four Chinese Army trucks speeding toward two
Chinese Army jeeps parked at the base of the hill. Two sol-
diers got out of each jeep and approached the driver of the
The sergeant got on the phone, and then turned to three of
his men. Escort the Tibetans by bus to Katmandu, he said.
I sighed. Thank you, I said, and bowed.
Six hours later, we arrived in Katmandu. Two expatri-
ate women from The Tibetan Reception Committee were
waiting for us at the bus station. They led us on foot to the
committees headquarters, fed us tsampa and butter tea, and
gave each of us 500 rupees. With part of it, I bought a bus
ticket to Dharamsala, India. The bus would leave the next
That night, I slept in the Tibetan Reception dormitory with
my fellow refugees. But I could hardly remove my shoes.
My feet had swollen, and I was in pain. When I fnally
eased my shoes and socks off, I squirmed; blisters cov-
ered the soles of my feet, and my toenails were black and
cracked. A week later, they fell out.
Next morning, I hugged Bayarmaa and Kamala good-bye,
boarded the bus, travelled south into India, then headed
northwest to Dharamsala in Himachal Pradesh Province.

Eventually, I arrived at the headquarters of His Holiness the
Dalai Lama. A long, tall, red fence with a yellow gate cor-
ralled his house. It rained that day, but I sat cross-legged on
the ground in front and waited.
Editors note: Escape to Dharamsala is fction but is
based on the actual experience of Thupten Choedup, a
former Tibetan monk, and a friend of the author, John Nor-
ris. Choedup has a rheutomatological autoimmune disorder
called ankylosing spondylitius (AS). When it is active and
faring, AS can cause extreme pain and loss of mobility.
Choedup had a genetic predisposition to this disorder, and
while it probably would have manifested itself sometime
later in his life, it was in fact, triggered and exacerbated
by the extremely harsh physical conditions and diffculties
Choedup experienced during the journey described in this
When Choedup frst emigrated to Ontario, Canada his
physical condition was extremely poor. There was a very
long period of testing and trial and error with treatments
and medications before his condition was correctly diag-
nosed and the right combination of medications and supple-
ments was found to help diminish, and fnally, to eliminate
most of his symptoms. Choedup is doing well now. He en-
joys walking outdoors, summer and winter, and swimming
at the YMCA. He and his roommate also travel together
extensively, enjoying the opportunity to visit other coun-
tries. Choedup is an accomplished photographer and enjoys
taking photographs to chronicle their travels.

Speed On

Elbows piston, sweat beads.
Muscles burn, faces blur,
cheer her silver Reeboks as
she sprints the fnal yards.
Dance foor throbs. Tipsy hips
sway, her platforms stomp.
Tossing hair, cheeks afush,
neath dizzying disco ball.
Taut muscles stride stony
forest trails. Myriad songs,
sweet scents, creatures rustle.
She inhales Natures magic.
Lemon dawn nudges her
lashes. Flutter wide. Stretches.
Right leg. Right arm.
Yawns wide, glances over.
Yes, wheels are close enough.

Panic Attack in Neonatal ICU
This is where it begins:
Can you imagine lying
In a glass coffn, like Snow White
Strung with tubes and
Wires like tin can telephones,
Strings of Chinese frecrackers,
Tucked into conduits and tethers?
I am only earthbound
By the sterile rubber, the plastic, the glass
Hoses linking me to my cell like a pet, leashed and caged.
Some tubes fat as tunnels, others noodle-thin.
Intravenous, oxygen, shunt, catheter,
lung pumper, pacemaker.
Can you imagine
An extended sense of awareness,
The way a cats whiskers tingle
And his fur rises
When its about to rain?
Prone, supine, straining.
It must be how Helen Keller felt,
Black blindness, all-encompassing.
The beeping
Of monitors, thermometers, air tubes;
The hiss of artifcial breath, raspy and stale.
Every bodily function
Measured and rated.
Until you become your own timer, a human clock,
regulated and regular, nervous and precise.
Most sinister is this aural interloper
which drives you desperate for silence, for succor.
A Chinese water torture of sounds: slight, steady, constant.
Until you blinkand finch in anticipation of the sound. When?
Closer, closer. The expectation leaves you twitching.
The quickened breath, the stiffened refexes of fear.
Curling shrimp-like, fetally into oneself for protection.

Glad You Asked
Hows your mother doing?
Fine. Her memorys going, but she still recalls the important things.
Overheard conversation
I cant remember what I had for breakfast
this morning
but when you asked if
there wasnt a boya jockwho was at school with us
his namewas it Rick Martino?
the taut quarterback was there
swift through the waffes
or was it pancakes.
Tall he was, quite dark
spare but well built
a rare, knee-melting smile.
I dont remember the eggs
if thats what they were,
or maybe Cheerios.
Does it matter?
We neednt worry about
the upcoming (Again? So soon?) birthday
when our minds
their treads well below the half penny
still save a place at the table
for the lean dark boys.

Previously published in The Connecticut River Review
Connecticut Poetry Society, 2012.

Review of The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating,
Elisabeth Tova Bailey, Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2010

inner of two prestigious awards, the 2011 John
Burroughs Medal and the 2012 William Saroyan
International Prize for Writing, Elisabeth Tova
Baileys The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating is a beautifully
exquisite story combining a memoir of illness with the curi-
ous intricacies of the life of a snail.
This book is divided into six parts, consisting of twenty-two
chapters, bracketed by a prologue and an epilogue. Each
of the parts and chapters is introduced by an intriguing and
often beautiful quotation from a physician, nurse, natural-
ist, novelist, or poet that effectively draws the reader further
into the story. Baileys style of writing is elegantly simple
and infused with a poetic quality. Additionally, she presents
the natural history material, an integral part of this story, in
a way that is very accessible to any reader who lacks scien-
tifc aptitude.
The story begins when, during a brief trip to Europe, Bai-
ley becomes sick with severe fu-like symptoms. Upon her
return home, her illness grows steadily worse and becomes
totally debilitating. Soon she grows so weak that she is un-
able to sit up in bed and she remains confned to bed for
one year. In order to receive the assistance and care she
needs, the author is moved from the rich environment of
her 18th century farm house to a studio apartment with its
sterile, stark, white walls. Not only is her body sick, but,
complicated by homesickness and the absence of the full
and active life she had known, her spirit becomes ill as well.
Bailey struggles to stay connected to life, a near impossibil-
ity under the circumstances. Then, one day a friend of hers
returns from a walk with a pot of wild violets into which
she has placed a live snail. So begins Baileys adventures
with this tiny creature, an adventure that at frst, she under-
took reluctantly:
Why I wondered, would I enjoy a snail? What on
earth would I do with it? I couldnt get out of bed
to return it to the woods. It was not of much inter-
est, and if it was alive, the responsibility
especially for a snail, something so uncalled for
was overwhelming . . . . But what about this snail?
What would I do with it? As tiny as it was, it had
been going about its day when it was picked up.
What right did my friend and I have to disrupt its
life? Though I couldnt imagine what kind of life a
snail might lead. (4 & 7)
However, after only a few weeks of companionship, Bailey
fnds that she is indeed attachedshe and the snail are
offcially cohabitating. One evening, as the snail is eat-
ing its dinner, Bailey listens intently: I could hear it eating.
The sound was of someone very small munching celery
continuously . . . . The tiny, intimate sound of the snails eat-
ing gave me a distinct feeling of companionship and shared
space. (12)
Baileys feelings evolve from reluctance, to genuine curios-
ity, to concern, when one evening the snail overindulges
in an serving of wetted down corn meal and cornstarch,
becoming very sick that night, presumably due to indiges-
tion. Bailey says that it was a long night for both of them, as
she worried if the snail would recover. Much later in their
relationship, in the chapter titled Bereft, Bailey awakens
one morning and after a painstaking search, discovers that
the snail appears to have vanished. She writes:
Illness isolates; the isolated become invisible;
the invisible become forgotten. But the snailthe
snail kept my spirit from evaporating. Between the
two of us, we were a society all our own, and that
kept isolation at bay. The snail was missing, and
as the day waned, I was bereft. (132)
As her story unfolds, we learn more about the severity of
Baileys physical limitations:
Occasionally, when the snail slept and an urgent
need for changeno matter the costswept
through me, I would slowly roll from my right side
over to my left side. This simple act caused my
heart to beat wildly and erratically, but the reward
was a whole new vista . . . . Then, exhausted and
empty from my audacious adventure, Id make
the slow roll back toward the kingdom of the ter-
rarium and the tiny life it concealed. (42-43)
In some ways, the authors mental and emotional struggles,
her feelings of being cut off from the rest of the world, are
even more devastating. She writes:
I eagerly awaited visitors, but the anticipation and
the extra energy of greetings caused a numbing ex-
haustion . . . . Still, my friends were golden threads
randomly appearing in the monotonous fabric of
my days . . . . They would worry about wearing me
out, but I could also see that I was a reminder of
all they feared: chance, uncertainty, loss, and the
sharp edge of mortality. Those of us with illnesses
are the holders of the silent fears of those with
good health. (38-40)
(It is precisely these fears that underlie an awkwardness and
a distancing that often occurs between those with disabili-
ties and those who see themselves as normal and healthy.)
Once again, Baileys tiny companion flls a void and brings
her a sense of calm:
As the snails world grew more familiar, my own
human world become less so; my species was
so large, so rushed and confusing . . . .it was as
if they didnt know what to do with their energy.
They were so careless with it . . . . Whereas the
energy of my human visitors wore me out, the
snail inspired me. Its curiosity and grace pulled
me further into its peaceful and solitary world.
Watching it go about its life in the small ecosystem
of the terrarium put me at ease. (39 & 41)
As the title suggests, this book is flled with all sorts of
interesting facts and observations as well comparisons be-
tween humans and snails in which humans are often found

In The Violet-Pot Adventures, Bailey describes the initial
getting acquainted phase of the snails stay during which
she learns some basic facts about her small companion. For
instance, snails are nocturnal and intrepid explorers. And
when munching on paper they leave square holes. Also,
rather than fresh salad, they prefer to eat withered, half-
dead fowers: One has to respect the preferences of anoth-
er creature, no matter its size, and I did so gladly. (13)
In A Green Kingdom, Bailey realizes that though the pot
of violets has worked well as an initial habitat, she wants
the snail to have a safer and more natural home. A glass
aquarium is transformed into a terrarium flled with familiar
plants and soil found in the woods. She describes moving
day for the snail:
Within moments of moving into this rich king-
dom, the snail came partway out of its shell. Its
tentacles quivered with interest and it set off to
investigate the new terrain. It crawled along the
dead log, drank water out of the mussel shell, in-
vestigated the mosses, climbed up the terrariums
glass side, then chose a dark, private corner and
went to sleep nestled in some moss. (28)
In Juxtapositions, the reader is shown a few comparisons
between human and snail anatomy. For example, Bailey
explains, snails have thousands of teeth, in many rows, one
behind the other. As the front row is worn down, a new row
is added at the back of the mouth and the whole structure
(radula) moves gradually forward, a very effcient process:
With only thirtytwo adult teeth, which had to
last the rest of my life, I found myself experienc-
ing tooth envy toward my gastropod companion.
It seemed far more sensible to belong to a species
that had evolved natural tooth replacement than
to belong to the one that had developed the dental
profession. (49-50)
The reader also learns about the architectural marvel of spi-
ral shells and the production of slime, a vital substance that
serves many needs in the life of a snail.
In The Cultural Life, the reader learns that wild snails
live in colonies in terms of proximity but they each still
lead separate lives (with the exception of mating). And if
conditions in their surroundings become too harsh, snails
have the ability to hibernate in the winter and estivate in the
summer (slowing bodily processes down) until conditions
improve. Bailey observes that it would be convenient for
humans to have a similar ability:
How wonderful it would be if we humans with
illnesses could simply go dormant while the sci-
entifc world went about its snail-paced research,
and wake only when new, safe medical treatments
were available. But why limit such an amazing
ability to the ill? When a country faced famine,
what if the entire population could go dormant to
get through a hard time in a safe and peaceful way
until the next growing season came around? (109)
In Love and Mystery, Bailey introduces readers to a few
of the basics regarding the love life of woodland snails,
including that as hermaphrodites they can take on either
gender role as circumstances require.
In Familiar Territory, Bailey tells of her mid-summer re-
turn home with her dog, Brandy, and of her original snails
release back into the woods from which it had come. Of her
homecoming Bailey writes:
The original snail and I had been fellow captives,
but now we had both returned to our natural
habitats . . . . I wondered how the snail was cop-
ing in its native woods. Though I was home, I was
still not free from the boundaries of my illness. I
thought of the terrariums limited space and how
the snail had seemed content as it ate, explored,
and fulflled a life cycle. This gave me hope that
perhaps I, too, could still fulfll dreams, even if
they were changed dreams . . . . Being home again
was the next best thing to a cure . . . . (145-146)
That frst winter of her return home, the one remaining off-
spring of her original snail became her companion.
Though, at frst, Bailey is unsure if she wants this small
creature as a companion, the presence of the snail, did in
fact, become absolutely vital to her. In a letter to one of her
doctors, she writes:
I would never have guessed what would get me
through the past yeara woodland snail and
its offspring. I honestly dont think I would have
made it otherwise. Watching another creature go
about its life . . . somehow gave me, the watcher,
purpose too. If life mattered to the snail and the
snail mattered to me, it meant something in my
life mattered, so I kept on . . . Snails may seem
like tiny, even insignifcant things compared to the
wars going on around the world or a million other
human problems, but they may well outlive our
own species. (154)
Many people have experienced the deep joy that having a
pet to love and care for can bring to their lives. The Sound
of a Wild Snail Eating is a beautiful verifcation of this im-
portant truth. If you are nature lover and have ever experi-
enced prolonged illness, disability, or confnement, you will
love this book. However, having a disability or an illness is
not a requirement for fnding pleasure in reading this book,
and there is so much more in this story of the resilience of
the human spirit to be discovered.
It should also come as no surprise that The Sound of a Wild
Snail Eating has been widely acclaimed within the disci-
pline of medical humanities. It has been read and savored
by doctors and other healthcare practitioners, as well as pa-
tients, families, and caregivers. For more information about
this and other related topics, as well as interviews with the
author, visit
Martin Altman is an accountant. His work has appeared in
Music in the Air (2013), an annual anthology by Outrider
Press, Off the Rocks (2013), an annual LGBT anthology,
Red Ochre LIT (2013), a mini-chapbook, and Boy Slut
(2013), an online poetry website. Altman says, A stutterer
from childhood, my poetry is concerned with speaking and
hearing, breathing and cessation, connection, isolation, and
Beth Baker earned her M.S. from the University of Mon-
tana in 2012. Her essays have appeared in Christian Science
Monitor (2013), (2013), Punchnels ( 2012),
and A Natural History of Now: Reports from the Edge of
Nature (2012). Baker says, My brother is autistic and his
disability has profoundly affected both himself and those
who love him.
Ashley Caveda is an adjunct professor at Butler University
and an intake specialist at Neighborhood Christian Legal
Clinic. Her work has appeared in Monkey Bicycle (2012),
Ruminate Magazine (2012), and Superstition Review (2011
and 2013). She received The Haidee Forsyth Burkhardt
Award for Creative Nonfction from The Ohio State Univer-
sity in 2012. Caveda is quadriplegic as a result of a 1990 car
accident. She says, I explore the idea of having a visible
disability and an atypical body in a world that has been de-
signed primarily for the able body.
J.D. Chaney is a retired teacher, published novelist, and
freelance writer. His stories have appeared in Western Di-
gest, Aquila (England), Western and Eastern Treasures,
Special Living, Good Old Days, Coal People, Chicken Soup
for the Soul, and Tucumcari Literary Review. Chaney en-
joys reading, running, and travel.
Lawrence L. Emmert is a retired judge who served as
district judge in Wyandot, Michigan from 1977 to 1998. He
and his wife live in Michigan in the summer and Florida in
the winter. Emmerts own experience with polio led him to
write Paolos Balcony. He had a fction piece published in
Ligourian in 2008.
Denise Fletcher is a freelance writer and artist. Her work
has appeared in journals in the U.S., Canada, and the U.K.
She is the author of the chapbook, A Thread of Hope, and
editor of the poetry anthology, The Seven Ages of Man.
Fletchers disability is psychiatric in nature. I want to edu-
cate others about disability issues in hope of social reform.
Tony Gloeggler has managed group homes for people with
developmental disabilities for more than 30 years. His po-
ems have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies.
One Wish Left, his frst full-length poetry collection, was
published in 2000. The Last Lie was published in 2010. His
new collection, Until the Last Light Leaves, will be pub-
lished in 2014.
Jessica Goody is a writer whose work has appeared in
numerous blogs and anthologies. She has written two vol-
umes of poetry and a mystery novella and is seeking their
publication. Goody is a devoted environmental activist. Her
disability is cerebral palsy. She says, Creativity is an outlet
for emotions, a way to dream, to comfort, to inspire, and to
emphasize the beauty in the world.
Nicole Jankowski is a student at the University of Michi-
gan, Dearborn and will receive her B.A. in English in 2015.
Her articles on autism have appeared in Scary Mommy
and Autism Around the Globe. Her three poem collection,
Breakfast is for Wives, appeared in E-fction fve maga-
zine. Jankowski received second prize in creative non-fc-
tion for her essay, Autism is a Bird, from the University
of Michigan. Her son is severely autistic. She says, I write
because it makes the hard things easier to sayI speak for
those around me who cannot speak because they too have a
story worth telling.
Bob Johnston is a retired research engineer and translator.
His poems have appeared in The Lamp-Post and Kansas
Quarterly and his short fction, Sprouts on the Rocks, ap-
peared in Liquid Ohio (2002). Johnstons article, Selection,
Care, and Feeding of Partners, was published in Australian
Bridge (1983). Johnston, who began writing late in life,
continues working on his memoirs and his great American
Suzanne Kamata is a university instructor, writer, and an
American expatriate living in Japan. Her novels, Gadget
Girl: The Art of Being Invisible and Screaming Divas, were
published in 2013 and 2014. Kamata edited the anthology
Love You to Pieces: Creative Writers on Raising a Child
with Special Needs (2008). Her collection, The Beautiful
One Has Come: Stories was published in 2011. Kamatas
daughter has cerebral palsy and is deaf. Kamata says, I
wanted to write stories that she would be interested in, and
to present her as an interesting, complicated person because
she has some diffculty expressing this herself.
Sean Lause is a professor of English whose poetry has ap-
peared in The Pedestal, Another Chicago Magazine, The
Minnesota Review, and The Alaska Quarterly. Lause has
been nominated for three Pushcart Prizes and is the win-
ner of the Art Affair Poetry Award for 2012. Of himself, he
says, I am a father, a widower, a teacher, and a writer.
Kelly Morris is a freelance writer whose poetry has ap-
peared in Cider Press Review (2006), Coal City Review
(2007), Penwood Review (2008), and Transcendent Visions
(2009). Morris disability is post-traumatic stress disorder.
I am much more than a person with a disability. My dis-
ability is an important part of me but its not all of me. Writ-
ing poetry is how I best speak my truth.
Sheryl L. Nelms is an insurance broker and a writer whose
work has appeared in Readers Digest, Modern Maturity,
Poetry Now, and Chiron Review. Nelms has won the Schul-
tz-Werth Research Award from South Dakota University
and the Pegasus Award from Oklahoma Writers Federation.
Nelms disability is Parkinsons. She describes herself, in
part, as a poet/writer, painter, weaver, and an old dirt biker.
John Norris taught high school for 29 years prior to his
retirement. He loved writing short stories and poetry. His
fction and poetry were published in several journals includ-
ing Queens Quarterly, Weber Studies, The Prairie Journal,
Idea Gems, Canadian Stories, The Storyteller Magazine,
and Culture & Religion Review Journal. Sadly, Mr. Norris
passed away suddenly in January 2014.
Joseph R. ONeill has been incarcerated since 1994. Prior
to that he lived a diverse life attending seminary, joining
the navy, and working many jobs in the healthcare feld.
Now, as an inmate, he enjoys making crafts, reading, and
writing poetry. ONeill says if he is paroled someday he
hopes to become involved with prison ministry.
Sandy Palmer studied graphic design at The University of
Akron and is a freelance artist working in colored pencil,
marker, and pen and ink. She contributes to Kaleidoscope
as a writer of visual artist profles and an illustrator, having
joined the staff as art coordinator in 2002. Palmer is a full-
time graphic design specialist at United Disability Services.
Leslie Patterson is a writer whose short stories and per-
sonal essays have appeared in Bellevue Literary Review
(2005), Fourth Genre (2008), The Fish Anthology (2007),
and Matter: 07 (2005). Her awards for writing include Tiny
Lights Personal Essay Contest (frst prize) and the Tallgrass
Writers Contest (second place). She says, As a writer of
historical fction I want to provide a voice for people whose
stories are seldom told in standard history books, such as
women, children, racial minorities, the economically and
educationally disadvantaged, as well as people with dis-
Roger Pincus is a lawyer whose fction has been published
in Souwester (2010), Fifth Wednesday Journal (2011),
Pif Magazine (2011) and Natural Bridge (2013). He was
a fnalist for the St. Lawrence Book Award (2011) and
was nominated for the story South Million Writers Award.
Pincus says, I write because I want to explore the human
condition in the way that I fnd most meaningfulthrough
particular characters experiencing acute challenges.
Andrea Rosenhaft is a licensed clinical social worker who
lives and practices in New York City. She deals with an on-
going struggle with the eating disorder anorexia. She writes
primarily on the topic of mental health and recovery.
Alexandrina Sergio is the writer of two poetry collections,
My Daughter is a Drummer in the Rockn Roll Band and
Thats How The Light Gets In, published in 2009 and 2013.
Her poetry has appeared in Connecticut River Review from
2008-2012 and in Caduceus from 2009-2012. She received
frst place in the Connecticut Senior Poetry Contest, second
place in the Dorman John Grace Poetry Contest, and third
place in the Voices of Lincoln competition. Sergio says, I
am excited by the words, the rhythms, the potential depth
of communication, the artistry and the challenge of disci-
pline with its need to pursue the worthy thought, the perfect
metaphor, the apt simile.
Carol Smallwood is a writer whose work has appeared in
The Writers Chronicle, English Journal, Linq, and Drunken
Boat. She has published more than four dozen books in-
cluding Women on Poetry: Writing, Revising, Publishing,
and Teaching. Smallwood has two books forthcoming,
Water, Earth, Air, Fire, and Picket Fences and Divining the
Prime Meridian. She struggles with PTSD. Smallwood has
founded and supports humane societies.
Barbara Ellen Sorensen is a freelance writer and editor.
She has published a chap book, Song from the Deep Middle
Brain (2010), and a full-length poetry collection, Composi-
tions of the Dead Playing Flutes (2013). She has published
memoirs in Drunken Boat (2012) and So Spoke the Earth:
An Anthology (2012). Sorensen has received a Pushcart
Prize nomination and was a fnalist for the Colorado Book
Award in 2011. Of Parkinsons disease, Sorensen says, I
have a degenerative illness but the disease is not who I
am. It is a tangent, a wayward thread that has informed my
writing and the way I perceive the universe, but I am the
one who controls its presence. I can allow or disallow how
much it permeates my being.
Gail Willmott received a B.A. in English and a M.Ed. in
education, both from the University of Illinois. A Kaleido-
scope magazine staff member since 1982, Willmott became
editor in July 2003. She says, I am passionate, some would
say obsessive, about my work with Kaleidoscope.
Clare E. Willson is originally from England and now lives
in Syracuse, New York. She is a writer and an artist. Her
writing has appeared in Action Magazine (2009 and 2010).
She won the national Independence Expo Competition
for her essay titled Independence. She creates art from
recycled metal on acrylic painted canvas. Wilson has sec-
ondary progressive MS which has left her with hemiplegia
(left side paralysis). She describes herself as an attractive,
determined and stubborn British native.