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K

ALEIDOSCOPE

EXPLORING THE EXPERIENCE OF DISABILITY THROUGH LITERATURE AND THE FINE ARTS

Number 73
Summer/Fall Online 2016

Coping with Change
"Stutter" by Jake Wolff
"The Leper" by Olaf Kroneman
"Forward Momentum" by Susan Kennedy

K

ALEIDOSCOPE

Summer/Fall 2016
Number 73

EXPLORING THE EXPERIENCE OF DISABILITY THROUGH LITERATURE AND THE FINE ARTS

Contents

The Leper
Olaf Kroneman

Coincidence

 EDITORIAL NOTE
Coping with Change

40

4

Learning to Embrace
New Possibilities
Linda S. Slusser

49

 POETRY

Bob Johnston

Boundaries
Saving the Good Doctor

 PERSONAL ESSAY
Air Burbles and Other Oddities

32

Sandy Palmer

5

Shirley Adelman
10

I Hand My Razor to Kevin

L. F. Young

 FEATURED ART

9

Liz Whiteacre

Stutter

16

Ash

Jake Wolff

13

Jerry Hauser

 FICTION
The Shellshock Letters

Glenda Barrett

War Everywhere

6

Susan Kennedy

Nurturing a Joyful Spirit

52

5

Ruth Z. Deming

 FEATURED ESSAY
Forward Momentum

62

14

D. E. Harris

I Am Different and
It Must Be Duly Noted

46

Rainbow Girl
in Autism Classroom

Peter L. Pingerelli

15

Mary Ellen Talley

The Dark End of the Bar

20

Bradley Don Richter

The Piano
Caitlin Barasch

Wheelin’

57

Glenda Barrett
22

A Meditation
on the True Self
Lynsie Mae Buteyn

59

Every Poem is Fledgling

18

The Sacred Poem

19

She Holds a Brush Detailing
the Days

19

Michael S. Morris

1

Threshold

30

Kevin Heaton

A Reader Implores
a Modern Poet

31

Second Portrait of the Poet
as a Young Man

31

Will Leadbeater

Wednesday Morning #100

43

Wednesday Morning #101

43

Darren C. Demaree

predacious wind

Debra Purcell, Ruscello, 2013, acrylic on panel,
12” x 9” x 1.5”

43

e. smith sleigh

Pathogens and Prayers

44

Goldi-lock-less

44

Lori Michelle Hawks

The Gloriosas

 CREATIVE NONFICTION
Making Sense of the Noise

27

45

The White Suit

45

Marketable Phenomena
Fall

58

64

Sean J. Mahoney

Edythe Haendel Schwartz

Nancy Scott

Pendulum

Urban Portraits 3:
The Pigeon Feeder

51

In the Seguin Cemetery

61

Two at the Station

63

Parkinson’s

61

Yuan Changming

Sheryl L. Nelms

Relativity

58

Stigma

58

2

Lola Neff Merritt

Leah Vitello

Find Me a Box

Julia C. Spring

63

65

Mike Traber

 BIOGRAPHICAL NOTES

66

Staff

PUBLISHER
Howard Taylor, President/CEO
United Disability Services
EDITOR-IN-CHIEF
Gail Willmott, M.Ed.
MANAGING EDITOR
Lisa Armstrong
ART COORDINATOR
Sandy Palmer
EDITORIAL ASSISTANTS
Lynne Came
Angela Miller
Kathleen Sarver
EDITOR-IN-CHIEF EMERITUS
Darshan Perusek, Ph.D.
HONORARY EDITOR
Phyllis Boerner
MANUSCRIPT REVIEW PANEL
Fiction Review
Mark Decker, Ph.D.
Bloomsburg University
Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania
Poetry Review
Sandra J. Lindow
University of Wisconsin-Stout
Menomonie, Wisconsin

Kaleidoscope (ISSN 2329-5775)
is published online semiannually.
Copyright © 2016 Kaleidoscope Press
United Disability Services,
701 S. Main St., Akron, OH 44311-1019
(330) 762-9755 Phone
(330) 762-0912 Fax
email: kaleidoscope@udsakron.org
http://www.kaleidoscopeonline.org
Kaleidoscope retains non-exclusive world
rights to published works for purposes of
reprinting and/or electronic distribution. All
other rights return to the writer/artist upon
publication.
We request credit for publication as
follows:
Previously published by
Kaleidoscope: Exploring
the Experience of Disability through
Literature and the Fine Arts,
701 South Main St.,
Akron, OH 44311-1019
Indexed in Humanities International
Complete and the MLA International
Bibliography non-Master List. Listed in
International Directory of Little Magazines
and Small Presses, Magazines for Libraries,
The Standard Periodical Directory.
Submissions:
Email or online submissions preferred.
If submitting hard copy, send copies of
originals with SASE if you want your work
returned. The editors do not assume responsibility for returning submissions without
ample return postage. Address all correspondence to the editor-in-chief.

Kaleidoscope, beginning in 1979, pioneered the exploration of the
experience of disability through the lens of literature and fine arts.
Fiction, personal essays, poetry, articles, book reviews, and various
artistic media including two-dimensional art, three-dimensional
art, drama, theater, and dance are featured in the pages of various
issues.
This award-winning publication expresses the experience of disability from a variety of perspectives including: individuals, families,
friends, caregivers, healthcare professionals, and educators, among
others. The material chosen for Kaleidoscope challenges stereotypical, patronizing, and sentimental attitudes about disabilities.

3

EDITORIAL NOTE

Coping with Change
Gail Willmott

A

s with most life experiences,
people cope with change in
a variety of ways. For some,
the most benign changes in daily circumstances precipitates emotional
upheaval. The nature and severity of
the change a person faces (loss of a
loved one, acquiring a life-threatening
or life-altering illness) will probably
determine the complexity and depth of
coping strategies whether conscious
or unconscious. With serious changes
most people will experience some depression at least for a time. Others may
follow the road of bitterness and isolation precipitated by anger-filled grief.
For some people there is a strong determination and a need to fight (no hint of
resignation or acceptance) which may
look and sound somewhat like anger,
but actually drives that person and
keeps moving them forward. Finally
there are those who turn to their faith
and a spiritual way of viewing their
situation, realizing that they are connected to a caring and powerful source
more encompassing than the distress
caused by their current circumstances.
There is one change that I really do
enjoy—the change of seasons, particularly moving from winter to spring and
into summer. With spring and summer
there is new life blooming in nature,
accompanied by a feeling of lightness
and hope. No need to hunker down
against the cold bundled up with heavy
sweaters and coats. Moving about in

cars or wheelchairs is certainly easier,
so there is a sense of greater freedom
once again. For me, slipping into spring
and summer with potentially more sunshine is something I relish (although
thunderstorms and tornado warnings,
not so much).
However, truth be told, even though
change is the one constant in life, I do
not accept or adapt to change easily. I
am also one of those who tend to fear
things before they happen. Ironically,
this anticipatory fear usually comes to
me when things have been going very
well for a while. I begin to worry about
where and when the next “disaster”
might strike, which of course, helps
nothing at all and in the end is a tremendous waste of mental and emotional energy. My own two greatest fears,
even to contemplate, are the potential
loss of my sister, my closest and best
friend in the world, and being forced to
reside in a nursing home. The latter explains why the precariousness of funding and staffing for home healthcare
causes me such great anxiety. I know
that the best thing I can do is to remain
proactive regarding these issues. The
truth is, over the years, I have been
blessed with some very dedicated caregivers, but there is always the potential
for flux in that picture.

mantra has been “It is what it is.” So
ultimately, as most of us do, I put one
foot in front of the other, so to speak,
and do whatever I have to do to keep
moving forward. In my case, this forward motion is encouraged by the caring support of family and a few very
close friends and colleagues. I do try to
cultivate a deep sense of gratitude for
all I have been given in life. Periodically, when I get cranky, frustrated, and
fearful I have to stop and focus in an
attempt to reconnect myself with that
inherent sense of gratitude.
In this issue of Kaleidoscope we have
several nonfiction pieces which tell the
stories of people adapting positively to
physical changes and ongoing conditions which are part of their everyday
lives. The work of our featured artist is
particularly beautiful and joyous.
We also present our usual assortment of
poems of various styles and interesting
subjects. As always, I hope you find
something here that resonates with you
and provides some enjoyment.

In response to life’s ongoing changes
my mood can vary from day to day.
However, for some time now, my
Gail Willmott

4

POETRY

Glenda Barrett

Boundaries
Never sure why, but I’ve always
liked gates, worn wooden ones
that enter grassy pastures,
ornate gates leading to mansions,
and metal ones at cemeteries.
Even though I liked their looks,
I had no idea how to be a gatekeeper.
In my own life for many years,
I left my gate standing wide open,
and allowed everyone to enter.
Some people who walked through
were hurtful, took advantage,
and demanded their own way,
making me resentful.
With age and wisdom I learned
to keep my gate locked tightly,
and take my time in deciding
who and when I wanted to enter.
No whiners, complainers, or folks
without compassion could come in.
I learned the word, “No,” was
not a bad word but a good one.
Some didn’t want to understand
and walked away puffed. I found
being a gatekeeper was really hard,
but the rewards were well worth it
because that’s when I found respect.

Shirley Adelman

War Everywhere
It is Spring.
A rabbit made his home
In my yard and did not run away,
When I spoke to him. I hold onto
This picture in a dark, windowless
Room with six TVs blasting-----Death notices:
For patients plugged in
To bags of diluted poisons.

5

FEATURED ESSAY

Forward Momentum
Susan Kennedy

O

ur route—if everything went
well—included three stops.
First, we planned to ride over
the Golden Gate Bridge for lunch in
Sausalito. Forgoing the bike-friendly
but effortless ferryboat cruise home, we
plotted our way back over the bridge to
the second stop, the Legion of Honor
art museum in Lincoln Park. The third
stop would be meeting relatives at the
de Young art museum in Golden Gate
Park. Finally, we would end our twenty-five mile jaunt by traveling across
town to return the tandem in Fisherman’s Wharf. Try to keep up.

A tech adjusted the tandem and the staff
waved us out of the shop. In Aquatic
Park, we swung into the saddles. Up
front my husband steered and controlled the brakes. I commandeered
the backseat, contributing power and
maintaining equilibrium as much as
possible. To do that, there was going to
be a lot of me staring at my husband’s
spine. At times I peeked to the side at
the blurry scene, trying not to wobble.
We completed a narrow turn on the
path and a lady we passed said, “Look,
experienced tandems.” I assumed she
said it with sarcasm.

We arrived at the rental shop breakfasted and prepared to hurt. After checking
in and tucking away the provided ferry
tickets, my husband and I waited with
other riders for instruction. I spied rows
of bicycles at the far end of the room.

We toiled—or rather I toiled and my
fitter husband pedaled—to conquer the
hill by Fort Mason. I prayed my dark
yoga pants wouldn’t slide down to reveal my pale backside. We carried on,
finding rhythm as we approached the
Golden Gate Bridge. Even with compromised sight, the structure amazed
me with its reach and striking color,
softened at a distance in the fog, a terra-cotta colored masterpiece stretching
across the expanse.

“Okay, listen up,” a guide said, holding a pointer to a large map of the Bay
Area. “No riding until you reach the
path in Aquatic Park,” she said and
tapped a nearby square. She traced
routes and indicated photos around the
perimeter to highlight landmarks with
the poise of a seasoned lecturer. She
wasted no effort, pausing only to raise
her dark eyebrows. “A tech will make
sure your bike fits you. Please wear
your helmet.” She set down her pointer.
6

We paused to take a photo. My husband psyched himself up for the bridge
crossing, anticipating negotiation with
pedestrians nearsighted by cameras.

We pushed off in sync toward the steel
towers. In a few minutes, we merged
onto the bridge’s bike/walk lane. Traffic
whizzed past us beyond the concrete
barrier and tidal currents flowed under
us in the strait. People talked to one
another at the railing.
“On your left,” my husband said, maneuvering past the crowds. “Heads up.”
I witnessed more than one person
yanked out of the way. My vision impairment robs me of capturing facial
expressions, but I imagine the reactions. Perhaps it’s what heightens the
response in a scary movie: imagining
the terror beats a full shot of it. I snickered, but kept pedaling.
I smelled the water below us, brackish
swells rolling in the wake of watercraft,
energy rising and falling. I dared to
glance at the water from the backseat
and gazed above as our tandem passed
the towers, drinking in the Art Deco
structure. The autumn wind subsided
and the sun warmed my shoulders. We
soared across the last half of the span
without incident; most tourists didn’t
venture this far.

We refueled in Sausalito at a place
where the margaritas ordered by people
at a nearby table taunted my sober,
tired body. Crispy fish tacos, comforting carnitas, and fresh plum juice down
the gullet. It’s hard to end a meal like
that, but we set off. The foghorn of the
ferry bellowed as we left our first stop
behind.
The bridge awaited us. The open water
to the east reflected sunlight, patches of
indiscriminate sparkles in my eye. It
encouraged me and provided motivation to ride uphill and over the bridge.
We glimpsed the Pacific Ocean and
wound through the Presidio. More
views. More hills. More work, together.
“Go,” my husband said over his shoulder, beginning a relentless climb lasting
blocks. His back flexed in effort, but
his shirt appeared dry, so no noxious
odors drifting to the gal in the back.
We scaled the hill and started another.
I ordered my legs to kick it, working
through more than a hill.
I wished for green lights at intersections: restarting on an incline killed
our momentum. My ignorance of the
neighborhood layout plus my inability
to read any signs we passed allowed
me to focus on the cadence instead of
the miles left. Push, spin. Push, spin.
Around and around.
I trusted my reliable husband’s instincts
to keep us safe on the tandem. His lean
frame supports more than what’s expected from a friend, a son, a husband,
proving with his actions when tested,
he rises. He encouraged me up the hills
like he encourages me out the door on
the way to work in the morning and

after eye surgeries. A year after an uncertain summer, we nudged each other
forward, paddling through the rapids
of loss in our proverbial lifeboat. Most
boats in life row steadier with pairs—
the work halved and the joy shared. No
struggles, no life.

We entered the hushed interior of the
building and treated ourselves to the
oil-on-canvas scenes. I walked close
to my husband to avoid bumping into
things, but also because I like him nearby. After examining the collection of
Impressionist master painters—where
the blurring of images fits in—we resumed pedaling toward our third destination.

A year after an uncertain summer, we
nudged each other forward, paddling through
the rapids of loss in our
proverbial lifeboat.

We worked, unified by the challenge
and the adrenaline rush of riding a
tandem through the city. No peloton to
draft behind, no domestique handing up
musettes, no team car. Just me and my
husband to finish the course with the
resources we carried: water, trail mix,
and a cell phone for GPS or to wave the
white flag of surrender if a mechanical problem sidelined us. Quitting due
to the increasing soreness in my legs
and back was not an option my stubborn mind would entertain. Instead, I
inhaled. The blood circulating in my
veins recycled the spent energy in my
cells for fresh oxygen one heartbeat at a
time. Life flowed in me.

“Easy,” he said, our signal to coast.
He gave auditory direction knowing
that I wouldn’t catch silent gestures
on the ride. I listened to the whirr
of the wheels and exhaled. A breeze
tickled my face and my sweaty scalp
itched beneath my helmet. A dog sitter
marched by with at least eight animals.
I squinted in vain at the fuzzy creatures,
wondering if any of them were my favorites, terriers.
“None of them were terriers,” said my
husband. Mind reader.
We turned a corner and parked our rental in front of the Legion of Honor, the
second stop on our journey. I breathed
hard, but smiled in the shadow of my
tall partner as I flexed my fingers, sore
from gripping the handlebars. I gulped
water and offered him the bottle. He
drank and returned the bottle with a
kiss.

We climbed up and coasted down hills
to reach the green vista of Golden Gate
Park and the de Young museum. Our
comfort with the rental peaked and we
dismounted in front of our relatives.
Stuck it like champs. We greeted our
adorable, sleepy niece at the side of her
stroller. I wasn’t the only one a little
tired that afternoon.
I wouldn’t receive my white cane training until a month later in Baltimore,
waiting my turn for therapy behind
those in greater need. Until then, I
moved with caution and extra
awareness of my surroundings, but

7

without the confidence the white cane
would give me. At the museum, I
trailed relatives in congested sections.
Patrons lost in thought jostled near popular collections. The reshuffling movement camouflaged my uneven gait.
As I admired an installation it dawned
on me that in a museum, a place filled
with observation, everyone may look
at the same things, but our impression
of what we see varies. People tend to
accept and even embrace those differences instead of marginalizing them, a
destination I hoped to reach after gaining my disability.
I continued to explore. In less crowded
areas, galleries echoed with the footsteps of strangers. I moved independently, turning my head all the way to
the left to minimize my blind spot. I
took care to stand apart from the work.
I didn’t want to pull a Steve Wynn and
by accident put an elbow through a
canvas. Oops.

Time slipped away and the sun lowered
outside the gallery windows. We exited
the museum and walked to the bike
rack. After saying see-you-laters to our
relatives, we snapped on our helmets
and left in synchronized movement,
spinning through the sunset toward
the rental shop. The sloping landscape
granted us a break with smaller hills.
The commuting cars and buses rumbled
by as we cycled in harmony to Fort
Mason. I sensed the exciting pulse of
traffic on my left. It didn’t bother me
when vehicles passed too close—can’t
see them anyway over there. I followed
my husband’s steady pace. Pleasant
whiffs of fresh sourdough stoked my
hunger as we entered Fisherman’s
Wharf.

“Thank you.” I handed the tandem to
an employee; my low vision kept me
from recognizing the face or reading
the name tag.
I stretched and sighed while my husband returned the unused ferry tickets.
A streak of grease from the bike chain
marked my left calf like a jet contrail,
a sign of my labors in the afterglow
of accomplishment. We left the rental
shop hand-in-sweaty-hand and joined
other tourists under the cover of the
evening shade. We moved together, a
shared bike ride, a shared life.t

Push, push, push. We pedaled in the
seats uphill to the final destination
and rolled over the shop’s threshold to
dismount. The employees cheered for
us in a systematic way reminiscent of
perky servers with flare, but I heard an
employee say, “Wow,” and another say,
“Most people walk it up Hyde Street.”

Call for submissions

K

ALEIDOSCOPE
Gail Willmott, Editor-in-Chief

Kaleidoscope magazine has a creative focus that examines the experience of disability through literature and the fine arts. A
pioneer in the field of disability studies, this award-winning publication expresses the diversity of the disability experience from
a variety of perspectives including: individuals, families, friends, caregivers, educators and healthcare professionals, among
others. The material chosen for Kaleidoscope challenges and overcomes stereotypical, patronizing, and sentimental attitudes
about disability through nonfiction, fiction, poetry, and visual art. Although the content focuses on aspects related to disability,
writers with and without disabilities are welcome to submit their work.

· Double spaced, typewritten · 5,000 word maximum

· Electronic submissions preferred

Email submissions accepted at kaleidoscope@udsakron.org or online at kaleidoscopeonline.org.

8

POETRY

Liz Whiteacre

I Hand My Razor to Kevin
In my shabby apartment,
he squats in the blue tub
and turns on the rusty tap.
My torso bound by brace,
I weeble-wobble back and forth,
struggling to reach the commode.
He helps me stretch my shaky legs
from the commode to the tub’s cold,
tiled wall, where he will splash
warm water on me and lather
the shave’s soap with calloused hands.
This must be love:
too young to be caretaker,
he tends to my calves’ curves
cautiously. This is the first time
I have not pulled my razor up
my shins myself. White foam
troughs as he works the safety blade
with expertise. A man who knows
his own face in the dark,
who takes one stroke
at a time, careful not to cut.

Previously published in author’s chapbook
Hit the Ground (Finishing Line Press, 2013).

9

PERSONAL ESSAY

Air Burbles and Other Oddities
L. F. Young

A

s I look at the blinking cursor on the screen of my
monitor, I adjust my secondhand office chair so it is
just perfect. My right leg, with the prosthetic on it,
is stretched out in front of me under the desk because I still
can’t sit with it at a right angle to the seat. I’m told this will
improve as my leg shrinks over time. My hospital stay was
almost four months longer than the five to seven days my
doctor first predicted. The routine operation to replace the
badly clogged artery in my right leg had a ninety-five percent success rate but was in fact a failure of epic proportions
and not as a result of a slip in the O.R. as you might expect.
A rare allergic reaction to a commonly used blood thinner
turned my blood volume to jelly and both legs died due to
lack of blood flow.
The miracle happened when the doctors restored the stream
of life-giving fluid and both limbs were saved, but the right
leg had only a short time to remain a part of me while my
body fought for life. In the end, I would have another course
of operations and procedures in an attempt to save the leg,
but the final result would be an amputation. I suspect some
of you reading this might be thinking how awful, or feel
in some way sympathetic to my plight, but the fact is I am
grateful to be alive, and I am in awe of my body’s amazing
ability to adapt to the assault, and at the same time initiate
the process of rerouting blood vessels and nerves and rescuing vital organs.
Now that I have brought you all up to speed, I want to give
you an intimate guided tour of the life of an amputee. Losing a limb, or part of a limb is not new. In fact, people have
been losing body parts since time began. Of course, in the
early days, most folks died. It was just a fact of life in a premedicinal and pre-antibiotic world. Once physicians learned
10

they could safely remove diseased limbs and organs, life
expectancy started getting longer.
In my case because of complications, the first harvested
vein which was used to replace the section of artery failed.
They use the patient’s own vessel for the repair so there is
less chance of rejection by the body. That meant they had to
harvest a second vein from my left leg. It’s important to note
that my left leg was fine when I went in for the surgery, but
sometimes things go wrong. When I woke up in the intensive care unit I didn’t know what day or night it was. There
were no windows there to show me the outside world and
my focus was on the machines, wires, and tubes attached to
a body that couldn’t be mine. I could understand through my
drug-addled mind that my right leg, the one with the problem, was bandaged and seemingly as big as an elephant’s
trunk, but why was my left leg bundled up in the same fashion? My first dressing change answered all my questions,
whether I liked it or not.
Because the doctors had to harvest another section of vein
from my left leg after the first graft failed, there were two
very large and deep lacerations called fasciotomy on each
side of my calf muscle. There were matching wounds on
my right leg as well, however in order to clear my arteries
of the clots from the drug reaction, the surgeons had to expose my clogged pipes and I was cut from the ankle on my
left leg, up to my groin and down to the ankle of my right
leg. Despite all the abuse my body had taken over the last
seventy-two hours, I was in relatively low discomfort from
my wounds, but I was also on a lot of pain relievers. When
the blood flow stopped to my legs, cells started to die, and
that meant the nerves died as well. Both legs were numb, but
even mere days after the assault, my nerves started to re-

grow. It was this nerve pain that would haunt me for months
during my recovery. The nerves, as it was explained to me,
were sending the wrong messages to my brain because they
were new and developing “memory.” A light touch on my
foot would feel like a red hot knife cutting deep into flesh,
or the message would be sent to the brain that my foot was
on fire and being electrically shocked. I was taking so many
pain pills and medication to help “quiet” my rapidly misfiring nerves, that I was in a fog most days. The pink color was
not returning to my foot as was expected, and an infection
turned nasty. Five months after the first operation, I went
under the knife again, this time to remove an infected big
toe. After another two weeks of little to no improvement with
the circulation in my lower right leg, we (my surgeon and
I) decided to proceed with a below knee amputation. I was
told of this possibility at the very beginning, and I had been
mentally preparing myself for the last few weeks for this end
result. By then the nerve pain in both feet was so bad, especially in my right foot, that I agreed immediately. Just please
take my pain away.
Fast forward a bit and it’s been five months since “The Operation.” That’s what I will always call it. That day I became
a one-legged man. My stump, that portion of my leg just
below my knee that was beautifully sculpted by the surgeon
into a nice round end, had healed enough that I could start to
introduce some weight to it again. The thoughts of getting up
and out of that wheelchair danced in my head.
Before I was forced into this life detour, I would have had
questions if I saw someone with an artificial hand, or if I met
someone with an artificial leg. I would wonder how they put
that thing on, what in the world held it on, and how did they
manage in their day-to-day lives? But I would never ask. I
was much too embarrassed to ask to have a look at something so personal. That’s why I am writing this essay, to let
you into my personal space, just for a little while.
Prosthetic devices are as varied as the injury itself. Firstly,
it must be looked on as an assistive tool and nothing more.
Today, these devices are made of titanium for its strength,
and aluminium for its lightweight properties, and electronics
in some cases, that actually have computer “brains” at their
core to make them operate as close as possible to the real
limb or hand or foot. Once the limb is completely healed, the
first step to getting an artificial leg is to make a mold. The
process is the same for any device and each prosthetic is as

unique as fingerprints to every patient. The technician covers
the leg and stump with light cellophane right over the liner
that is worn, and then applies layers of plaster-soaked strips,
just like getting a cast for a broken leg. This is repeated and
stops just above the knee joint. When that hardens, the mold
is the exact size and shape of the leg and stump. The prosthetist then makes another plaster mold from that shell and then
they have an exact replica of the patient’s leg. The finished
product is a hard plastic socket with a special titanium fitting permanently molded into the end. The tubular leg and
foot will be attached to the fitting. This process takes about a
week to two weeks, depending on how complicated the prosthetic device is.

The miracle happened when the
doctors restored the stream of lifegiving fluid and both limbs were
saved, but the right leg had only a
short time to remain a part of me
while my body fought for life.
Now it’s time to learn how to walk again. The learning starts
with, as you might expect, use and care of this new equipment. It is crucial that the liner that is worn next to your skin
be washed every night. Without this sanitation of the liner, an
abrasion, a cut or even an ingrown hair on the stump could
become infected because of the very nature of the dampness
that the liner creates. Imagine wrapping your leg in plastic
cling wrap for a day, with no place for perspiration to go.
It is this protective liner that causes air burbles as I call them.
Air burbles happen when you roll the liner onto your leg.
Air becomes trapped in little pockets between the rubberlike Teflon and the skin. Apply pressure, like a tight plastic
socket, and that air burble slowly makes its way up your leg
and out the top of the liner. These air burbles are silent, but
the sensation is not unlike breaking wind in a tub of water.
We’ve all done that, and felt that air bubble roll over our butt
and up to the surface of the water.

11

What most people think is that the stump of the leg fits into
the socket and bottoms out into the rounded cup at the end.
What actually happens is the leg is “sandwiched” between
the ridged sides of the socket, and is supported at the knee
joint, so the stump and end of the leg float in the socket,
and the only point of contact is at the very strong knee joint.
While putting weight on the leg, the pressure is transferred
to the side of the knee, and when the step is finished, weight
is then transferred to the good leg, and the patient is walking. Dealing with the initial pain of bearing weight on a
limb so severely mutilated was very tough at first. Every
step was agony as I struggled with learning how to control
and once again master my balance. I had lost all my upper
body strength, and because my diet was not restricted, I
gained about sixty pounds while lying around in bed unable
to move for so long. Extra weight was not my friend, and
losing it was now imperative.
At this stage of my rehabilitation I had mastered the twowheeled walker. Slide hop. Slide hop. It was awkward with
one leg, but it was mobility, and it got me out of the wheelchair once in a while. The rehabilitation gym was well set
up for the task of training patients with a multitude of disabilities. A set of parallel bars was the first thing to master.
Like a child learning to walk for the first time and holding
onto the coffee table for support, I let my arms take most of
the weight so as to tolerate the pain. Eventually week after
week as I gained strength and mobility, I was able to let go
of the bars. I was also retraining my brain to once again get
used to the extra weight on that side of my body, and even
stepping sideways and backwards had to be relearned and
programmed into my brain once again.

12

All of these oddities were part of the very steep learning
curve I was experiencing on this new road I now traveled,
oddities that are both a blessing and a curse. Oddities like
slamming your shin into that steel shopping cart rail are not
a problem anymore. A cold or wet foot is also not a problem, at least for one side of my body. However, I do miss
some of the more subtle things that I never thought twice
about before. One thing I miss is not being able to wiggle
my toes even though sometimes I still feel them, and not
having the flexibility of an ankle may seem like an insignificant thing until you encounter a steep incline. Ramps are
fine for wheelchairs, but not so good for walking with an
artificial leg. The oddity of not being able to feel anything
south of your knee can also act as a hindrance at times.
I can’t count the number of times my artificial foot has
gotten stuck under the kick space of a counter or wedged
under the dash of a car because I couldn’t feel it getting
stuck or jammed in. One of the strangest of all the oddities I was now getting used to was unexpected. This new
to me prosthetic device had a life span of just three years.
But it’s titanium you say. It’s made of the hardest and most
durable materials known to man you exclaim. I know, but
the fact is we are so hard on these parts that they do indeed
wear out in just three or four years. Makes you think twice
about how rugged this amazing and durable body of ours is,
doesn’t it?
So now you are just a bit more knowledgeable about the not
so talked about subject of amputation. Now you are a bit
more educated about the fantastic advances in the prosthetic
industry, the struggle to adapt and get used to a different
way of life, and hopefully, you now know a bit more about
air burbles and other oddities.t

POETRY

Jerry Hauser

Ash
Even while I am cold with you up here,
I cannot believe that there shall be
no more rich laughter from your throat.
That we shall not again recline in the clover
and carry its scent into our dreams.
Is there no way that you will comprehend?
Is there nothing to renew? Must it be finally
expired on this evening of wet wind and no sun?
On this high rise above the water we stand
and watch the weeds lift on the waves
and wallow in the troughs.
I have finally lost the will to speak with you.
I feel my words are useless.
What could be said is heavy echo.
I feel my words are frivolous.
We are together for the moment but apart
and cannot find the linkages.
Does my silence injure you? It hovers
near me like a peering referee.
I have lost the urge to speak it out with you.
A candle gone down with holy days
and celebrations.
Ash of incense tablets
(once burned sweetly into speaking).
I reside within the metal burner.
Cold and finished.

13

FICTION

The Shellshock Letters
D. E. Harris

D

ear Uncle Sam,
I fear that there are not enough opportunities for
people with disabilities! So what if I am in a wheelchair! Secretaries sit all day! I could do that. I could even
go to school, but I have heard reports of all kinds of mistreatment; particularly from my friend Wacko, who complains about teacher mistreatment. He said that they always
tell him that he, “doesn’t look disabled!” Uncle Sam, when
we’ve talked about this in person, we are always in the parlor where you weigh wages on the scales. So I have decided
to write to you, that you might pay more attention. People
with disabilities need more employment opportunities. I
will sign with the nickname you once called me.

Your Hopeful Nephew,

Shellshock
Dear Shellshock,
Unfortunately, I have to tell you that most disabled
people prefer to stay at home. It has been my experience
that whenever My People at the Office of Vocational and
Rehabilitation Services have provided employment opportunities, nine times out of ten, we would receive a phone
call that went something like this, “My disability transportation did not arrive…” or “My home aide is late…” and
my personal favorite, “Are there work accommodations?”
How ridiculous! It’s perfectly clear that They prefer to stay
home? At any rate, I don’t know how productive a disabled
person could be, and that is why I weigh wages on my
scale. I should like to think that you can see that we are eager to work with Your People, after all I believe Your friend
“Justice” is blind? Is that correct?

Your Affectionate Uncle,

Sam
14

Dear Uncle Sam,

I fear that I’ve annoyed you. All I am suggesting, albeit
directly, is that My People can continue to serve the country
by working. I have not yet heard Your People encouraging
an able-bodied person to stay at home! You believe that
if you don’t have a disability you should be a productive
member of society; all I am asking is for more accessible
opportunities, particularly in health treatment and employment resources!

Your Hopeful Nephew,

Shellshock
Dear Shellshock,

How easily you have slipped treatment in with your
employment argument. I’m glad you’re enjoying the Sci-Fi
Channel! Please note that My People have been doing all
that We can. Don’t you still receive a “pension?” I heard
those sort of artifacts collect dust in the Smithsonian these
days, alongside work security and fringe benefits. Haven’t
We given you Section 8 housing, General Education Degrees (GED) and a GI bill for higher education—isn’t what
We’ve done admirable! Now you ask for employment and
health treatment. I agree, your service, bravery and dedication to this country should guarantee you many things, but
after what you’ve been through—I think staying at home
is far better than employment or quality health treatment.
Anyway, I am off to present a new bill called “An Act to
Rescind Education Funding from the American’s with Disabilities Act.” I am eager for your reply, but please make it
short, you know how I despise “civil rights.”

Your Affectionate Uncle,

Sam

POETRY

p.s.
We have now transformed into a new department. My correspondence will now be dictated by my secretary from our
new department: Veteran Affairs.

Mary Ellen Talley

My Dearest Uncle Sam,

We have gone back and forth quite enough! I’ve requested better health treatment and acceptable employment
opportunities. But now you have forced my hand. Because
you have failed to respond to our reasonable requests, We
have decided to shut down the Government! I would offer
you amnesty and safe passage, but the only way past the
crowd is the accessible elevator. The elevator is located in
the parking lot corridor; there is a ramp that leads up to it. I
would offer this to you, but the only elevator has been broken for the past three years now.

Your Remarkable Nephew,

Shellshock a.k.a. Former

Dedicated U.S. Military

Service Membert

The dark-haired teen

Rainbow Girl in Autism Classroom

is restricted

to drawing one rainbow


per day. Otherwise,

she’d never

get anything

constructive done.

15

PERSONAL ESSAY

Stutter
Jake Wolff

I

t starts at the back of my throat—a sort of tightness, but
not. I’m in a restaurant and I’m ready to order. Roasted
halibut, I think. Roasted. The word lights up like an
opened refrigerator; it comes alive in my mind. I feel it
growing clumsy and unglued. It breaks into letters, the capital R running loose, not so much escaping as playing, dancing. It wants to be chased. By now it’s clear to me: I won’t
be able to say this word. I look for alternatives. Just halibut
maybe, but there are other halibut dishes on the menu, and
the waiter will ask which I’m ordering. Perhaps pan-roasted
will work—the hard P is easier, less dependent on the throat
and tongue—but can I be sure the roasting was done with a
pan? Are there other ways to roast? Probably. I don’t know.
The waiter is coming. He removes his pad of paper and
nods in my direction. I order the salmon. He looks at me
like he knows I’m lying.

Stuttering usually brings to mind the machine-gun syllables
of Porky Pig—“Th-th-that’s all, folks!” Stutterers call that
repetition, and while it’s embarrassing, even shameful in the
way of any secret that is suddenly made public, I consider it
the least of my problems. If I get that far, it means I’m making sounds, and sounds can be manipulated, shaped. I deal
more frequently with blocks, a disappearance of the voice
when confronted with certain words and letters. I know
before I speak that a block is coming, but there is little I
can do but search for a different word. This makes reading
out loud or ordering from a menu especially difficult—I
lose the ability to choose. Any word can do it, though as for
most stutterers, certain sounds are always difficult for me. I
struggle the most with R’s—roasted, remember, Rasputin.
16

History is filled with explanations for stuttering. The causes
offered range from the obvious—stupidity, deformation of
the tongue—to the exotic and strange—sexual perversion,
godlessness. The cures, likewise, range from the unpleasant—tongue removal, brain surgery—to the differently
unpleasant—lettuce juice, constant singing. Some say white
people stutter more than any other racial group; others
argue that African Americans do. In 1947, the Quarterly
Journal of Speech ran a short article entitled simply “Why
the Indian Does Not Stutter.” Of course, this was answered
in 1953 by a slightly longer paper in the Journal of Speech
and Hearing Disorders: “Some Indians Who Stutter.”

I saw a speech therapist once and never again. It was fourth
grade, and she came and pulled me from class without
warning or explanation. I knew immediately—the way
children sometimes do—that this would soon become a
memory to dissect, examine, and nurture into resentment,
and so I willed myself to hyperawareness. I still remember
her: thick ruddy hair, khaki pants belted high above the
waist, a herringbone blazer like Jody Foster wore in Silence
of the Lambs.
She led me to a part of the school I’d forgotten existed, one
that I associated with kids in wheelchairs, with classmates
who have biting problems and then one day, just like that,
are never seen again. I watched her as she walked, trying
to find a toughness in myself that I knew wasn’t there. Her
brown-gray clothes made her look like a shadow framed
against the milky enamel of the hallway. Sometimes she
glanced back to make sure I hadn’t bolted.

In her office—a small, sterile room that may as well have
been padded—she tested my ability to speak. She showed
me a series of flashcards that featured thick black ink drawings of everyday objects. I named them as they appeared
before me—eggbeater, faucet, standing coat rack. It was the
easiest Rorschach test known to man.
What I remember most is not my voice but hers. She spoke
to me like I was a baby, or perhaps as though I was a very
old man, who might, at any moment, lose all sense of himself.
“Most people talk like this,” she said, drawing a straight
line, “but you talk like this.” She drew a series of peaks and
valleys, a cartoon mountain range. “Just try talking slower,”
she said. She teased out the word: slo-ower.
I never saw her again. Even today the woman inhabits a
sinister role in my memory, though back then (and now,
still now) I was sensitive and defensive, and I’m not sure
anyone could have gotten through to me. By the time I realized I did need help, I was too old to ask for it, and I still
regret not saying something then. But like most schoolboys
who are unhandsome and without athletic gifts, I protected
my intelligence the way our golden retriever protected his
favorite toy—by hiding it from everyone.

Stuttering was once considered a personality disorder—a
character flaw—and that perception still remains. Research
shows that even speech clinicians are prone to making
snap, unsavory judgments about the inner life of a stutterer.
Insecure, anxious, fearful—all are traits associated with impaired speech.
I do not stutter any more when I’m nervous than when I’m
not, but I am often told to “relax” when my speech fails
me. I have a recurring nightmare that I’m pulled over by a
cop for speeding, and when he hears me stutter he assumes
I am drunk and arrests me. The dream ends with the click
and pinch of handcuffs. I do in fact stutter more when I’m
drinking—I lose the focus it takes to control my jaw muscles. My word choice suffers.

Sometimes I feel a complete loss of speech gathering inside
me, a slow-building wave in a hurricane—that tightness of
the throat, a seizing of the jaw like an arthritic joint. My lips
and tongue go dry, and my impulse is to swallow, swallow
again, swallow everything. Stuttering makes you aware of
yourself as a consumer—you realize how much you take in
when you can’t spit anything out. In these moments, I have
safe words that I rely on to guide me back to fluency. I will
never share these words with anyone; I’m afraid they will
lose their power if revealed, like government spies.

But like most schoolboys who are
unhandsome and without athletic
gifts, I protected my intelligence the
way our golden retriever protected
his favorite toy—by hiding it from
everyone.

I hold them in my mouth, cradle them. I follow them like
breadcrumbs leading home.

A few years ago, my father-in-law Andy had emergency
brain surgery to remove what doctors call a space-occupying lesion—in this case, a tumor the size of a lemon on his
frontal lobe. I first heard about it while I was driving home
from my first day at a new job, and my fiancé called to
tell me what happened. We lived in Chicago, and I was so
rattled by the news that I missed my exit and drove into an
unsafe part of the city—and directly, it seemed, into a gang
fight. Two groups of young boys were sending glass bottles
across the street at each other like hand grenades. I drove
through quickly and shook my head at my carelessness, but
I can’t entirely blame myself. Recent studies show that stutterers are more easily startled than the general population.
This may explain my distaste for horror movies.

17

After the surgery, we gathered around Andy’s hospital bed
while he slept. The room was filled with foam coffee cups
and spring lilies. We sat mostly in silence, and sometimes
I’d run over to the nearest Chinese place to grab takeout for
the family. I do well in situations like these. I’ve gotten very
good at not talking.
The treatment had been a success, they said. They’d seen
his brain and fixed it. As we waited, I thought of my own
brain, of the many ripples and folds that hold so much
mystery and frustration. In my lifetime, researchers have
started to better understand what makes us stutter. For typical speakers, the left side of the frontal lobe, where Andy’s
tumor had been, is the most active during speech, while
the right remains mostly quiet. For stutterers, though, the
right side interrupts, constantly, like an annoying relative
who asks questions just as an excuse to talk more himself.
I think about this now whenever I speak. The two halves of
my mind are in endless conflict with each other. We think
of stuttering as a problem of comprehension—a failure that
prevents others from understanding us. But now it’s much
more than that. My mind can’t understand itself.
As the medicine wore off and Andy started speaking again,
he reverted briefly to a younger version of himself. He
spoke in Spanish—his native tongue—and laughed like a
little boy when his wife cursed over a spilled coffee. And
yet, as the hours passed, I could see him growing older
again, becoming more himself. They’d opened his head
and fixed his brain, and now he was better. Just like that. I
thought of the ancient Greeks drilling holes into the skulls
of stutterers and rooting around in the bloody muck for the
source of speech gone wrong. I looked at his scar, thick and
black but already beginning to fade into his dappled skin. I
looked at his eyes, cloudy still but clearing as he came back
to life. I watched his mind heal itself in a single day.

Sometimes in the quiet second just before I give a presentation, a speech—before I read a story out loud to my wife on
a long car trip—I allow myself a small moment of unearned
hope. I think: This is it. This is the day my words will come
out smooth, flow like water, polish vowels and consonants
the way a river smoothes stones. It seems so easy. I just
need to relax, take a deep breath. Talk slower. And then I
turn to the opening page of that story, and there it is, the
very first word: Remember.t

18

Michael S. Morris

Every Poem is Fledgling
But certainly nature is nonmoral—
our minds not elegant looms—
but discordant orchestras beyond control,
its patterns drunk as thoughts on Calvados.
Do you feel kinship with this approach?
the thousand piece orchestra inside a man:
organisms, in utero, animals, strongly primate,
demons, who can write, “the brave smell of a stone,”
“the happy smell of water,” memory is married
to imagination, that mendacious, prevaricating
magician: the trickster, asking do you reflect us?
or do we reflect you? Every poem is fledgling
every word a branch on a pine,
where much is hidden and nested,
and in which, much is found.

POETRY

Michael S. Morris

She Holds a Brush Detailing the Days
There is a simple humming
and a movement with the pans
that wish to dance in your hands
A song is a love song
and you are parading after your words
falling from your mouth like Chinese pearls

Michael S. Morris

The Sacred Poem
The sacred poem
contained the first full forest of old age:
large secondary elm, birch, hickory, walnut,
and rootless eucalyptus, skirted by bright green
laurel, socks of stalks shaped like ferns, a geometry
of conifers. The sacred poem was the granite
shale of long buried stones, striated, like Freud’s coal,
symbol of unconscious depths mined in pure darkness
by our own calloused hands all to find the caduceus
that leads a soul to inner quietness, rectitude of churches,
echoes in the pews of minds, and in the timelessness,
and spacelessness in mines; become aware of sacred poems
that dance together; that pens may swirl wherever shone.

The bread is straight from the oven
The soup was picked from the garden
And laughter arose from our wonder
There is a twilight unveiling
the bouquets and condiments of age;
she holds a brush, detailing the days.

19

FICTION

The Dark End of the Bar
Bradley Don Richter

“C

ripple scotch,” the old man said. The lights had
gone out at his end of the bar and no one had
bothered to change them.

“Triple scotch?” the bartender asked. She had his wife
Bunny’s cloudy green absinthe eyes. He thought: She could
easily be my daughter.
“You heard me,” he mumbled. “Three shots. And don’t
skimp.”
The bartender sighed and fetched him a glass.
When she set the scotch down, he asked, “You got a family?”

“Whatever it is,” she said, “I don’t want it.”
“But—”
“I don’t care.” She went back to wiping the clean counter
with a filthy rag.
The old man sighed. “What if it’s a million dollars?”
“You can keep it.”
“At least hear me out, okay? What else do you have to do
tonight?”
“Fine.”

“None of your business,” she said, idly wiping the counter.

“My wife . . . is gone.”

“You’ve been pouring my scotch for ten years, you know.”

“Big surprise.”

“So what? You never said ten words to me.”

“She died this morning, right there in our bed.”

At the other end of the bar, a young man cleared his throat.
The bartender went to him and took his order. She had
her bread and butter on display, with a long, thin knife of
cleavage down the middle. He tipped her generously, as the
young men always did.

The rag went limp in her hand. “I’m sorry. But what does
this have to do with me?”

The old man watched her from the shadows, exhausted. It
had been a long day. It started when he woke up . . . and
Bunny did not. Her body was still at home in bed, but her
soul had wandered off. He wanted to follow her, but he
wasn’t sure he knew the way.
When the bartender came back, he said, “I got something
for you.”

20

“You got a family?” he repeated.
“Yeah.”
“Kids?”
She hesitated. “One.”
He finished his scotch, jagged rocks and all. “What’s his
name?”
“What does it matter to you? You never asked before.”

“What’s his name?”
The bartender sighed. “Her name is Emma.”
“Emma,” the old man said under his scotch-breath. “A fine
name.”
Her eyes met his. “How about you? Do you have a family?
Kids?”
When he came back impotent from the war, Bunny said
kids weren’t important. Neither was making love. They’d
already made it, she said; why keep making it over and over
again?
He believed her. He wanted so badly to believe her, to believe anything again.
And it worked—for a time. But her sisters and then her
friends all became mothers, and he watched as that key
part of her withered and died, that same key part of himself
that had gushed out in a claret stream in a Vietnamese rice
paddy. The trade-off for taking children out of this world,
he supposed, was that he could no longer bring them into it.
He figured they went out the same way they came in: with
blood and pain and screaming and tears.
He was suddenly thirsty for another scotch, but he knew
he’d already tasted his last.
“No kids,” he said. The jukebox held its breath. The only
sound was the hollow thwack of darts as the young man and
his young friends passed their youth at the light end of the
bar.
“Emma have a dad?” he asked to fill the silence.
“All kids do.”
“You know what I mean.”
“He’s dead.”
The old man fidgeted on his hard wooden stool. “I’m sorry,
Bunny.”
“My name’s not Bunny.”
He frowned. “I said I’m sorry, honey.”

His bony hand shot into his pants pocket and he pulled out a
crisp, sealed envelope with nothing written on it. He passed
it to the bartender. “Will you take it now?”
She held it up. “I guess. What is it?”
He cleared his throat, coal dust from an ancient mine. “Your
inheritance.”
“My what?”
But he only smiled, rose from his barstool, and shrugged
into his coat.
“Thank you for taking it off my hands,” he said.
Inside the envelope, he’d placed the key to his safety deposit box down at First National Bank and a note explaining how to withdraw the childless sum of money he had
amassed.
On his way out into the frigid night, he thought of Emma.
Emma in braces.
Emma in glasses.
Emma in college.
Emma someday having children of her own.
Always wanted great-grandkids, the old man thought, smiling. Wonder if I’ll be able to look down and see them—if
we’ll be able to see them. Wonder if that old story is true.
He walked home through the empty streets of Santa Cruz.
The fog was clearing. When he reached the rickety Victorian he shared with his wife, he loaded a single red shell into
his shotgun and went up the stairs to the master bedroom.
Bunny was there, staring through him. He took her by the
cold hand.
“I don’t know exactly where you’ve gone,” he said, “but
I’m coming. And I think you’ll be proud of me, Bunny. I
think you’ll be real proud.”
He climbed into bed with his wife.t

21

FICTION

The Piano
Caitlin Barasch

M

om is on the phone, talking
quickly and quietly, thumbing the space between her
eyes. I pause in the doorway, my footsteps muffled by carpet, and listen. Her
phone conversations are usually loud
and uninhibited, but now I’m straining
my neck to barely hear snatches of it.
“I just don’t know what else there is to
do,” she says, and then reaches for a
pen and one of the crumpled receipts
on her nightstand. “Hold on, Laura.
I’m just going to take that down. Can
you repeat the number for me?” She
balances the receipt on her skirted knee
and scribbles, then sniffs and wipes her
nose. “Okay, thanks so much. Talk to
you soon. But hopefully not too soon.”
She forces some laughter, puts down
the phone, then looks up and catches
my eye. It all happens too fast—there is
nowhere for me to hide.
“Emma,” she says, sighing. “How was
your day?”
The straps of my backpack cut into my
shoulders; I shrug it off and set it on the
ground at my feet.
“Fine. What was that about? How did it
go with Jim?”

22

My mom pats the bed next to her but I
shake my head and say, “No, it’s okay,
you don’t have to go into detail. I have
a ton of homework. I just wanted to
know if it worked or not.”
The television, which has been muted
in the background, suddenly switches
on its sound.
“Seventy-two degrees, chance of thunderstorms in the late evening . . .” interrupts a weatherman, and my mom says,
“What the hell,” and turns it off. “No,”
she tells me. “It did not go well. As
soon as Jim realized who they were, he
ran into the back of the apartment and
locked himself in the bathroom. They
waited for a long time, tried to reason
with him, to coax him out, but he didn’t
respond, and, well, they had to move
on. Other jobs to do.”
“How long did they wait?” I ask.
“Almost thirty minutes.”

“What? That’s not long at all. Did they
try anything else? Couldn’t they break
down the door? Couldn’t they call
someone—someone else?”

“I’m sorry, Emma. I know this is hard
for you. But it’s harder for me, honey.
He’s my brother. I can’t just—well,
he’s family.”
My mom’s eyes redden, filling with
tears, but I persist. I want Jim to go
away so badly. “Are they going to try
again tomorrow?”
“I don’t know. I don’t think so.”
“Why not? Isn’t that their job? They
didn’t do their job right, so now they
have to keep trying. What happens
now, if not that?”
“Jesus, Emma, stop,” says my mom.
“For all we know Jim might still be
locked in that goddamn bathroom.
No one’s heard from him. Not your
grandma or your grandpa or me, especially not Dad. Jim saw him with them
and now he probably won’t ever trust
him again.” She presses her palm to her
forehead again, hard. “Jesus. A bunch
of men in uniforms—of course he ran!
Who wouldn’t run from that? Jesus.”
She stands up, wavering a bit on her
socked feet. “I’m going to make myself
a cup of tea. Please don’t talk about this
anymore. I’m a wreck, can’t you see?”

I nod and let her pass. The doorway is
narrow, but we don’t so much as brush
elbows.
At noon that day, while I was in math
class copying down geometry proofs, I
looked at the clock and thought to myself, in ten minutes several large men
will go to my uncle’s house to take him
to an institution. Thank God! Jim made
me nervous everywhere—at the dinner
table, on the street, in the car, at a theater event. He said inappropriate things,
aggressive things, nonsensical things;
strangers looked at my family and me,
wondering. We were experienced in
offering hushed explanations out of
earshot, countless apologies, “We’re so
sorry but he’s mentally ill,” the tripled
tips for the frazzled waiter, the heartpounding anticipation of another public
display. We were linked permanently in
this way. He was my uncle.
My grandpa was in perpetual denial.
His son had spiraled into schizophrenia
at age nineteen, almost forty years ago,
and with each new deciphering of the
garbled verbiage that spilled from Jim’s
fractured mind, my grandpa would later
observe, “He’s getting better, better every day.” But Jim wasn’t getting better.
There were weeks he took his medication, but there were more weeks that he
didn’t, when he complained of nausea
and insomnia and dry mouth and muscle tremors and blurred vision. These
were all completely valid and predictable side effects of his medications, and
Jim certainly suffered from them. But
we all suffered. We all did.
My room is a cave. It’s located in the
darkest corner of the house but I love
it that way. All our windows face the
wooded acres surrounding our property,

and I see things that no one else in my
family sees: the doe and her fawn, carefully picking over fallen branches; the
squirrel missing half of its tail; the rain
changing the color of the air. There are
four lamps in my room, but I only use
the one at my desk, hunched over my
homework. My phone buzzes with text
messages; I tell my friends that yes,
yes, my party is still very much on, and
don’t forget shot glasses. It’s our last
week of junior year, and that is a hell of
a good reason to celebrate.
My parents are invited to an old
friend’s fiftieth birthday bash this coming weekend at some country club
upstate, which means the house will
be parentless, and thus the party. It’s a
six-hour drive, so they’ll be staying at
some bed and breakfast Saturday night
and getting up early Sunday morning
to make it home in time for our weekly
family dinners with Grandma and
Grandpa and Jim. Jim wasn’t supposed
to be at this next one. My mom was
nervous about seeing my grandparents’
faces in the days after their son was put
away—they had approved the intervention but never truly acknowledged its
implications.
I was looking forward to it, to the
sound of normalcy. But now this normalcy seemed even farther out of reach.
Around seven, I can smell dinner: pasta
pesto with mushrooms and broccoli.
My stomach grumbles and leads me
down the hall and into the kitchen. My
dad is sitting at the table, shoes off,
reading Entertainment Weekly.
“Hey, that’s mine,” I tell him. Every
Friday after work he gets the mail and
holds it hostage.

“Nothing interesting anyway,” he says,
tossing it at me. “Starlet this, starlet
that.”

“You say that every time!”
He grins and shrugs. “How was
school?”
“Who cares? It’s almost over.”
“Hey, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t
care.”
My mom waves her spoon at me.
“Emma, can you set the table, please?”
I nod and grab some forks and placemats and napkins and spread them
across the table. My dad busies himself
filling glasses of water. Silence has
settled and I don’t make eye contact
with either of them. We sit and I inhale
the food as it melts in my mouth.
I am on my last bite, so very close and
so very full, when my mom turns to my
dad and says, “Have you heard anything?”
He shakes his head. “No. I would have
told you.”
“I’m worried.” She puts down her fork.
“I’m really worried.”
“Honey, he was in his own house. He’s
probably still there.”
“About his mental state, Peter.”
“He’s probably just as crazy as he was
before,” I say, and swallow a mushroom.

23

My mom’s eyes widen, and my dad
narrows his eyes and says, “That’s very
insensitive, Emma. It’s been a long day
for both of us.”
“You know what,” says my mom,
glassy eyed, “maybe this all happened
for a reason. Maybe we weren’t supposed to do this. I’m his sister, for
God’s sake. I’m supposed to help him.”
“Honey, this is helping him,” says my
dad, patting her on the arm.
She flinches. “If I could just convince
him to start taking his medication again
then maybe—”
“Mom,” I say. “Wake up. We’ve tried
that.” She doesn’t look at me.
“But don’t you remember? When he
was on his meds, he was so smart, so
smart and so talented, and he would
help you with your math homework—
with the really hard problems, don’t
you remember? And he would play the
piano. So beautifully . . .”
“I know, Mom. I know.”
“He went to Princeton.” She starts to
cry.
I am an only child. I can’t possibly
understand. But I do remember those
days when Jim was just a little quieter
than everyone else, a little slower—a
man unwilling to be touched or to make
eye contact, but a man who always had
something interesting and random to
say about the world. Before the illness,
and throughout it, he was an accomplished pianist. He’d sit at our piano,
playing sonatas, then a pop tune, then
some jazz and rock and blues, turning
to ask for requests from the crowd. The
crowd was his family, his parents and
his sister, his brother-in-law and his
niece, sitting impatiently on the couch,
clapping after every song, as twenty
minutes turned into an hour, just watching him move his hands.

24

My dad hugs my mom and rocks her
as she cries. They’re suddenly in their
own space and time. I stab the last two
pieces of penne on my plate and chew
loudly and then say, “Why does no
one seem to remember one real reason
he belongs in a mental hospital? What
happened oh, I don’t know, like two
months ago? To your daughter?”

But I do remember
those days when Jim
was just a little quieter
than everyone else, a
little slower . . . but
a man who always had
something interesting and random to say
about the world.

“Shut up, Emma,” says my dad without
looking up.
I bring my bowl to the sink and rinse it
off and raise my voice above the running water and remind them.
My mom, the good sister, the devoted
sister, in spite of everything, encouraged Jim to have a piano recital, to invite everyone in his apartment building.
“That might open their eyes,” my mom
had said to us. “So they can see he’s
just a person. A good person.”
And so Jim had written a program
of the sonatas he would perform; he
printed sixteen copies and slid them
under the doors of the other apartments.
He borrowed some extra folding chairs,
bought cheese and crackers, and fruit
and soda from the supermarket. He put
on a pressed shirt and tie on a Sunday
afternoon in March and sat down at

the piano bench in front of twenty-four
other tenants, one as young as six, and
he played. My family and I sat in the
first row for moral support.
There was a ten-minute intermission,
when it seemed as though neighbors
who had once felt generally uncomfortable sharing an elevator with Jim
finally did see him for the first time
they shook hands with his family, and
they saw us differently, too, for a minute or two. I snuck into the kitchen to
get a glass of water since I don’t like
soda, and Jim followed me in angrily,
and said, “Why aren’t you drinking the
soda that is out on the table? I bought
the soda for the recital.” I found myself
feeling nervous standing there alone
with him, and I said, “I’m sorry, Jim,
but I just wanted a glass of water.”
“You’re disrespecting me! Everyone
else out there is drinking soda.” He
began to shout, “I want you to go back
out there and drink soda like the rest of
them!”
I took a deep breath, turned the faucet,
and Jim flew at me, all two hundred
and forty pounds of him, attempting
to snatch the glass from my hand. I
gasped and instinctively jerked out of
the way. The glass fell to the floor shattering into a hundred small pieces.
“You stupid bitch!” Jim screamed.
“Look what you did! You broke my
fucking glass!”
The chatter in the living room stopped
and I heard running footsteps, then my
parents were there. I was trying not
to cry, and my mom started yelling at
Jim, and my dad began to pick up the
glass from the floor, while my grandma
stood unsteadily in the doorway with
her hands over her ears to block out the
yelling, as my grandpa began telling all
of Jim’s neighbors, “I’m sorry,” that the
recital was over, and thanked them for
coming.

“You know how angry we were with
him,” my mom said quietly. “We told
him how angry we were. We were there
supporting you.”
I finish cleaning my bowl and put it in
the drying rack.
“What else did you expect me to do?”
she asks plaintively.
I shrug.
“You know what makes me sad,
Emma? You do. Don’t you realize Jim
is already in his own institution? His
mind is a fucking prison! Why can’t
you be compassionate? What else can
I do?”

says, “No, no, definitely the black for
Malcolm,” and raises her eyebrows at
me. Malcolm is a boy from biology
class who plays lacrosse, occasionally
flirts with me, and shows up at most
parties with free alcohol. I’ve had a
crush on him since the ninth grade.
He is the most attractive guy I’ve ever
seen.

“You know what makes
me sad, Emma? You
do. Don’t you realize
Jim is already in his
own institution? . . .”

Holding hands, my parents angle their
bodies away from me.
“I’m going to bed,” I say, and turn to
leave.
I sleep in late, almost until noon, and
the house is empty and quiet. I pad into
the pantry in my pajamas and remove
all the beer bottles and handles of
vodka that I’d been hiding in the cupboard, behind all the fine china that we
never use, making room for them in the
fridge. In the rest of the house, I collect
all of the valuables and put them under
my bed. I plug in the speaker system in
the living room and push all the chairs
against the wall, leaving only the couch
and a carpeted dance floor and the
piano. Then I drive to the store to buy
chips and salsa, cookies, and sodas for
mixers.
At five, my best friends come over to
help me pick an outfit. We order a pizza
for dinner and lick our fingers, finishing every bit of crust. “Now I might not
even fit into that dress,” I say, Rebecca
laughs and steers me into my room,
where Jess holds up a few options:
green, black, and red.
“I vote green,” Jess says, studying the
dress. Rebecca shakes her head and

“I’m going with red,” I say, and my
friends exchange glances through the
transparent fabric.
By nine thirty, half the party has arrived. I wiggle through small circles of
clinking bottles and tipsy giggles arriving at the food table. Malcolm is dipping tortilla chips into guacamole.
“Hey,” I say.
“Hey, Emma,” he says. “Good party.”
“Oh, it’s just getting started,” I say, and
smile. “Do you want a drink?”
He gestures to the open beer on the
table. “Got one. Just taking a break to
eat something.”
“Yeah, that’s important.” We both stand
there awkwardly for a moment, and I’m
kicking myself for not being at least
three shots in, and then the doorbell
rings. “Dammit, I told everyone to
come through the garage, not the front
door!”
Malcolm shrugs.

The peephole on my front door is
broken. It’s been broken for as long
as I can remember, so the only way of
knowing who’s at the door before you
open it is if you walk into the living
room from around the corner of the
house and spot them through the large
windows, but that doesn’t apply at
night anyway.
I open it and Jim is standing there in
a long brown coat zipped to his chin
wearing stained khaki pants. He’s holding a bundle of songbooks to his chest.
“Hi Emma,” he says. “I came to play
the piano for a little while.”
I forget how to breathe for a second—I
can feel everyone’s eyes on my back
and over my shoulders, watching him.
“Um, I don’t think right now is a good
time. I have some friends over and, um,
maybe you could come by tomorrow?
And play those songs?”
“Where are your parents?” he asks.
My voice starts to shake. “They’re at a
party upstate.”
“Okay,” he says. “Well, I tried calling,
but no one picked up, and I’d really
like it if I could come in and play some
songs. I’ll leave after I’m done playing.
I brought Mozart.”
“Is this guy bothering you?” says Malcolm, suddenly appearing at my elbow.
He glares at Jim, and Jim clutches the
songbooks closer to his chest.
“No, this—is my uncle. Could you tell
everyone to go into the kitchen, to just
. . . wait in the kitchen for a little while,
please?”
He nods, and Jess and Rebecca help
him herd all the tipsy teenagers out of
sight. The laughing and clinking and
sloshing and chattering starts again, and
I look at Jim.

“I’ll be right back.”

25

“I think it would be inappropriate to
have you play the piano right now. As
you can see, I’m . . . I’m entertaining
some guests, and they would like to use
this room, and—”
“Just five minutes,” says Jim. His voice
is so calm that it frightens me. “They
can listen too.”
“No, Jim. No. I would really like it if
you left now. Come back tomorrow.
Please.”
“But this is what I planned on doing
tonight. I planned on coming over to
your house and playing the piano.”
I’m pleading now. “But my parents
aren’t even here! They would want to
be here.”
“Just one song,” he says. “One song
and then I’ll leave.” He rifles through
his songbooks, picks one, and then sets
the rest on the ground, next to the flowerpots.

26

I look into his face and suddenly I see
my mom’s face, and my grandma’s, and
my grandpa’s, and then I see my own.
I think about Jim at nineteen, driving
back to his dorm late at night, suddenly
forgetting his own name when the
cops pulled him over for speeding. In
two years, my brain, too, could turn to
mush, and everything in my head could
no longer make sense even to me, then
the pills could start, then the nausea,
the insomnia, the muscle tremors, and
the dry mouth. And there’d be nothing I
could do about it.
“One song is all right,” I say. “Just one
song.”
He nods and walks across the carpet
and sits down at the piano and spreads
the sheet music in front of him and
begins to play. He doesn’t so much as
glance at the sheet music. It’s all there,
in his head already. I stand and watch

listening from five feet away. The
sound of the party is growing in volume as more people stream in through
the garage, whooping and hollering and
pouring themselves drinks. I close my
eyes and listen to the piano keys, to the
jump and swirl and ebb and flow of the
music.
When the song is over, he gets up
and gathers his songbook and says,
“Did you know that Mozart had eight
names? Or that he wrote over six hundred pieces of music?”
“I didn’t know that,” I say.
Jim walks out of the house and retrieves his songbooks from the ground
next to the flowerpots. “Just something
to think about,” he says, and then he
gets in his car and drives away.
I lock the door and the partygoers drift
back into the living room, engulfing me

CREATIVE NONFICTION

Making Sense of the Noise
Leah Vitello

W

isps of clouds pass overhead. I can see pine trees
and bare patches of various shades of brown
dappled throughout an island surrounded by a
giant puddle of blue. If I really focus, I can tell the differences in hues: teal on the outer edges, blue-black hugging
the shore, and almost clear by the serrated rocks. The rocks
too become clearer—shaded with beige, rich soil brown,
and blinding white-gray. I am standing in the Pension Archodissa’s restaurant’s patio overlooking three beaches on
Thasos. Ruins straight ahead, stones carefully situated in
perpendicular lines. Grapevines hang above my head and all
around the restaurant, their green shading the afternoon sun.
The sky is pale and meets the sea as if it is sitting on it. In
the distance, whitewashed rocks recede to a gray-beige.

*

*

*

The sensory system contains the auditory system. There are
three parts to the ear: outer, middle, and inner. All of them
work together to take in and interpret sounds. This is called
hearing.

*

*

*

As a small child, I was unaware of sound: air conditioners
humming, music filtering in over radio waves, dogs’ toes
tapping on hardwood floors, laughter spilling out into the
hall. I existed in a world full of colors, images, and faces. It

wasn’t until my dad came home and I didn’t respond to the
door shutting, his hello, or the jangle of his keys vigorously
shaking behind my ears, that my parents realized something
was wrong. To me, danger was the car swerving before me,
not its blaring horn. The world was quiet.

*

*

*

“Eff. Ha. Ree. Stoh.” Livia draws out each syllable in attempt to teach me how to say “thank you” in Greek. She
smiles kindly at the woman who owns the small shop we’re
standing in near the Modiano Fish Market in Thessaloniki.
We have stopped in here because my feet are killing me.
Already, a mean red blister has begun to form on the back
of my left heel. I hope this blister won’t bug me the entire
month I’m in Greece. The shop owner reminds me to zip up
my bag, motioning with her hands, and sends us on our way
with a pair of nude hidden sock liners in my hands.

*

*

*

Apparently, I was raised in a loud household. When I
wasn’t meeting the necessary requirement of talking by
two, my parents were concerned and took me to a doctor
who confirmed that I was profoundly deaf in both ears.
Rather than be devastated by the news, they took action. I
was immediately placed in speech and language therapy at
one of the most cutting-edge facilities in the country, with

27

the best speech therapists and audiologists at my disposal.
In 1995, after the FDA approved the device for implantation in children, I was implanted with a Nucleus 22 cochlear
implant.

*

*

*

Typically, the younger a child born deaf is implanted, the
greater the benefit achieved in speech perception and speech
and language development.

*

*

*

According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other
Communication Disorders, “a cochlear implant is a small,
complex electronic device that can help to provide a sense
of sound to a person who is profoundly deaf or severely
hard-of-hearing. The implant consists of an external portion
that sits behind the ear and a second portion that is surgically placed under the skin.” Sound is picked up through a
microphone, processed, and then transmitted via magnets to
electrodes that send the information to the hearing nerve.

*

*

*

One piece of advice my mom was given after my diagnosis
was to prepare me for a career as a seamstress. Because I
supposedly would not make it beyond a third grade education or reading level, a nurse told my mother that I should
pursue a career that didn’t require much talking or listening and required lots of solitary work. By the time I was in
eighth grade, however, I was reading at a level comparable
to that of a high school senior.

*

*

*

Beethoven composed his ninth symphony when he was profoundly deaf.

*

*

*

The overpowering smell of fish hits us as we reenter the
Fish Market. Though I can’t see them, I know there is an
array of barbounia, octopus, and what I call the “French fry
fish” we had at lunch the day before. I use Livia’s broad,
dependable shoulder for support as I slide the socks on,
teetering on one foot. Just as I am saying that I regret not

doing more yoga recently, my balance wavers and Livia
catches me by the elbow. We laugh and I attempt saying
efcharisto again. The socks are on. Now we can walk.

*

*

*

There are four degrees of hearing loss: mild, moderate, severe, and profound.

*

*

*

Discouraged, I stared at the drawings of a cat on a roof. The
picture had been carefully shaded in with colored pencil,
and the cat looked friendly. The colors and the story were
interesting to me, but Don Gato in Spanish sounded like
gibberish. My peers were far ahead of me in class, already
beginning to use vocabulary in sentences and phrases. Conversing in Spanish, they worked on a project the teacher
gave them while I sat in the corner with Mrs. Willett. My
teacher’s aide was helping me understand the story better.
She realized that I am an extremely visual person, and she
had spent the weekend drawing out the story of Don Gato
and writing it both in English and Spanish for me. It was
the first of many times I felt frustrated heat rise up from my
spine to the back of my neck, spreading between my ears to
my hairline.

*

*

*

The 1995 winner of the Miss America pageant, Heather
Whitestone, could not hear host Regis Philbin announce her
as the winner, but she did read his lips and looked to a fellow contestant to confirm that she had won. She underwent
cochlear implant surgery in 2002 despite opposition in the
Deaf community. She chose this because she could not hear
her son’s cries for help.

*

*

*

To test my hearing when I was a child, my speech therapist
and audiologist would cover their mouths with their hands
and say a word, real or made up. I would have to repeat the
word. The word I tripped up on most was “ship.” I would
always reply with “shit.” Later on, when I was older, I
learned what that word actually meant and why everyone
chuckled when I said it.

*

*

*

280 million people worldwide have moderate to profound
hearing loss in both ears.

28

*

*

*

Joanna’s wide, encouraging smile greets me as she waits
patiently for me to say something in Greek. My mind goes
blank and I have difficulty pronouncing the words correctly. She nods, her dark eyes crinkling with her grin. She
pulls her curly mane of brown hair back, tying her hair
into itself. She moves on to the next student in Greek class,
who is seemingly fluent in Greek. I look up at the tree lending shade and the olive grove hovering above and attempt
to take a calming breath—I feel that all-too-familiar heat
creeping. In the last few days, I’ve had to peer over my
friends’ shoulders at their notes and ask them to pronounce
each syllable slowly, since what I hear coming out of Joanna’s mouth does not seem to match what I have written
down. I know that soon I won’t continue participating in
Greek class—it is too challenging. I feel that third grader’s
embarrassment and exasperation. This time, though, I understand why: I am a phonetic learner, and learn languages
best when I read the phonetic pronunciations of words
rather than hear them.

*

*

*

After Cochlear released the first Behind the Ear (BTE)
processor, the ESPrit 22, in 2000, it appeared under my
Christmas tree. I opened the box and gingerly lifted the tiny
processor. This innovation allowed me to comfortably wear
my entire hearing unit behind my ear. Gone were the days
of wearing a box with what my friend endearingly called
“the spaghetti” wire. Three to four years later, the ESPrit
3G 22 was released. It was an upgrade from the first one,
boasting a smaller size and better fit. To this day, the second
BTE implant has been the most comfortable processor I’ve
ever owned.

*

*

*

Adjustments, called “mapping,” are an essential part of cochlear implant therapy. Trained audiologists use a computer
program to adjust the speech processor in order to improve
hearing.

*

*

*

It was April and I was fourteen and in eighth grade. Just as
spring was making an appearance, my parents, older sister,
little brother, and I traveled to Cleveland, Ohio. A week later, I returned with a cochlear implant on my right ear. A few
months prior, my parents asked if I wanted a second implant to supplement the one I received on my left ear when I
was younger. After a few days of consideration, I decided it
would help, since I knew I would be getting my license in a

couple of years and would be going to college. I wanted to
have the most access to sound possible. A few weeks after
implantation, I was mapped on my right side for the first
time and gained what I call “surround sound.”

*

*

*

There it is: the Blue Hole, also known as the Giola Lagoon.
I am surprised by how small but dazzling it is. Compared to
the shimmery deep blue water, the lagoon is green. “Blue
Hole” is a misleading name. Standing at its lowest point,
I can see its shape—circular but tilting up and up as the
rocks rise. It concaves downward into the water and I can
see rocks piled at the floor. It is like looking into a kaleidoscope.
It doesn’t take long for me to want to jump in, my thrillseeker side beckoning to emerge as I watch other people
dive, cannonball, or slide in. Livia fiddles with her camera,
switching it to what she calls the “sport mode,” which will
capture photos of us jumping in. I look at Diana, grin evilly,
and beg her to jump with me. We make our ascent up the
flat terraced rocks to the midway point between the low end
touching the sea and the heart-dropping highest point. The
lagoon looks as if it was carved into the rocks. It is seducing to the eye. Diana’s blue swimsuit shimmers in the hot
sun and I can almost feel the anxiety emanating from her
being, so I take her hand, make her take a deep yogic breath
with me, and jump. We slam into the water and it envelops
us entirely, cold spray everywhere. As usual, I have forgotten to plug my nose, and seawater clogs it and gets into my
eyes. We resurface, and I see our friends cheering, hands
waving in the air. It is like a silent film where excitement is
written only on faces and bodies. Diana and I smile giddily
and high-five.

*

*

*

The youngest and first deaf recipient of an Oscar for Best
Actress wrote a book called I’ll Scream Later. After her
debut in the film, Children of a Lesser God, Marlee Matlin
quickly became famous. Since then, she has appeared on
numerous TV shows and movies. When she was on ABC’s
Dancing with the Stars, she challenged America to “read
my hips.”

*

*

*

As an undergraduate, I taught two classes of first-year students. I’m sure most people doubted I would be able to hear
my students, but in my first year of teaching the seminar,
I did well and was asked to return the next fall. Instead of
having everything work against me, I adapted to my environment by being transparent about my deafness and by
arranging my students’ desks in a semi-circle so I could see
all their faces.
29

*

*

*

In 2001, Cochlear hit the 30,000 mark on cochlear implantation.

*

*

*

Silence, then the low drone of a beep. It reverberates in
my brain, a sleepy noise drives me to raise my hand halfheartedly. I think about my dorm room that is nearly 560
miles away and wish I was there. It is winter break and I
have no desire to be home in Connecticut, where the snow
continuously floats to the ground. Then, that beep—high
pitched and piercing. I’ve drifted off again and forgotten to
tell my audiologist that the beeps are getting too uncomfortable. Kristin, my bubbly audiologist, smiles at me, tells me
to keep going. We’re almost done.

*

*

*

Today, the Aegean is green underwater but blue-black on
the surface. I am constantly dazzled by the sea’s changing colors. I take a deep breath and plunge into the water.
It is refreshingly cool, and I hope that without a wetsuit
on, I won’t freeze to death as we make our way further
out to sea. My exit buddy, Nina, waves at me to catch my
attention. She gives me a thumbs-up with a questioning
look—all good? I smile and nod. Other writer-snorkelers
constantly keep an eye on me and make sure I’m updated
with what’s going on and where we are headed next. I am
grateful. I look back at the beach we started from to confirm
that my bag containing my cochlear implant is still sitting in
its case safely on my pale-pink towel. Tess taps my shoulder and points to Livia, who is holding up the underwater
camera and aiming the lens at us—she wants to take a picture. I move closer to Tess, paddling my feet furiously to
stay afloat, and smile. I realize then that Tess reminds me of
my older sister, always keeping me in the loop and ensuring
I can read her lips whenever she tells me of what has been
discovered in the depths below. When we arrive back on
shore, I make a beeline for my bag. I pick up my towel, dry
my body off, and roughly dry off the section of hair behind
my left ear. I gingerly lift my cochlear implant out of my
moisture-wicking device and put it on. When the world
opens up to me after a single beep, the first thing I hear is a
wave crashing on the shore.t

30

Kevin Heaton

Threshold
Cataracts draw milk cream
across his eyes, concealing lucid
saline pools seasoned with hindsight
and dream residue. They spillway
into bottomless furrows retracing
the errors of his life, irrigating hoary
stubble, and wrinkling the crumpled
leaves of an ancient scroll; one page
yet unscribed. Gnarled, arthritic
fingers unfurl musings long ago folded
into a pensive hope chest, and pin
them to a quickened heartbeat.
Iridescent rainbow beams knit kestrel
wings to shadow bones; piercing
a tattered veil—revealing the limpid
essence of immortality.

POETRY

Will Leadbeater

A Reader Implores a Modern Poet
“Why don’t you sing
the sort of songs
I was brought up on
when I was young?”
“But,” replied the poet,
“those songs
have already been sung,
so why should I
fill up your fields
with even more daffodils,
or crowd your garden
with an overabundance
of autumn leaves,
skylarks, nightingales
and Grecian urns?”

Will Leadbeater

Second Portrait of the Poet as a Young Man
When I was
in my late teens
and early twenties
I led a very
introspective life:
I used to read a

lot
listen to Rachmaninoff
and take long solitary
nocturnal walks

across
the squat acqueduct
that spanned Hobson Bay.
In the long summer evenings
I would walk beside
those sandstone cliffs
against which
would flare
the quick blue flash
of a kingfisher’s wings.

31

FEATURED ART

Nurturing a Joyful Spirit
Sandy Palmer

Debra Purcell, Lily Elise, 2015, acrylics on canvas, 11” x 14” x 1”

“I always have colors swirling in my head. Sometimes I
can’t sleep at night because I can’t stop all the colors.”

~Debra Purcell

W

ith permission to leave the grounds of the addiction treatment center where she’d spent the
last five months in rehab, Debra Purcell took a
liberating walk down the sunny streets of Boynton Beach,
Florida, and ventured into a Walgreens store. With less
than $4 in her pocket she wandered the aisles looking for
something “crafty” and “cheap.” Poster paint caught her
eye. Fueled by boundless energy, she wanted to keep busy,
do something for others, and express some creativity. Poster
paint seemed perfect. Little did she know, that seemingly
insignificant purchase would have a huge impact on her

32

life. She dipped the brush in the pigment and began to paint
and paint and paint. She gave most of her early creations
away but kept a box with bold flowers and cheerful hues—a
clear representation of her joyful spirit with no hint of the
dark place from where she emerged. She enjoyed giving
her creations to people and relished the smiles on their
faces. A friend would later declare, “You are an artist.” She
disagreed but he had planted a seed that would eventually
sprout. Surrounded by supportive people who cultivated
her growth and encouraged her creativity, eventually, she
started to believe.
Purcell grew up in Northeast Ohio and describes herself as
a sickly child who often had sores in her mouth, gastrointestinal issues, and headaches, among other seemingly unrelated symptoms. Examinations by physicians, and even a

Debra Purcell, Dora, 2014, acrylics on paper, 14” x 11”

psychiatrist, resulted in some opinions but no treatment that
produced results. She continued to feel sick. As a young
adult she says, “Everyone kept telling me it was all in my
head. I became depressed. I started thinking, Everybody
thinks I’m crazy . . . maybe I really am crazy. But, wait a
minute, there really is something going on with my body!
Frustrated, I began to keep my mouth shut because nobody
would believe me anyhow.”
Periods of health and sickness cycled through the years.
She graduated from Cleveland State University with a degree in nursing, met and married her first husband, had two
children, and subsequently, an amicable divorce. During
her second marriage her symptoms worsened and she was
diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. After the diagnosis, her
husband filed for divorce. “In sickness and in health” held
little value. She felt physically ill, emotionally raw, and
desperately wanted all of it to go away. Alcohol numbed the
pain. Drinking made life bearable for a while but she was
on a slippery slope.
Depressed, addicted, sick, and in utter despair she found a
glimmer of hope online in the form of a treatment center,
and she reached out for help. The Watershed Addiction
Treatment Programs, Inc., was located in Florida. Her

mother gave her $250 and put her on a plane. In rehab she
says, “I woke up each day with a bad attitude. My bed was
up against the wall. I put Post-its [with affirmations and
positive quotes] all over the wall, and even wrote on the
wall so that when I opened my eyes, I would see them.” She
needed help and knew she couldn’t fix the problem on her
own saying, “I think it was Einstein who said something
like, ‘The mind that creates the problem can’t fix it.’ My
mind had taken me into a depression and by myself I was
not going to get out of it.”
Once she had completed The Watershed’s 90-day rehab
program she moved into one of their halfway houses and it
was there that apartment manager and friend, Sean Farley,
first declared that she was an artist. After eleven months of
sobriety, she was hired as the alumni coordinator at the center (offering continuing support to people who completed
the program). A coworker suggested she submit her work
for consideration in a recovery art show. She was hesitant
but submitted one painting and braced herself for rejection.
Instead, she received affirmation. They wanted to see more
of her work. Her paintings were displayed in the “Freedom
from Bondage” exhibit. It was her first show and she was
thrilled. The sprout of creativity had pushed its way through
adversity and began to bloom.
33

Debra Purcell, Lakewood Painted, 2012, acrylics on canvas, 24” x 36”

While living in Florida she maintained contact with some
people in Ohio. Kelly Purcell was one of those people.
Before long, they began a long distance relationship and in
2010 they were married. She moved back to Ohio and was
hired by another treatment facility. Along with a group of
coworkers, she participated in a bike ride to raise funds for
MS (as a person diagnosed with MS, she was honored that
they would participate in the event and support her in this
way). Unfortunately, the 75-mile ride took a devastating toll
on her body—she dislocated and herniated three discs. She
was unable to work, ran out of FMLA, and lost her job.
Once she recovered from her injuries she began looking for
another job and started creating again. She sold some paintings and gave some away as gifts. Her attentive husband
noticed that expressing her creativity elevated her spirits
and told her she could stay at home and paint instead of
seeking a job outside the home. She embraced the idea. She
painted, created a website, and began marketing her work.
34

After returning to Ohio, one of the first paintings she completed was Lakewood Painted. It’s a charming representation of the area she now calls home. The bright, cheerful
image depicts Lake Erie, homes, businesses, churches, and
even her own apartment building, showcasing the diversity
and vibrancy of the rich, close-knit community. The painting is one of her favorites and has won national and international awards.
“Over time I have grown spiritually into my paintings.
When I’m painting I’m joyful, having a spiritual connection
with my higher power.” The self-taught artist has a distinctive, detailed style infused with vivid color, palpable energy,
and usually a dash of whimsy. She uses acrylics on canvas,
incorporating line, shape, repetition, rhythm, and elements
of pointillism.

Debra Purcell, GodBox, 2008, poster paint, 8” x 4” x 8”

A few years ago she welcomed an opportunity from 78th
Street Studios (the largest art and design complex in Northeast Ohio) to collaborate with other artists on a project
called Six in the Studio. Six artists collaborate and create an
installation together. It was a great way to network and gain
exposure. The experience was enlightening and the installation generated more community interest in her work.
When she has an idea for a painting she loosely sketches it
onto canvas but admits, “I can’t draw. I draw stick houses
and figures and fill the detail in later with a brush. Give me
a brush and I’m okay.” With all of her paintings, inexplicably, she begins in the lower left-hand corner and with each
stroke, works her way out from there. Once she starts a
painting, she has to finish it before starting another one—no
matter how long it takes. Additionally, she completes every
painting, even if she makes a mistake. She doesn’t discard

anything. She works around it and moves on—much like
we have to do in life when things don’t go quite the way we
plan.
A friend suggested to Purcell that she contact someone at
Art Wall (a company that licenses artwork, reproduces it
on canvas and other materials, and offers it for sale online
through sites like Overstock and Amazon). “I contacted
him, showed him my portfolio and he offered me a contract
in 2012.” She credits God with putting all of the pieces together perfectly—leading her from one person to another to
signing the contract. They do all the marketing and printing,
alleviating her of the stress of handling everything on her
own. It was exactly what she needed.

35

Debra Purcell, Pelican Miracle, 2015, acrylics on canvas, 10” x 13”

Of all the work she has created, Purcell is partial to the
Transformation Series that she painted in the midst of national controversy and chaos surrounding the Cleveland
police department following a police car chase that resulted
in the death of two individuals in 2012. Her son is a police
officer and emotions were raging during that time, and in
the years that followed as an investigation and trial took
place. “There was so much judgement around that incident
and I dealt with it by painting this series.” Simultaneously,
she was feeling angry and despondent. Her body grew
weaker, symptoms flared, and she felt she had nowhere to
turn because she thought her husband had begun to question
her illness, thinking maybe she was just seeking attention.
She felt like a burden and was tumbling into a dark pit of
indignation and despair. She channeled her emotions into
a series of paintings and intriguing images evolved. Look
closely at Pueblo del Mar or Pelican Miracle. What do you
see? An island? An animal? She hopes to cause people to
stop and look a little closer because in the paintings, and
36

in life, things aren’t always what they seem. “I was really
angry when I created that series and was looking for a spiritual transformation. I was also hoping to change others in
the process.” The most peculiar thing seems to have transpired with this series. Take another look. Do you see anger
or despair in these images? A genuine metamorphosis occurred with each stroke, whether the artist realized it or not.
Indignation became peace. Darkness gave way to light. The
images are incredibly serene. Colors are vivid. Anger? Despair? Nonexistent in these delightful paintings. Amazing.
“Before I create, I ask God to work through me. I tell him
what my idea is and ask him to work through my hands.
Painting is a spiritual joy for me and I hope that is the message conveyed in my work. It is okay to get angry, but I
don’t want to get stuck in a pattern of self-pity. Painting is

Debra Purcell, Pueblo del Mar, 2015, acrylics, 18” x 14”

also my meditation. If I know who will receive the painting,
I can bless the person, as well as the painting, as I create it.
I love to create for other people. I enjoy giving back.”
Things were going well professionally as she pursued art
full-time but health issues, which now included seizures,
continued to plague her. In 2014, at 46 years of age, she
ended up in the emergency room with multiple symptoms.
She had mouth sores, was unable to walk, talk, or sit, and
was drooling. A concerned ER doctor knew this was more
than MS. He did some research and suspected Behcet’s
Disease. Within a few days she was evaluated by a rheumatologist (who had only seen one other case of Behcet’s)
and a skin test indicated a positive diagnosis for the disease.
It is a rare, chronic, autoinflammatory disorder that affects
blood vessels and, in her case, the nervous system as well
(presenting very similarly to MS, even on MRI, which is
why she was misdiagnosed with MS years earlier). Purcell

Debra Purcell

37

Debra Purcell, Self Portrait, 2014, acrylics on canvas, 10” x 8” x 3/4”

says the best way to describe it is to say, “It is like having
MS, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s, and depression all
at the same time.”
She had suffered in silence for years. Now her chronic
symptoms could be explained. Her illness had a name. She
was overcome by relief, despair, and shock. It was reassuring to have an answer but distressing at the same time
because her future seemed bleak. She created Self Portrait
after receiving the diagnosis and partly describes it by saying, “I can’t walk so I’m a mermaid. I can’t swim, it’s too
painful, so I don’t have any arms.” This painting is very
different from her other work. Colorful, indeed, but unsettling. A depiction of the struggle. “I feel like a prisoner in
my own body.” A prisoner inside a body that is attacking
itself. Sometimes she feels well enough to paint and at other
times tremors, fatigue, pain, or blurred vision may prevent
her from doing so.
38

Her dear friend Sean Farley recently passed away. Purcell
was recovering from a fall down the stairs (breaking her
breast bone and vertebrae) and a hospital stay for a Behcet’s
flare at the time of his passing and says, “I was thinking of
him in heaven looking down at me saying: What are you
doing in your pajamas at three o’clock in the afternoon
crocheting a blanket? You need to get back to the canvas!
There was a sea of dust on everything but that prompted me
to start painting again.”
The seed that was planted has flourished with vines reaching far and wide. The exuberant, cheerful artist has displayed her work in several group/solo shows since that
first exhibit in Florida and has won numerous awards. Her
distinctive style often incorporates fanciful perspective and
intricate detail—a feast for the eyes! The playful scenes
draw the viewer into the image. She is very proud to have

Debra Purcell, Regatta Town, 2013, acrylics on canvas, 36” x 36” x 1.5”

her painting Regatta Town included in Dutch-Argentine artist Lorena Kloosterboer’s book, Painting in Acrylics: The
Indispensable Guide. The textbook is used in many college art programs around the globe. She was surprised, and
initially somewhat skeptical regarding the validity of the
email, when Kloosterboer contacted her directly requesting
the inclusion of the image in her book. What an honor for
the self-taught artist to have her work appear among those
pages. The original painting of Regatta Town is now owned
by Ronald McDonald House of Cleveland.
Hyper as a child, she is an enthusiastic adult who tries not
to let her illness hold her back from engaging in life. She
says, “I see color as the soul of the painting. The form is
the body that brings the soul to life.” When Behcet’s drains
her energy and enthusiasm, painting seems to rejuvenate
her in the same way that the colors bring her paintings to
life. There are days when she struggles to lift her head off
the pillow but she has found it is essential to practice grati-

tude—even more so on those days—and to focus on the
positive instead of the negative. She suggests, “Be nice to
the next person you see because you don’t know the whole
story.”
She continues to bless others by giving her creations as
gifts, but she also sells original paintings, accepts commission work, and earns royalties from the work sold through
Art Wall. Reproductions are available for purchase through
several websites such as art.com, wayfair.com, and amazon.
com by searching her name on those sites. To learn more
about the artist or to see more of her work visit
debradenisepurcell.fineartstudioonline.com.t

39

FICTION

The Leper
Olaf Kroneman

S

he told me she covered her face all day, only taking
her surgical mask off when she was alone in her room
with the door locked and the lights off. She went to
sleep and tried to dream of a time when her face was flawless. Sometimes she was successful. She said those dreams
made her happy, but then the morning came.

“May I take off your surgical mask?”

The mask covered the affected areas of her face. She didn’t
want anybody to see the deformity, especially her children.
At one of her clinic visits, she told me her girls glimpsed
her face and cried. Since that time, she wore a mask.

“Allison, your disease is in remission. You’re going to be
fine.”

The girls weren’t afraid. They cried for their mother.

Large, grotesque, oily tumors covered her cheeks and nose.
Areas of skin had lost pigment and contrasted cruelly with
her brown skin.

Now she worked from home, only required to go to the office once a week. She wore the surgical mask, telling her
coworkers it was because the medications lowered her resistance to infection.
It had been over a year.
Allison had acquired a disease called sarcoidosis. The
disease causes a type of inflammation very similar to leprosy. It’s rare in Caucasians, but fairly common in African
Americans. It usually attacks the lungs and responds to a
low dose of steroids. Patients with sarcoidosis usually make
a complete recovery.
Allison’s case was different. Her disease was very aggressive and affected her kidneys. She required dialysis, but
with a large dose of steroids, she recovered and was able to
come off the kidney machine.
She was in remission now, except for the skin on her face.
Rarely, sarcoidosis attacks the skin.
Allison came in for her clinic visit. All her labs looked
good.
40

She stared at the floor.
She slowly put her hands behind her neck and untied the
mask. It fell and draped her collar.

“Fine? Try going through life looking like this.”

“It’s tough enough moving through the white corporate
world, but I was always that pretty black girl with the great
figure. That got me in the door. Then I showed them I was
the best.” She covered her face again. Tears flowed from her
eyes, absorbed by the surgical mask.
I shook my head, I was so proud I’d saved her life. Sarcoidosis is tricky, and not much is known about it. The disease,
even when “cured,” leaves scars; some physical, some
emotional. I wasn’t sure I’d helped Allison that much. I felt
responsible.
If it doesn’t kill you, does it make you stronger? Not always.
“I lost all my accounts. I have to work at home, cold calls.
Everyone has caller ID; they don’t answer. They gave my
office to a pretty, young, outside salesperson. They made
sure she was black.”

“I’ve called your HMO; I explained your situation, but they
said your policy doesn’t cover cosmetic surgery.”
“This isn’t a nose job I’m asking for. I want my life back. If
it wasn’t for my daughters, I’d have ended all this.”
“Are you suicidal?”
“Yes, but don’t give me Zoloft; don’t give me Prozac; get
my face fixed. I won’t go through this much longer. I’m
barely hanging on.”
“Please, don’t do anything. I’ll think of something. If only I
could get the HMO doctors to see the problem.”
“Why won’t they examine me?”
“It’s easier to say ‘no’ over the phone.”
She got her coat and left the office. People in the waiting
room stared. She met their gaze; they turned away.
My wife worked as my receptionist. She took me aside,
squeezed my arm firmly and said, “Do something. Whatever it takes, do something.”
“Her HMO won’t pay for plastic surgery. They say it’s
purely cosmetic.”
“This isn’t right.”
“I have a stack of denials from the past year; she is suicidal
and would have done something already if it wasn’t for her
two little girls.”
“This is no longer cosmetic.”

“I’ve got it.”
“What?”
“Wake up and listen to this.”
I got the phone number of the HMO patient help line. I dialed and got a recording. I waited for the “Your call is important to us; please leave a message after the tone . . .”
“This is Dr. David Larco. Allison Coleman is a patient of
mine. I have been trying to get cosmetic surgery for her for
over a year. This African American woman needs surgery,
and you have denied her. She has a disease that affects
mostly blacks. I suspect racial bias. You have two hours to
call me back, or I will call the NAACP and tell them what
you are doing to her.”
I put the phone down and went into the shower. I was
soaped up. My wife shouted over the noise of the shower.
“David, the phone’s for you. It’s the HMO—hurry.”
I wrapped a towel around my waist and took the phone,
then sat at the side of the bed dripping and freezing.
“Hello,” I said.
“Who am I speaking with?”
Not a good way to start a conversation, I thought. The
voice spoke in iambic-pentameter, a musical foreign accent.
Not Pakistani or Indian; something else. I couldn’t place it.
“To whom am I speaking?” I asked.

“It is on paper,” I said.

“This is Dr. de Santos. I am the medical director of the
HMO.”

My wife cried.

“I’m Dr. Larco.”

I couldn’t cry. I had patients to see.

“Did you just call me threatening to call the NAACP?”

*

*

*

I went to bed thinking about Allison. I woke up thinking
about her—then, an idea.

“That’s me.”
“I don’t like to be threatened.”
“It’s not a threat. It’s a courtesy.”
“You’re angry.”
41

“Damn right I’m angry. I don’t like you jacking my patient
around.”
“What do you mean, jacking the patient around?”
“It’s an American expression for making her fill out forms
and making me write letters knowing all along you won’t
approve her surgery. I’ve been trying for a year. We’re desperate. She is horribly disfigured.”
“I have reviewed her policy. We don’t cover cosmetic procedures.”
“If you saw her—if you knew her before—if you had a
heart, you would have approved this a year ago.”

“It’s an American expression for calling the NAACP.”
“Look, I’m a brown man. I’m Filipino; I know prejudice.”
Faster breathing.
“I’m a WASP, and I’m starting to know prejudice. It sucks.”
“What is WASP?”
“Forget it. Just approve her surgery, or I’ll make the call.”

“You’re playing the race card.”
I heard him slap something, probably his desk.

“I have a heart.”

“You got that right.”

“Would you at least examine her?”

“Will they listen to you?”

“I have reviewed her case. She is not covered.”

“Are you willing to take that chance?”

“Would you cover her if this were leprosy?”

“Okay,” Dr. de Santos said. “I’ll approve this.”

“Of course, but this is not leprosy.”

“Don’t you want to see her? Get a good look at her face?”

“It’s the same type of inflammation. It causes the same facial destruction,” I said.

“No,” he shouted.

“I’m a doctor, I run this HMO. I’m not Mother Teresa taking care of the lepers of India.” It’s a good thing Mother
Teresa didn’t work for an HMO.
“Listen,” I said. “My friend is a plastic surgeon. He goes all
over the world, fixing cleft palates of children in poor countries. He said he would do Allison’s surgery for free. He
said it’s a simple procedure and he can restore her face.”
“You know, Dr. Larco, that the doctor’s fee is a fraction of
the cost. It’s the hospital fee that’s the problem. The hospital
won’t do anything for free.”
“But they’re a not-for-profit hospital serving the greater
good.”
He laughed, “You’re an idealist.”
“No,” I said. “I’m a doctor taking care of his patient, like
you used to be. I’m going to drop the dime on you.”
“What do you mean, ‘drop the dime?’” He was breathing
faster into the phone.

42

“I want a date and time and approval number.”
“I can’t give you the date.”

“I’m a reasonable man. Just give me the approval number.”
“Okay.”
He gave me the number. I wrote it down on a paperback
book I found on the nightstand. I looked at my wife, who
was under the covers. I gave her the thumbs up.
“Dr. Larco, I just want to say you are a difficult man with
no tact and no bedside manner.”
I didn’t know that bedside manner was relevant to this conversation, but I let it go.
“Dr. de Santos, when my bedside manner gets really bad,
I’ll become a director of an HMO, just like you.”
He hung up.
I got my approval number, and Allison got her surgery and
her face back.t

POETRY

e. smith sleigh
Darren C. Demaree

Wednesday Morning #100
Everything else
hasn’t happened yet.
Address first the sun,
then set to making
the gardens full.

Darren C. Demaree

Wednesday Morning #101
How encouraging it is
to wake up after
a shooting star passes,
unable to steal anything.

predacious wind
the rumble of thunder
can be heard
out there on the horizon
that changes
from gray to grayer
a fall wind blows
across the landscape
across time
in my window
across my table
a thieving cold tempest
shakes the trees
and deprives them
of their leaves
and me of the green
my senses depend upon
this gusty rumble brings
a winter wind to my gate
bare trees to my eyes
and a chill to this house
that penetrates
way down to the bone
it bares skin and soul
and leaves you to mull
the death that marauds
through winter
reverberating

43

POETRY

Lori Michelle Hawks

Pathogens and Prayers
You place all of your trust
in this thing, the body
that holds all of your parts
of flesh and bone and
that holds all of your wishes
thoughts and desires.
You place all of your hope
in this thing, the body
that contains all of your organs
veins and muscles
which pump blood
and move oxygen,
from lungs to mind
then heart.
You place all of your self
in this thing, the body
that is made up of
skin and hair and cells
which create a fabric
woven together intricately
in ways that our eyes
will never see.
You place all of your dreams
in this thing, the body
that is a vessel for life
to begin in, on day one
and end in,
at the final breath.

You place many things
inside the body
taking for granted
that it will accept and comply
becoming prideful,
believing that it’s yours,
and that you own it.
So it pushes those things
back out or morphs them
into little demons
that attack your nerves and cells
from the inside,
turning on you like a villain
in the final scene.
You place it all
in this thing, the body
and you pray
that it holds your soul in
long enough to truly live.

Lori Michelle Hawks

Goldi-lock-less
I’m no stranger
to this phenomenon
of shedding
parts of me
for the benefit of the disease.
In fact it all began
with lost hair
in the sink.
Even before the diagnosis
I knew
something was wrong
but I didn’t want to be right.
Then came
the first medication
and more missing strands.
At age 27 I was losing:
my hair
my vibrance
my strength,
like Samson.
And now my drain is again
draining me,
littered with strands
that refuse to stay locked
in place.
They want
Out.
And who can blame them?

44

Nancy Scott

Find Me a Box
Kurt is capable of living in the community
and taking care of an apartment,
the mental health worker assured me.
Nine months later, Kurt’s fingernails
are bitten to the quick. He’d punched holes
in the bedroom wall, smashed windows,
burned holes in the carpet with cigarettes,
and tried to strangle his fiancé, who left him.
Are you taking your meds? I ask.
None of your business, Kurt says.
Then he says, No, they make me crazy.
Have you seen your worker lately?
when he says he wants to die.
No, he replies, they’re all crazy.
Your landlord doesn’t want to renew the lease,
I tell him gingerly, not wanting to disrupt
his frenetic pacing for fear he might get violent.
Never mind, Kurt says. Nobody cares.
Just find me a box, a big one, and I’ll live there.
Instead I found him a shiny new apartment.
Back on his meds, he charmed the landlord.

Nancy Scott

The White Suit
No one can persuade him
to go for more surgery.
What if he died under the knife?
Who would protect his family
and the baby coming?
At the rental subsidy briefing,
he clenches and unclenches
his fist like a beating heart,
and listens to words
he doesn’t understand
(good things occasionally happen
even in the barrio).
He wears a white linen suit
white patent shoes
white string tie
and Panama hat with a yellow band.
The translator explains:
Carlos, his pregnant wife,
and child make their home
in a roach-infested welfare motel.
Headed home with a carton of milk
he took a gut full of lead
in a drug-involved crossfire
lucky to be alive
but his intestines are seeping.
I can see him dressed
in his Sunday clothes, sitting
in the shaded piazza sipping beer,
children chasing in the dusty road,
smell of jasmine in the air.

45

PERSONAL ESSAY

I Am Different and It
Must Be Duly Noted
Peter L. Pingerelli

“We will now discuss in a little more detail the struggle for
existence.”
~ Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species

W

e sat adjacent to the espresso bar. The coffee
shop’s potent aroma had set my palette up for
a soothing experience. As my first sip became
history, the machine’s spurting steam couldn’t muffle the
barista’s words: “I can’t imagine living like him,” she lamented to a coworker.
My daughter’s eyelids tightened as she leaned toward me.
“Dad, she’s talking about you,” Kayla said.
“This cappuccino is bitter, overextracted,” I replied.
“Didn’t you hear what she just said? What an insensitive
bitch.”
“Yes.” I replied. “I’m going to ask her to remake my Venti.”
At one time or another, we’ve all encountered preconceived
notions inspired by a physical characteristic we possess:
“You think like a blond.”
“You must be a worrier with all that gray hair.”
“Your weight indicates a lack of self-control.”
If you just happen to be blond or sprouting gray roots, these
occasional comments may be shrugged off. But, for some
of us, these unwelcomed perceptions and stereotypes are
frequent, and generate anger and resentment. Over time,
encountering such reactions may begin changing the ways
we interact with others.

46

I’m often reminded of my disability when dining out with
my family, as snippets of commentary catch my ear. My
wheelchair serves up powerful metaphors of what strangers
believe my life must be like.
“It’s unbelievable what he can do given his limitations.”
“That’s what true love must look like.”
“His wife must be an understanding person to stay with
him.”
For a long time, I was convinced these stereotypes and
prejudices could eventually be legislated and educated
away. So I decided to get involved, believing I could accelerate change. Advocating became my primary goal. It was
motivating, and I felt progress was on its way. But, over
time, while I found society’s laws and mandatory diversity
“training” installed check valves, they were leaky, sluggish,
and often inefficient.
My closest acquaintances started believing I had become
cynical and overly sensitive. “No,” I told them. I’ve just
accepted an intrinsic flaw of human nature. Annoying statements, separating me from others, continued to haunt my
consciousness:
“You get around wonderfully.”
“I’m truly impressed by your determination.”
“You’re my kind of hero.”
Day after day, I listened to words declaring that I’m different, and it must be duly noted.

Repetitive comments regarding my unique nature began
preying upon my spirit and motivation. I was steadily becoming declawed. I found myself avoiding controversy at
all costs. The continual demarcations I experienced began
to seem reasonable, allowing my sensuality to become confined and limited.
Slowly, “my difference” transformed me. I’d grown so accustomed to being pushed into a corner by people’s perceptions, that one day I decided to find a corner on my own
accord.

that I am different:
Peter is lame.
Peter is crippled.
Peter is handicapped.
Peter is disabled.
Peter is wheelchair-bound.

I would soon be gone.

Peter is differently-abled.

But what right did I have to complain or hide? I was no
different than those who categorized me. Disability didn’t
excuse my own prejudices and stereotypical beliefs. After
all, I observed, analyzed, and judged as easily as others. My
disability didn’t alter hardwired human code.

Peter is just a man who uses a wheelchair.

I discovered Jackie Scully’s book, Disability Bioethics:
Moral Bodies, Moral Difference, and realized that even
though I was disabled, I judged others that were too
“disability” different from me.
The disability movement has sometimes shown
its own kind of inability to deal with the full
range of impairment experiences, denying
unwanted aspects such as weakness, pain,
vulnerability, premature death, physical
limitation and frustration which do not fit
comfortably with a positive political image of
what Cheryl Marie Wade called the able disabled. (Scully, 2008)

I recalled experiencing this very feeling at an Ability Expo
conference. I seemed to automatically create my own categorical sets: the able-disabled paraplegic athletes, spinal
cord injured quadriplegics and the visually impaired. What
did I have in common with them? I undeniably discovered
my own proclivity to categorize and approve new stereotypical perceptions. Years later, the progression of my neuromuscular disease would finally draw me into one of those
“too disabled” categories. I understood that I was not so
different, and that should also be duly noted.
So how concerned should I be about the types of disability
labels used to describe me? Have the “improved” changes
in categorical labeling revised the way a person thinks
about me? Let’s consider the following labels highlighting

Would any of these labels have changed the barista’s thinking? Wasn’t living with a disability already a life she could
never imagine? Maybe I’ve too often been preoccupied
with how disability has caused me to be labeled.
In a general context, Adam Alter shares this concern in Why
It’s Dangerous to Label People. “Like so many human faculties, it’s adaptive and miraculous, but it also contributes to
some of the deepest problems that face our species.” (Alter,
2010)
These tendencies to categorize and label will likely continue in perpetuity; one day I will no doubt hear: “My DNA
chip profile, ‘A1’ is superior to your ‘alpha I.’” We are now
discovering thousands of new genetic labels ready to categorize everyone. I fear themes explored in the movie
GATTACA will be sending us all into corners.

How should we confront this perpetual human propensity
to label, categorize, and marginalize individuals? Can we
really hope to change the way a barista views a disabled
person? Maybe we just need to recognize why it happens.
Scientists are beginning to better understand why humans
think categorically about others (Macrae & Bodenhausen,
2001). We use accumulated long-term memories to learn
and retain beliefs that create perceptions about people and
events, and these long-term memories have a tendency to
be resistant to substantial modification. Our memories create the physical and mental measures describing humanity’s
ideal or “normal” state that continually cast images into
categories of good and bad. Changing the human psyche is
a difficult and slow process.
47

Consider that what was good in the past might turn out to
be bad today. In art, our perceptions of physical beauty
have changed with time (Haughton, 2004). Images of human physical perfection created by Renaissance artists
during the fourteenth through the seventeenth centuries are
unlikely to be found on the covers of today’s fashion magazines. Yet both contemporary and Renaissance artists had a
similar goal: depict the idealized and unattainable physical
characteristics of humanness. Botticelli’s Venus, Rafael’s
St. Catherine of Alexandria and Vanity Fair’s Madonna are
each enhanced expressions of beauty. Perhaps, one day, an
artist will render the beauty of physical disability.
At least for now, disability remains a “bad” category of
humanness. Society prefers cures over acceptance. Sure,
I’d welcome a cure for my disability, but living must go on
despite the current paradigms of what is beautiful or normal. For me, the notion of redirecting my personal action
plan based solely on the flurries of perceptions I encounter
is absurd. I find it paradoxical that society and culture continually rely upon constructs of human normality while our
very existence, as a species, would cease without an ability
to express variance. Didn’t Charles Darwin tell us that adaptation is a path to survival?
When we see an individual who uses a wheelchair or has
some other visibly perceptible disability, it automatically
triggers us to conceptualize what it means to be a disabled
individual. The barista had to contemplate my disability
before deciding she couldn’t imagine living like me. And, to
assist her, society has created its “word list” for disability.
Often the words are subtle, used to imply an individual’s
lack of ability to perform a task at hand. Common words of
this lexicon include weak, unreliable, impractical, and incompatible. Not surprisingly, I often hear these words early
in a discussion when someone describes me as handicapped
or disabled.
In Galvin’s report, The Making of the Disabled Identity: A
Linguistic Analysis of Marginalization, she asserts:
. . .that the interaction between knowledge and
power which constitutes our identities, whether
they be positive or negative, is mediated by
language, that, indeed, because language is built
on the process of “othering” it constitutes a
naming process which defines identity through
difference. Our words are very powerful tools of
representation, which are accorded even more
potency when they are taken for granted as
transparent symbols of “reality” (Galvin, 2003).

48

I only needed to review my medical history to see an expanded word list describing my nature. “Peter is severely
weakened by . . . suffers from . . . affected with . . . predisposed to . . . afflicted by . . . confined to . . . burdened
by . . . stricken by . . . and a victim of an unfortunate disease.” I’ve had my lesson on society’s primary tool, language, and how it views my life. So now how do I proceed?
I’ve discovered a partial solution by examining how to live
with the routine of just being me, by dispassionately allowing the world to experience my imperfection.
I found battling categorical thinking often involved a significant effort, occasionally at the expense of my personal
aspirations. So I began to accept that categorical thinking
was often an unalterable aspect of being human. I decided
my time was best invested in discovering and practicing my
personal abilities and skills, whether ordinary or extraordinary, in order to live my best life.
With this in mind, I began engaging in controversy when
it worked for me; right now I needed the barista to make
an acceptable cappuccino, not convince her to contemplate
what it would be like to live in a wheelchair. I would decide
which battles to fight in order to equalize myself.t
Works Cited:
Alter, A. (2010, May 17). Why It’s Dangerous to Label
People. Retrieved June 15, 2012, from Psychology Today: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/alternativetruths/201005/why-its-dangerous-label-people
Galvin, R. (2003). The Making of the Disabled Identity: A
Linguistic Analysis of Marginalisation. Disability Studies
Quarterly, 23 (2), 149-178.
Haughton, N. (2004). Perceptions of beauty in Renaissance
art. Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology, 3, 229–233.
Macrae, C. N., & Bodenhausen, G. V. (2001). Social cognition: Categorical person perception. British Journal of Psychology, 92, 239-255.
Scully, J. L. (2008). Disability bioethics: moral bodies,
moral difference (feminist constructs). Lanham, M.D.: Roman and Littlefield Publishers, Inc.

FICTION

Coincidence
Bob Johnston

“M

y name is Jack, and I’m an alcoholic.”

I must have said that fifty times in those first two months.
Not that I really believed it, but that’s what you’re expected
to say at AA meetings. And the conditions of my probation
called for three meetings a week. What a comedown!
I was a partner in Briggs, McDonnell, and Price, the biggest
advertising agency west of New York. Not bad for a kid
named John Joseph McDonnell from the wrong side of the
tracks in Peoria. After high school, I put in a couple of years
at the U, majoring in tennis and girls. Then I headed for
Chicago and got a job with the Paul Briggs agency. Worked
my way up, brought in a couple of big accounts, made it as
a full partner before I was thirty.
One of the smartest moves I made along the way was
marrying Jena, a 1950 debutante with the face of a movie
star and a figure to match. And not incidentally, she had
inherited a sizable chunk of “old money.” The inheritance
included a hundred acres of prime real estate south of Hinsdale, next to the country club. We sold off most of it, kept
ten acres for ourselves and built our dream house. Four
thousand square feet, Olympic size pool, and a tennis court
with grass that was every bit as good as Wimbledon’s center
court. Not that I had much time to use it.
Five years and two kids later, Jena was up to her ears in big
charity projects, and I was the life of the party at the country club.

Six days a week, I parked the wagon at the Hinsdale station
and took the commuter train to Chicago. The pressure at the
agency was pretty intense, and I put in long hours. It was
always six or seven o’clock before I got back to Hinsdale.
Then I’d have to stop off at the club for a drink to help me
unwind, and it usually took three or four to do the job. By
the time I got home, the nanny had put the kids to bed, and
Jena was already sleeping if she wasn’t out ramrodding
some big charity event.
I knew I was drinking too much, but I couldn’t seem to
break the cycle. Then one night I didn’t make it home at
all. I’m a little hazy on the details, but I remember thinking
it would be a good idea to drive to Aurora. The next thing
I remember, I had driven the wagon through the front window of the Ford agency. The cops took me to the hospital
to get patched up, then to jail. I spent the night in the drunk
tank, and my lawyer didn’t get me out until nearly noon. A
week later, the judge hit me with a big fine and one year’s
probation, with the condition that I had to attend at least
three AA meetings per week.
Well, that was one hell of a wake-up call, and for a while
I didn’t have any trouble staying away from the booze. I
wasn’t about to go to any AA meetings in Hinsdale, so I
found a Chicago group that met at five o’clock in a secondstory room above a tattoo parlor. On my meeting days, I
would take a cab to Union Station and walk the two blocks
to the meeting. I’d sit through the meeting, totally bored,
then get my attendance paper signed and hurry back to the
station to catch my train.
49

As you might expect from the neighborhood, the AA crowd
was a seedy bunch. “Wino’s Club” is what they called the
meeting room. No way I could relate to these down-andouters. I heard a lot of horror stories and a lot of talk about
God—or a Higher Power, as some of the guys liked to call
him. Didn’t make much sense to me. But most of the guys
were staying sober, some of them for many years, so it
looked like something was working.
I settled back into pretty much my old routine, minus the
booze. The pressure at the agency was just as heavy as ever,
and I really missed that drink at the club to help me unwind.
One of the problems at the agency was a bad situation at
our Houston branch. Kevin, the branch manager, had left
his wife and taken up with a young floozy, so he wasn’t
giving much attention to the agency. We had already lost
three sizable accounts and several others were threatened.
Paul told me I had to go to Houston to straighten things out.
It looked like a nasty job, and I wasn’t looking forward to
it. Also, I was a little apprehensive about making this solo
flight into a tough situation after only two months away
from the booze. I remembered that in earlier years, when I
was traveling a lot, booze got me into some pretty dangerous situations. I had plenty of time to think about this on the
flight to Houston.
As I checked into my hotel that evening, the girl at the desk
offered me a pink card admitting me to their private club.
This was a nod to the Texas liquor laws, which required
“club membership” if you wanted to buy a mixed drink. I
said “No thanks,” but she initialed the card and pressed it
into my hand.
“You will really like our Candlelight Club. Tonight we have
a great combo playing there. And of course there is no obligation. You can drop in for a drink or two, or just relax and
listen to the music.”
It seemed unkind to refuse a gift from this sweet young señorita. I thanked her and put the card into my wallet.
My room was quiet and the bed proved to be comfortable.
After a good night’s sleep and breakfast in my room, I was
ready to dig into the can of worms at the agency.
As it turned out, I wrapped up the job before five. Fired
Kevin, put in his secretary as temporary manager, and hired
the head guy from the Rosenberg agency. I took a taxi back
to the hotel, feeling good about the day’s work.
After booking a morning flight, I decided to have dinner at
the hotel. On the way to the dining room, I passed the entrance to the Candlelight Club and heard a familiar sound—
Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five.” I went in and sat down at a
table. Great music, soft lights, and beautiful people. Perfect
50

end to a great day, I thought. Now for a martini, one before
dinner can’t hurt me, and I really deserve it.
A waitress appeared at my side, a pretty little thing. “Welcome to the Candlelight Club. My name is Sheila, and I’ll
be happy to serve you. May I see your card, please?”
I took the card from my wallet and held it up to the candlelight to make sure I had the right one. It was the right card,
and it carried the initials of the beautiful señorita of the
front desk: AA.
Some kind of a switch clicked inside my head as I handed
the card to the waitress. She gave the card a quick glance
and handed it back to me. “Now what would you like from
the bar?”
It didn’t take me long to decide: “Orange juice on the rocks,
please.”
“Yes, Sir. Coming up.” She about-faced and bounced off
toward the bar.
I put the card back into my wallet, and the orange juice arrived in due course. A superb orange juice, probably the
best I’d ever had. I tried to make it last, but finally drained
the glass and laid a twenty on the table. The band was still
playing Brubeck as I walked out into the hall.
In the dining room, the steak was every bit as good as advertised, and the coffee was strong and full of character. It
had been a good day.
Back in my room, I took the card out of my wallet and
looked at the initials, trying to make some sense out of
them. I decided that the señorita might be named Alicia Alvarez or Adelina Anaya. Whoever she might be, it was one
hell of a coincidence that put her on the front desk in that
particular hotel on the night of April 14, 1959.
I was completely convinced that just one martini in the
Candlelight Club would have put me back on the old merrygo-round. “Powerless over alcohol,” as they say in the
meetings.

*

*

*

I came back to a “Well done” from Paul and the same old
feverish life at the agency. But on the next day I skipped my
Wino’s Club meeting and took the first train that stopped
in Hinsdale. Had a quick meal at a diner next to the station,
then drove over to an AA meeting in the east end of town.
It was nearly seven o’clock when I walked into that church
basement, and the meeting room was already filled with
smoke and warm bodies. I recognized Andy, the country
club manager. Then Brenda, one of my neighbors, spotted

POETRY

me across the room, came over and gave me an unexpected
hug. We all sat down at a round table and started the meeting by introducing ourselves. When it came around to me,
I didn’t have any trouble saying “My name is Jack, and
I’m an alcoholic.” The chorus of “Hi, Jack” that came back
seemed to be extra loud. Corny, but it felt pretty good.
After the meeting, I drove home and found Jena and the
kids still up. I helped her get the kids to bed and settled
down, and then I told her the strange story of the pink
card. She never said a word until I finished, and then she
squeezed my hand and told me, “Someone must have been
looking after you.”
I kept the card in my wallet as a sort of reminder or good
luck charm. Whatever it was, it seemed to work, and I
haven’t been tempted again to take that first drink. I often
thought about Jena’s idea that someone was looking after
me, and then the AA chatter about God and a Higher Power
began to make a little sense. I still had trouble using those
words, so I came up with the idea that Coincidence has
been looking after me. I think that’s all right if I always remember it’s spelled with a capital C.t

Yuan Changming

Urban Portraits 3:
The Pigeon Feeder
No one knows
When the old man started to do this
But every evening he would pop up
From nowhere, coming
To the foot of a statue at the square
With a dusk-painted container
To feed the pigeons
Cooing and flapping around
Like wantons returning home for supper
Each time he would take extra care
Making sure each bird got its fair share
Whether it was warm or chilly
Windy or rainy until one day
He finally failed to appear
Then another day, a third . . .
Later, he was found stone dead
On his lonely bed, in a rented room
Definitely bigger than a cage
But containing no other furniture
Not even a desk, a chair
Only some bird food
Left on the window ledge
Two small paper boxes
Full of receipts from pawn shops
And a note—To Whom It May Concern:
Please continue feeding the pigeons

51

FICTION

Saving the Good Doctor
Ruth Z. Deming

M

y name is Eddie Washington. Like other brothers
in North Philadelphia I could have joined a gang,
did drugs, gone to jail, or died of a drug overdose
like my brother Teddy did. Instead, when I was fourteen, I
got saved. This may sound funny but I caught a bad fever
and the shakes. Vomiting so bad I had to carry a wastebasket with me around the house. Mama called 911, the ambulance arrived, and the two of us rode in the back to Einstein
Hospital. The doc’s name was Helen Abramson.
Man, them hospital beds was uncomfortable, like to kill
you, swooping you up and smothering you when you
pressed one of them “move-me” buttons. But I only realized
this after my delirium passed and then I freaked out at all
them tubes stuck into my pretty black flesh like I was a pin
cushion.
The doc would come in to see me, dressed all in green, with
a parade of what they call interns behind her. Young people,
all of them white, except for one black man, who spoke
with an accent. Like he was from Africa or somewhere.
She was a pretty woman, very tall, blue-eyed, but mostly I
couldn’t get over how tall she was as she bent over me taking my vitals. My piss was flowing through a clear plastic
bag, which embarrassed me.
“Eddie,” said Dr. Abramson. “Your mother saved your life
by bringing you here just in time. You had a serious bacterial infection, but a course of several antibiotics got it under
control.”

52

“Thank you, ma’am,” I said, looking up into her blue eyes. I
felt so close to her, as if she were my aunt.
“You can thank your mother,” she said. “And, Eddie. I want
to do something for you.”

What she told me blew me away. If I wanted I could volunteer in her lab during the summer. She could get me a
little money out of petty cash, not much, she said, but a
little something, “money for college,” she called it. I almost
laughed in her face. College! Only white folks went to college.

Mama and I went shopping at the Salvation Army Thrift
Shop a couple of blocks from our apartment. We knew everyone who worked there from Aunt Esther to Cousin Betty
to Uncle Bob. They weren’t really our relatives but we
called them that anyway.

“Uncle Bob,” said Mama. “Will you help my boy find some
nice clothes? He’s going uptown to work at that Einstein
Hospital, you know, the place where they take our neighbors when they get shot or overdose on heron.” Us blacks
call it “heron.”

Uncle Bob, an older stooped-over man, put his arm around
my shoulders and led me to the Junior Men’s Department.
I never did like the smell of this place. Mildew, mostly, a
hint of bird crap, which no one but me can smell. They say
that gay people have sensitivity about the world. I’m gay all
right. But I ain’t told no one yet. Black and gay make a bad
sandwich.

We picked out some nice colorful shirts, some khaki pants,
and two neckties, all at the bargain price of five dollars. Bob
used his discount card on us. I think he and Mama used to
jive together but I’m never sure of her past. You can tell she
don’t like talking about it. Me, I’ve kept a diary since I was
eight years old. It was a birthday present from my brother
Teddy—he was a sensitive guy like me and knew I liked to
make up stories—and when he passed, I spent forty whole
pages writing about him when he overdosed on “the white
lady,” another nickname for heroin, as if it were a person
who came in your room and said, “Come along with me. I
loves ya!”

I wasn’t hardly nervous when, dressed to the hilt, Dr.
Abramson and I sat down in her little office.

“Snappy blue shirt,” she told me. “You’re looking gloriously healthy, Eddie, and I know you’re staying out of trouble.
Right?”

It was like she could read my mind.

“Sure am, ma’am,” I said.

“Please call me Dr. Helen. None of that antebellum shit,”
she laughed.

“I’m going to introduce you around. You’re going to be
‘Our Man Friday.’ That means, you’ll run errands and do
odd jobs for us here in the Infectious Disease Unit.”

She smiled and looked up at me. Her desk held a photo of
a handsome black-haired man, who I assumed was her husband, and a vase of fresh flowers, red zinnias, which stuck
straight up like tiny umbrellas.

“Our Man Friday,” I laughed. “I like that, Dr. Helen, I like
that!”

And so my apprenticeship began.

During the week, I attended junior high where I was a good
student, helped Mama in the kitchen—made fried sweet
potato patties with tiny chopped onions inside—and when
my homework was done, which took only ten minutes—I
ran down seven flights of stairs at our North Philadelphia
project to play basketball with the guys. First, we’d use our
feet to kick all the crap off the court—potato chip wrappers,
plastic bottles, condoms—man, those brothers was the sloppiest, most unproudest guys you ever did meet. And, the
courts always smelled like piss. I’d see brothers, young and
old, pull out their dicks and pee anywhere they pleased.

What would Dr. Martin Luther King think?

Of course, I never cussed when I talked to Dr. Helen or any
other female. “Brothers’ language” is so expressive. Use
only with caution. Miss O’Reilly, my English teacher, told
me about Miss Maya Angelou.

“You’ll love her writing, Eddie!” she said. “Your compositions are so creative, I think you can be a great writer.”

When I checked out I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings—it
was over 300 pages—I read it three times and am saving
my money to buy my own copy. I knew for a fact that I was
going to write. That this brother, Edward Elias Washington
was born to write.

One Saturday morning, after taking the subway to work at
Einstein, and striding two steps at a time up the back stairwell—back stairwells being favorite mugging places for my
people—I entered the lab and saw Dr. Helen’s office was
dark.

“Wh…Where is she?” I asked Fran, a blond intern.

“Eddie,” she said. “I have some sad news.”

My heart pounded. Had something happened to Dr. Helen?
What could it be? Had she caught one of those infectious
diseases she was always treating? Hadn’t her green gown
and white mask saved her?

“Have a seat, Eddie,” said Fran.

53

The lab was a sparkling white and the floors as clean as
Mama’s floors. I took a seat on a rolling black desk chair
and skidded it over to her.

“Her husband Lenny died suddenly,” she said. I appreciated
how kind she was to me, this odd man out.

“Wha…What do they think happened?” I asked.

“Sudden heart attack. He was only forty-two years old.”

“Forty-two and he dead already,” I said, shaking my head.

Of course I went to the funeral. It was held right at the cemetery. There were so many people you could have packed
them into a football stadium. Dr. Helen, all in black with a
veil like Jackie Kennedy’s, was surrounded by her people.
She needed their arms to steady herself. She was really
broke up, you could tell just by watching her. A white tent
held some of the guests. I worked my way inside because I
just had to see, I just had to see how my girl was holding up
and if there was anything, anything in the whole wide world
I might do for her.

The sea of faces was mostly white and amber and I recognized many of them from their pictures on the walls of
Einstein: the president of the hospital was there and the
award-winning transplant teams, all of them standing with
downcast eyes and looking toward the rabbi who would deliver the eulogy.

Lenny was in a pecan-colored casket which stood at the
edge of a deep hole. You know they’re dead when you see
that damn hole. My brother Teddy has a hole of his own,
but you know he ain’t down there. He’s in the arms of Jesus.

I felt a hand on my arm and it was Mama. She’d had errands to do but always was one to attend funerals. “You
always show respect,” she had told me many times. “Everyone likes weddings cuz they’re fun and you get free liquor.
But funerals is serious business and you is appreciated and
never forgotten by the mourners.”

A flurry of Hebrew words flew from the rabbi’s mouth,
climbed right up the trees with their chirping birds and up
into the blue sky. It was a beautiful day. Trees I recognized
from the Abyssinian Bible Church—dogwoods, flowering
cherry and catalpa, as a kid I’d make a mustache with the
catalpa bean pod—all lent their sorrow to this sad occasion.

“Lenny was beloved by every single person who knew
him,” said the rabbi, pronouncing every word slowly.
He wanted people to hear about Lenny, or Leonard S.
Abramson, as written up in the Philadelphia Inquirer.

54

“As a defense attorney, he fought hard for our Philadelphia
underclass, in some cases charging no more than a sack
of peanuts for his impoverished clients. Who are we,” he
counseled, “to ask God why this good man died so young?”

At this, my eyes flooded with tears that dripped silently
down my cheeks. Mama brushed them away. She’d had
so many sorrows her tears was practically all dried up. We
held hands during the ceremony and decided to leave before
visiting Dr. Helen and her family where they stood inside
the tent.

“Everyone likes weddings cuz
they’re fun and you get free liquor.
But funerals is serious business
and you is appreciated and never
forgotten by the mourners.”

When Dr. Helen returned to work, I could see immediately that she was a different person. If Lenny had been
forty-two, then she must be somewhere in her late thirties.
She looked like an old woman. Huge bags under her eyes
sat like purple cushions, waiting to be smoothed down.
Between her eyes she seemed to sprout deep furrows overnight. She dressed only in black and wore a pin on her
green hospital gown with a tiny black ribbon attached. Fran
told me the Jews wore that as a symbol of loss.

One afternoon, I knocked on her door. I knew she was in
there but there was no answer. Cracking open the door a
little, I peeked inside. She saw me.

“Eddie,” she said startled. “I was just taking my vitamins.”

She held a dark-colored bottle of Raspberry Snapple in her
hand, popped the pills in her mouth, and leaned her head
back.

“What is it, my dear?” she asked.

“Don’t rightly know,” I said. “I…What can I do to help you
get over your loss?”

“Did you hear Rabbi Greenwald?” she asked. “Nothing but
time and work will help. I’m going to throw myself into
work. I’ll give you more assignments, if you like.”

I nodded and let myself out the door.

As the weeks passed, I knew what Dr. Helen was doing in
her office and wondered if anyone else did. She’d go into
her private quarters more than she used to and instead of
keeping the door open, she closed it, and we could hear the
lock turn. It didn’t take no narc to see she was drugging herself into such a fog she could barely speak right.

“Sorry,” she would say to her colleagues. “It’s that antidepressant I’m taking. Lexapro.”

Drug addicts always have excuses. Look, I’m no innocent.
But you better not tell Mama! OxyContin is pretty cheap on
the streets. I liked the buzz. Teddy and I and a few of our
friends crushed the pills and snorted them through our nose.
Hallelujah, what a feeling! You couldn’t do nothing, though,
except sit around and nod and give glory to God. And that’s
when I saw Jesus hisself walk into the park where the five
of us sat near the basketball court.

“He has come!” I said, pointing across the field.

“Who’s come?” asked Donald.

“Jesus hisself,” I said pointing thataway.

“You’re a natural-born idiot!” said Donald. “That ain’t no
Jesus, it’s a fuckin’ woman with long hair.”

If I knew my stuff, Dr. Helen was on painkillers like Oxy.
The woman, wearing her white lab coat, would often stop
walking across the floor and stare off in the distance, mumbling under her breath.

I mentioned it to Mama.

“I know, Eddie,” she said. “But there’s nothing we can do.
We can’t tattletale on the good doctor.”

I let it be until one time I saw her near the elevator. No one
was around. She was in her going-home clothes, standing
tall as a basketball player, wearing low-heeled pumps, and
talking quickly to someone. She was not on her phone. I
stood stock still wanting to hear her words.

“Lenny,” she said. “Excuses, excuses. I want you home as
soon as I get there.” She glanced at her watch. “I’ll be home
at seven o’clock and if you’re not there, well, we’re going
to have a serious talk.”

The elevator bell chimed and she got on.

At home, I discussed the situation with Mama. She was
shocked that a white woman had taken on the black people’s curse, but we sat on our well-worn green sofa and
talked it over. A wooden crucifix hung over the television
set, next to a black and white photo of Dr. Martin Luther

King. As the wind blew the white curtains like the sails on a
ship, I began to pray.

“Dear Lord,” I said. “With your goodness and mercy, let me
and Mama learn how to help Dr. Helen.”

The gospel music station played on the AM radio.

“Mama, where’s your fancy paper?” I asked.

“Lord have mercy,” she said, as she got painfully up from
the sofa and went over to the desk in the living room that
held color photos to bursting on top and reached inside the
top drawer.

It didn’t take no narc to see she was
drugging herself into such a fog
she could barely speak right.

“This good?” she asked, showing me a lined lavender tablet
with little flowers on top.

“Good,” I said, sitting back down on the couch and feeling
the spring breeze glide through the window.

Forty-five minutes later I showed Mama what I’d written.

“Good, Son, very good. I’m sure proud of you.”

On Sunday morning, I took the subway to Einstein. Weekends were the days the homeless people rode the rails, passing the time until they went to their grave or Jesus saved
them. You didn’t want to sit anywhere near them. They
stunk. An indescribable smell of human waste and the contents of decaying food and meat in a dumpster. Nonetheless,
I sat opposite a bearded man, whose head was bent down to
his chest, and all he did was mutter to hisself.

Einstein Hospital was always open. Ambulances were constantly screeching into the emergency room. I got used to it,
though at first, my heart would thump in panic when I heard
that shrill noise.

I went up the back stairwell to the eighth floor and saw a
light on inside. My knock on the door was answered by the
doctor herself. When you deal with addicts, the first thing
you do is look at them. How far gone are they? Are they
fixing to get their next high?

55

“Why, Eddie,” she said. “What a surprise!”

She slurred her words.

“The Lexapro fog?” I asked.

“You have a good memory. Whatcha doing here, kid?”

“How bout we take a seat in your office.”

We did.

“Where’s Lenny’s picture?” I asked.

“Oh!” she laughed. “That! Well, I really don’t know.”

“Dr. Helen,” I said. “Your husband is dead. He will never
come back. Never ever ever.”

“Don’t say that, Eddie!” she said in a panic. “Don’t ever say
that again or you’ll be out of a job.”
“How do you think Lenny would feel if he knew his wife
was a drug addict?”

She laughed. “You’ve got some nerve, Eddie, some nerve.”

I gave her the letter on the lavender paper with the flowers
on top. I intended to leave it with her. It was a note about
my brother Teddy dying of an overdose and how I didn’t
want her to follow in his footsteps.

56

She swiveled her chair around so I couldn’t see her face.
She did not move for a very long time. We sat there in silence. I stared at her back as if I could hypnotize her to get
help.

When she turned around, she put the letter on the desk and
looked down at it a moment. She began to tremble and cry.
She reached her hand into a lower desk drawer and pulled
out five pill bottles and held them out.

“Thank you,” I said, tucking them into my backpack. “You
are going to get better. It’s the Lord’s will.”

Since she had nothing planned that day, she said we could
go together. Sunday afternoon was as good a time as any to
attend a meeting. I know my way around the city by train
and bus. We went to a nice white people’s Narcotics Anonymous meeting.

Walking in, we smelled the coffee brewing. The smell of it
made me happy. After a while, Dr. Helen, dressed in a black
sweater and matching black skirt, walked from our table to
the podium. Looking over the group of twenty addicts, she
focused on me and said, “Hi, my name is Helen and I’m an
addict.”t

Previously published in Mused,
BellaOnline Literary Review, Fall 2015.

PERSONAL ESSAY

Wheelin’
Glenda Barrett

“G

lenda, use the scooter whenever you need to,
especially in the grocery store. They are simply there to assist you, and it will save your
energy.” I was at the MDA Clinic in Atlanta for a checkup
for my neuromuscular disease, when the nurse said these
words to me. Although, I heard her words, I had no idea
how hard it would be for me to put them into action.
The next time I went to the store I walked over to the
scooter and took a look at it, but couldn’t get the nerve to sit
down in it. It felt like I was giving up in some way. It took
me several times, and a lot of pain from walking through
the store before I took the plunge.
I remember running into friends at the store and feeling
quite vulnerable. Almost always they would say the same
thing, “What in the world are you doing in that scooter?”
And to me, it sounded as if they were speaking into a microphone. Inwardly, I shuddered. I tried to explain, but their
next words would be, “But you look so good!” I learned
much later that unless a person can see the problem, they
assume there is none. Before long I became more used to
the scooter and the questions, realizing folks were simply
curious about my health and meant no harm.
I could go through the store and get my grocery shopping
done in record time. One day I was wheelin’ down the aisles
in a bit of a hurry and feeling proud of my achievement,
when I rounded a corner too fast, causing a man to literally
jump out of my way. After apologizing, I couldn’t help but
smile as I drove through the store, realizing how far I had
come in adjusting to assistive devices. I knew my ideas
were obsolete and I needed to change them.

I have had a few more humorous moments on the scooter
as well. Just recently, in preparation for my fourth foot surgery, I was reorganizing my environment in order to be able
to reach everything from my scooter when I got home. My
bed needed to be moved over a few inches toward the wall
so I came up with an idea. I inched the scooter up to the
bed and gave it the gas! The bed moved, but as I backed up,
I could tell there was a problem. Without doing anything
to the throttle, the scooter took off of its own accord. It reminded me of a stallion my grandfather, a horse trader, once
owned. When I told a male friend the problem, he laughed
and said, “If you attach a shovel on the front of your scooter, you can use it as a front end loader.” A few days later,
my husband, who loves car racing, didn’t help matters when
he said, “You might could do a little drag racing with your
scooter.”
When I called the repairman the next day he took a look at
it and said, “Glenda, I’m afraid you’ve messed up the main
control of the scooter this time. It will cost about five hundred dollars to repair it.”
“You mean I’ve blown its brains out?” I asked, thoroughly
disgusted.
“Yep,” the repairman replied, “That’s about it. I can have
the part for you in a few days.”
I nodded. It was then that I asked the all-important question.
“Can I drive it like it is?”

57

POETRY

The man smiled as he walked away, but I heard him say,
“Drive at your own risk.”

Julia C. Spring

Using deep concentration, I learned how to navigate it in
spite of the problem. I did fine, until one night at bedtime. I
needed to move the scooter away from the bed a few inches
without being on it. I completely forgot about its condition,
reached over and hit the throttle. It reared up in the air and
took off at full speed, rammed into the bedside commode
and with the handlebars turned inward, once again jammed
full speed into the bed knocking it sideways. My husband,
who usually sleeps soundly, raised up quickly when I said,
“Adrian, there’s been a little accident!”

Relativity
slow I am seen by
the slower as swift by the
swifter as speed bump

Julia C. Spring

“Not again,” he replied. In a few minutes, he helped me
straighten everything back up. It was then I said, “Let me
have the keys.” I could see, as plain as day, the hesitation in
his eyes as he slowly handed them back to me.
I’ve had my surgery, the repairman fixed my scooter, and
we are both doing well now. I will say I’ve learned some
valuable lessons while using the scooter. First of all, I feel
nothing but gratitude as I use it to go about my daily activities, not to mention the pain it has saved me. Also, I can
see that a scooter is much like an automobile. They can be
dangerous if you’re not careful with them. I now have an
even greater appreciation for what it will and will not do.
My advice is, if you own a scooter or plan on getting one,
“Do drive safely.”t

Stigma
distinguishing mark
of social disgrace letting
all others feel whole

Edythe Haendel Schwartz

Fall
What the waxwing must have seen
was distance twinned, cumulonimbus
tethered to sky, not glass—
the hit, the spin, the fall, the feathers
loosed.
In the privet, songbirds gorge
on berries. You inure yourself
to clashing trills, to the living losing
focus,

tape yellow ribbon
to the glass, gather the fallen
bird. I watch you stroke its ivory belly
as if it were your child, watch
what you cannot withhold.
Previously published in Suisun Valley Review,
Issue 25, #1, Spring 2008.

58

PERSONAL ESSAY

A Meditation on the True Self
Lynsie Mae Buteyn

I

always dread being back in the hospital. The feeling that
my body has betrayed me, leaving its function totally
dependent on machines and others’ care. I dread the
fight to stay within the borders of my skin as an ethereal
gravity takes hold, and I have that all too familiar uncertainty as to whether my heart will keep beating through the
night. The frustration of watching others expend their precious energy to meet my basic survival needs when I have,
seemingly, nothing to give in return.
It is in those times that I remember what it is like to be
a refuge to others––though I don’t know if that memory
makes it easier or harder to be so dependent. What I do
know is how difficult it is to reconcile my fear of people
perceiving me as a sort of “societal parasite” with the perception of myself as a woman who has been disabled since
childhood, but tries to do what she can to help out when
able. My fear stems from the fact that, at times, I can be so
beautiful and vibrant, so much so that many people have
trouble understanding how sick I feel or can become, and
yet others only perceive me in a hospital as a sort of skeleton wearing skin with barely any sign of life left. A woman
I can’t even recognize anymore, and I have to remind
myself and others that I was once talkative, engaging, and
even helpful. But although I know I was once those things,
I can’t figure out what my role in life is when I feel my life
force resides within a shell of a body from which I can’t
break free, leaving me without any other consistent identity
besides being disabled.

As everyone around me formed identities as nurses, executives, lawyers, or therapists of various kinds, I remained
stuck with the identity of “the sick girl” with moments
where I could play the role of helper, confidant, and maybe
babysitter––but that was a rarity because most of my friends
feared I’d faint and drop their child. The perceptions of myself and how others saw me and my place in the world became so warped, muddled, and such a polarity of extremes
that I often couldn’t figure out if I was a burden who should
quit fighting so hard to be here or a person who has an essential place and role to those who count on me.
A reconciliation of my identity became clear to me during a
serious hospitalization after my heart went into ventricular
tachycardia (a.k.a. V-tach––a potentially life-threatening
heart arrhythmia). Although the V-tach had subsided without going into cardiac arrest, my heart rate was still very
fast and it was just a matter of time before another bout
would ensue from the fatigue of continuously being tachycardic. My healthcare team quickly secluded me from any
stimulation or stress. There was talk of putting me under
sedation, but I was fighting pneumonia and my lung muscles, already weakened from my disease, could not handle
the sedation. I decided to meditate in an attempt to control
those wild beats. A big sign was put up on my door for any
visitor to check in with my nurse and not to enter my room
without his permission, so I was surprised when I heard a
knock on my door.

59

A woman carrying a flute gently entered my room explaining that the staff had asked her to come see me. She told me
she wanted to give me a private concert, but if for any reason I did not want her to, or wanted her to stop, she would
not be hurt in any way. She just loved to play the flute.
I had heard her play at the beginning of my hospitalization,
and had wanted her to play for me then, but my nurse, at
the time, told me she visited the “terminal” patients to give
them a private concert and then couldn’t get to everyone
else. I thought I would only ever hear her at a distance,
but, now, here she was. This was a silent confirmation
of the unspoken feelings that many nurses and doctors
brought in each time they entered my room. There seemed
to be a growing certainty that I wasn’t going to make it. I
remember feeling a moment of relief that somehow these
unspoken words were being acknowledged in some way.
My feeling that I needed to prepare for the possibility of not
living much longer was not needless worry, but a very real
possibility that needed to be addressed. Now, this woman
was here, given a role nobody else wanted to play: to actually acknowledge the unspeakable with her music.
For me, it was a concert of surrender. Each note played
revealed the truth of my situation: the doctors didn’t know
how to heal me. All that could be done had been done, and
now it was a mystery to all if healing would or wouldn’t
occur inside me. It was not up to me or the doctors if I lived
or died. There was some greater force that would make the
call, so I closed my eyes, and silently surrendered to a will I
could not know or understand. I knew then that I was ready
to take the next step. I was free from all obligations. I didn’t
even have to stay awake for a concert being given for just
me, or to say thank you for the gift. This simple allowance
to go against all social customs helped me to relinquish my
struggle to figure out who I was and what I was supposed
to do. I laid there stripped of any role or identity, feeling a
sense of freedom that I never knew before.
It was only within this freedom that I could feel an awareness that I was simply experiencing a unique set of circumstances beneath all the socially constructed identities. I was
the only one with my exact experience in life and this, in

60

itself, made me special. This was my true identity. I could
see that just because my struggles with identity came sooner
because of my disability, everyone, disabled or not, struggles with the role they play in the world. With the clarity
of a cloudless sky, it became clear that by surrendering the
identities prescribed by myself and others, I was much more
likely to play roles that were needed instead of expected.
I had already witnessed the trap of overinvestment in a
particular role with many of the doctors who cared for
me. They would become so invested in their role of “lifesaver” that when I or another patient challenged this ability
through our inability to heal, they would avoid us in order
not to feel like a failure. In reality though, their current role
had been exhausted, and they needed to be able to transition
to another one. I’m not saying this is easy or that a person
can play every needed role for someone. Just as a musician
must pick one instrument to truly master it, each of us needs
to focus our attention on a particular role we enjoy playing. However, at the same time, we have to remember not
to confuse the roles we play in life with our true identity.
Identity is created through how we interpret and respond to
our distinctive experiences in life. It is not formed from being a sick person, a lawyer, or a doctor. Those are just some
of the roles we play by choice or imposition. By not having our identity so intermingled with roles we play, we just
might leave ourselves open enough to play the role we most
want and need to play for a particular situation.
My flutist played a role I needed: someone to lead me in
a moment of enlightenment, allowing me to deal with the
unspoken. But she was only able to fulfill this need because
she didn’t have expectations for what playing her flute
would do. She just “liked to play the flute” and saw an opportunity to share music with people after working as a
clerk at the hospital. She didn’t let her job as a clerk define
her as much as she didn’t let her role of musician define her.
She was content just playing music. She played for more
than two hours while I just meditated, and then she left
without needing any kind of applause.t

POETRY

Sheryl L. Nelms
Sheryl L. Nelms

Parkinson’s

In the Seguin Cemetery
three horned owls

No definite
test
for
it

swoop
in

the neurologist
says

low

just walk
the straight

over the Guadalupe River
land
one
by
one
by one
on cypress
branches
along
the water
hoot
their location
to each
other

line
answer
the nurse’s
questions
Who is the president
what county
are we in
remember
apple
table
penny
spell world
backwards
and meet
dementia
head
on

61

PERSONAL ESSAY

Learning to Embrace
New Possibilities
Linda S. Slusser

“O

ur tests show that your esophagus and stomach
can no longer push food through your body.
I’m afraid you won’t be able to eat,” stated the
hospital doctor.
“Anything? Ever?” I asked incredulously.
“That’s right. We’ll put a J-tube into your small intestine.
All of your nutrition and medications will go through the
tube.”
Thirteen years earlier I had been diagnosed with scleroderma, a rare autoimmune disease where the body’s overproduction of collagen scars organs. I had been dealing with
the complications of my scleroderma in a fairly positive
way (a cough from the mild interstitial lung disease, the
dry eyes and dry mouth of Sjogren’s, the decreased circulation in my fingers and toes triggered by cold from Raynaud’s, and the various gastrointestinal issues). Until now. I
couldn’t see anything positive in the limits a feeding tube
would place on my life.
Retired and living alone, I was overwhelmed as I recovered
from my initial malnutrition and learned to care for this
alien tube sticking out of my abdomen. My daily necessities
now included: gauze pads to clean around the tube opening;
drainage sponges to cushion the tube and paper tape to hold
them firmly in place, as well as an adhesive remover, lotion,
a barrier wipe, and Desitin to protect the skin.

62

Five cases of Isosource 1.5 provided my “meals” for a
month. I poured this liquid into 1,000 milliliter bags to use
with a pole or 500 milliliter bags to use with a backpack
since I would be hooked up to a nutrition pump for fourteen
of every twenty-four hours. The 60 ml catheter syringes
flushed water through the tube, and the 35 ml monojet syringes delivered my five liquid medications throughout the
day. I hated it all.
But three people and two Shetland sheepdogs began to
change my attitude.
Jeanne, a visiting nurse, came often after I returned home.
She gently taught me to perform these strange tasks and
built my confidence with reassurances that I could master
the demands of the tube and create a flexible schedule.
My neighbor Christine became my lifeline, driving me to
medical appointments, doing household chores, running
errands, and even deskunking my dog late one night. She
made herself available at all hours until gradually I realized
I could do more and more for myself.
Dr. Kirby, one of my specialists at the Cleveland Clinic,
gave me hope. Once I commented, “It looks like this will be
an evolving adventure.”
He replied, “We’ll be there with you.”
My dogs encouraged me by simply accepting my changed
circumstances. Yogi still brought me toys and made me

POETRY

laugh by spinning down the hallway for the evening cookies. Sonnet still demanded our usual schedule of events and
treats, ignoring my new paraphernalia, and slept with me on
her two-thirds of the bed.
With basic coping skills under control, I still grieved over
pleasures I had lost. No longer could Sonnet and I do
therapy visits; I missed the hospital patients and the first
graders reading to my furry friend. No longer could I run
the obstacle courses to train Sonnet for agility trials, and I
missed my fellow dog enthusiasts. No longer could I easily
leave the house for long periods of time. I missed shopping
for gifts and taking courses at a local college on topics like
illuminated manuscripts or the novels of William Faulkner.
No longer could I enjoy food at home or in a social setting.
Or could I? Different possibilities began to present themselves, and my attitude brightened.

Lola Neff Merritt

The Gloriosas
Huddling close
like a group of old friends,
they lift
questioning, golden faces
to the bright, fall sunshine;
then suddenly shake
with the onslaught
of a strong breeze,
twisting the graceful petals
into grotesque peaks.

I found new activities with my shelties. I started teaching
Yogi tricks—bow, touch—and games—find it. I started
taking Sonnet to Rally classes where we could walk the less
strenuous courses, and I made new dog-loving friends.
The computer offered limitless options for entertainment
without stepping outside the front door. Shopping for gifts
from around the world was just a click away, and creating
photo gifts of books, address labels, magnets, and calendars
was fun. Free online classes from the public library brought
me new knowledge on Understanding Windows 7 and The
Craft of Magazine Writing.
I experimented with molding chocolates and enjoyed
baking for others. And lunch out continued to be a treat.
Understanding friends included me in the conversation,
even though I consumed only small sips of water with a
Werther’s caramel or a peach-mango lollipop. The sight and
aroma of their pizza, cheese bubbling over fresh spinach
and tomatoes—my favorite—did not bother me; instead, it
triggered memories of our past gatherings. I loved it all.

Yuan Changming

Two at the Station
she is waving, like a willow
gorgeous and graceful
his words are breeze
gentle and generous
blowing through her branches
slim and sunlight-glazed
instantly making her tremble
like a chuckling tree

Living with scleroderma—or any chronic illness—will
always mean facing new challenges. I continue to search
for new possibilities, hoping to stay positive as I count my
blessings and find pleasure in each day.t

63

POETRY

Sean J. Mahoney

Marketable Phenomena
It is rude of you not to declare yourself in grandiose fashion.
We, you and I, fail in communicating but not in embracing.
Intertwined we are. Spooky caduceus. Release me. Release
my satisfactory breath. Breathe in as you release that breath.
That blissful sigh of accomplishment, right? I give you that.
That breath of astonishment and struggle? You bestow that
upon me. For all our misunderstandings I have never denied
your superstar status; how spectacular you are lobe by lobe.
When I see you refracted through my pupil, spread on fibrous
blankets, resting yourself fitfully after the brain pillage, I am
convinced that perhaps, over time, we can negotiate territory.
You eat my cereals; my brown rice and kale, minced ginger,
strawberries and grapes as if you needed garnish for my salad
which is consumed with unexpressed purpose. And blatantly.
Why don’t you toss it instead?
Use my Kiss my Face – keep prey pretty on the outside. Use
my angled toothbrush. Sleep through me. Smell what I do
and don’t smell. Though I doubt we share the same waste
management systems. Where do you toss the used up bits
of me? The dry and desiccated, the leftovers – do you have
Ziplocs? A freezer? Do you have a preference for heated
meals or room temperature snacks? If you had a neck, fuck
if you had form even, I would screw your head off and void.

64

I take a teaspoon of concentrated (funny yes?) black licorice
root once a week, just to see if I can in turn cause you recoil,
or even draw you out of my northern pole. And though
resolute magnets can track your maps, the papery places you
have tagged, committed crimes in and spread your gospels
of systematic disruption, I feel as if we are left no choice
but remaining strangers on a train, me groping for murder
weapons, my missing and/or damaged strings and impartially
random broken bits of phenomena.
I find you dramatically indifferent to my desires considering
how frequently I stave off poems and body art projects for
purely incomprehensible reasons: knee jerk reactions to what
I no longer have and, or, maybe, drunk dialing people I have
convinced myself that I need commune with­– like Lidwina
and Jacqueline Du Pre – for growth. Long dead people.
Seriously?
You confuse me. As if your distinct alliterate persuasion
gives you a certain luxury, a piss-poor mastery over gravity
and therefore over floors beneath me. If I started wearing
tin foil hats would that prevent your communicating with
the mother-fuck-me ship? If that be the case then I will, from
here until my last gregarious breath, consider you a series
of pesky nuisances rather than my own marketable phenomena.

Mike Traber

Pendulum
I
13 pebbles or
14
pebbles in a drawer
in a knobless desk
a desk that stays
when the renter leaves
II
Pebbles from the summer
following pallid months
in pallid rooms
in a concrete hospital
towering along a river
while high school goes on
Stones from the summer
after radiation therapy
the flash that silhouetted
Hiroshima and Nagasaki
is the whirlwind
that may blow life on
Rocks from the summer
following home instruction
one instructor teaching
science without doing
math without figuring
English without reading
III
Damp, dirty heat
began the summer
before leaving the sweltering city
driven west of the border
of New Jersey and New York
two roads make four corners
Four corners make a hamlet
two lanes become one
stopping at a highland hotel

One TV, one jukebox, one lounge
three meals, shuffle board
hilltop air
Chill mornings, stark afternoons
sweat sweeps like clock hands
umbrella time, lake time
Dock to raft
backstroke
hands guiding head
Girl on raft
her hair uncoiled—
half her body length
In her checkered bikini
telling Batman and Robin jokes
14 years, no, 13 years old
when a younger brother
speaks
telling Flatman and Ribbon yokes
Raft to dock to beyond
pebbles in the mud
like stars in the sky
IV
Four decades
no
four decades plus five years
Pebbles were in case
but
the past is not forgotten
14 pebbles drop
splash into Turtle Pond
city park water ripples
then smoothes like a sheet
what is not needed stays
when the renter goes

65

BIOGRAPHICAL NOTES

Shirley Adelman is a former high school and college teacher. She has been published in academic, literary, and medical humanities journals in the United States, Canada, South
Africa, and Israel. Most recently her poetry appeared in Canadian Woman Studies, Blue Collar Review, and Cell2Soul.
Adelman says poetry sustained her following treatment for
breast cancer and a concussive accident.
Caitlin Barasch is a literary assistant at Selected Shorts
which can be heard on Public Radio International (PRI).
Her fiction has been published in Hobart (December 2014),
Word Riot (March 2013), Grasslimb (July 2015), and a
book review in DIAGRAM (December 2015). The mental
illness of one of her family members has led her to consider
the world through that perspective.
Glenda Barrett’s poetry and essays are widely published
and her artwork is online at Fine Art America. Her poetry
chapbook, When the Sap Rises, was published by Finishing
Line Press in 2008, and one of her paintings was published
in Bread and Molasses Magazine. Her disability is a form
of muscular dystrophy.
Lynsie Mae Buteyn started Bridges to Patient Empowerment, a nonprofit that helps empower and inspire people
who are chronically ill and have disabilities. She writes for
that nonprofit and other organizations/publications that help
convey the experience of having a disability. She has congenital dysautonomia, an autoimmune disorder.
Yuan Changming, a nine-time Pushcart nominee and author of seven chapbooks, grew up in rural China. Now living in Vancouver, Canada, he is a translator and also coedits
Poetry Pacific. His poems have appeared in journals and
anthologies in thirty-eight countries, including Best Canadian Poetry, BestNewPoemsOnline, and Threepenny Review.
He has received two awards from Sons of Camus Writers
International Journal.
Darren C. Demaree’s poems have appeared in numerous
publications, including the South Dakota Review, Meridian,
The Louisville Review, Diagram, and The Colorado Review.
Collections include As We Refer to Our Bodies (8th House
Publishing, 2013), Temporary Champions (Main Street
Rag, 2014), The Pony Governor (After the Pause Press,
2015), and Not For Art Nor Prayer (8th House Publishing,
2015). He is the managing editor of Best of the Net.
Ruth Z. Deming, winner of a Leeway Grant for Creative
Nonfiction, writes poetry and prose from her home in Willow Grove, Pennsylvania. Her work has appeared in publications such as Creative Nonfiction, Haggard and Halloo,
and Hektoen International. A psychotherapist and mental
health advocate, she runs New Directions Support Group
for those affected by depression and bipolar disorder.
66

D. E. Harris, M.S.W., L.S.W. is an adjunct professor
at Drexel University. His essays have been published in
Stigma Magazine, Health and Spirituality, and The Pennsylvania Social Worker. As a child he was unable to read until
he received a Speak ’n Spell, allowing him to type words
and hear them at the same time, clearing a path to literacy.
Readers may recognize the literary device employed in
“The Shellshock Letters,” as similar to the one C. S. Lewis
used in The Screwtape Letters.
Jerry Hauser is a retired college professor. His poetry has
been extensively published in magazines including BACKSTREET, The Moon Journal, Tar Wolfe Review, Free Verse,
and Pearl. Hauser is living with late-middle stage Alzheimer’s but he is still able to read his poems publicly and to be
published in many media formats.
Lori Michelle Hawks is on track to complete her doctorate
at Northeastern University in 2016. Her creative nonfiction has appeared in Cobalt Review (Winter 2015), Sprout
Magazine (Fall 2015), Map Literary (Fall 2014), and Mused
Literary Magazine (Fall 2014). Though initially her MS felt
overwhelming, Hawks says, “After ten years, I have redefined myself. It’s not who I am, but it is part of me.”
Kevin Heaton’s poems have appeared in The Portland Review (March 2016), Slice Magazine (Issue 17, 2015), The
Beloit Poetry Journal (Spring 2014) and Guernica Magazine (February 2014). In 2010, Heaton was accepted as a
“Noted Kansas Poet.” He has received two Pushcart Prize
nominations from Victorian Violet Press (2011) and Cartagena Journal (2013). Heaton sees his autism as a mixed
blessing—forcing him to work harder, while at the same
time helping him compartmentalize which allows him to
focus more acutely.
Bob Johnston is a retired petroleum engineer and translator of Russian literature. He is a recovering alcoholic with
forty-seven years of sobriety. In his nineties, Johnston says,
“My writing deals with love, loss, and outrage at being propelled into a century I don’t understand.”
Susan Kennedy is a legal office assistant. She had an essay
published in The Baltimore Sun (September 2013). Kennedy is visually impaired and launched her blog “Adventures
in Low Vision” to share the challenges, empowerment, and
humor of living with a visual impairment.
Olaf Kroneman is a physician and writer. His work has
appeared in Writer’s Digest (2009), Quiddity (2010-2011),
Forge (2011-2012), and Hawaii-Pacific Review. Kroneman has received a Pushcart Prize nomination, the Writer’s
Digest Award for Popular Fiction (2009), and first prize in
the Winning Writers Awards (2013). As a doctor, he enjoys
“taking care of a very diverse population” and as a writer,
likes to “give people an insider’s look at the medical profession.”

Will Leadbeater of New Zealand, now retired, worked in
journalism for many years. He was the poetry reviewer for
New Zealand Herald and later, for Star Sunday Times. He
has had eight books of poetry published including Close
Horizon (Outrigger Press, 1978), Jubal’s Lyre (2008),
Flamingo Road (2010), and The Random Web (2011) all
through the Earl of Seacliff Art Workshop, from which he
also received their Poetry Prize for Jubal’s Lyre.
Sean J. Mahoney works in geophysics and believes “that
diatomaceous earth is not a well enough known gardening
marvel.” His work has appeared in Catamaran Literary Review (December 2015), Wordgathering (December 2015),
and F(r)iction (#4, Spring 2016). Mahoney has multiple
sclerosis which he says “is as much a part of me as is the
food I consume, the sights I see, and the scurryings I hear.
It weighs in on how I interact with the world, and the world
with me.”
Lola Neff Merritt is a retired librarian. She has been writing poetry for many years and her poems have been published in numerous magazines and journals, most recently
in The Almanac for Farmers & City Folk, The Gem, Mature
Living, and Salesian Missions Magazine. Merritt has limited
mobility due to severe lumbar stenosis, arthritis, and neuropathy.
Michael S. Morris’ poems have been published in Prairie
Schooner, Plainsong, Iodine, and Haight Ashbury Literary
Journal. He was nominated by the Worcester Review for
the Pushcart Prize in 2012, and was awarded an honorary
membership in the International Writer’s Association. His
chapbook, A Wink Centuries Old, was featured in Minotaur
Magazine. Sadly, Michael Morris died in February 2016.
Sheryl L. Nelms is the fiction/nonfiction editor of The Pen
Woman and a three-time Pushcart Prize nominee. She has
published several books of poetry including Bluebonnets,
Boots and Buffalo Bones (September 2009), Their Combs
Turn Red in the Spring (August 1984), and a chapbook,
Greatest Hits 1978-2003 (June 2003). Nelms says having
Parkinson’s “has given me a different view of the world and
the people in it.”
Peter L. Pingerelli holds a Ph.D. in biophysics and is an
adjunct professor at Western International University from
which he received the President’s Award in 2011. His work
has appeared in Pentimento (Winter Issue 6, 2016), and
QUEST (Issue 19, #3) as well as in numerous professional
publications. Pingerelli has spinal muscular atrophy. He
shares, “At times, life’s joys were tethered to emotional
pain and lessons which I wish to share through my writing.”

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 the writer of visual artist profiles, having joined the staff
as art coordinator in 2002. Palmer is the full-time graphic
design specialist at United Disability Services.
Bradley Don Richter is a music teacher and writer. In
March of 2014 he had a fiction piece published in Mobius
Magazine. His father was awarded a Purple Heart for injuries sustained during the Vietnam War which has influenced
Richter’s writing. He grew up on a “junk food diet” of Stephen King and Dean Koontz. In college, he improved his
“nutritional intake by reading canonical works” and graduated with a degree in literature from University of California Santa Cruz.
Edythe Haendel Schwartz is a retired professor. Her poems have appeared in many journals including Potomac
Review (2015) and Spillway (#22, 2014). She was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2015 for her poem “Apisculpture.” Schwartz has two published collections of poetry, her
chapbook, Exposure (Finishing Line Press, 2007) and her
full length collection, A Palette of Leaves (Mayapple Press,
2012). She was chosen as the featured poet at California
State University Festival of the Arts, Aoruk (2013).
Nancy Scott lives in Lawrenceville, New Jersey and has
spent thirty-five years as a case worker and advocate for
abused children, homeless families, and those with disabilities. Her collections of poetry include Running Down Broken Cement (Main Street Rag, 2014), Detours & Diversions
(Main Street Rag, 2011), One Stands Guard, One Sleeps
(Plain View Press, 2009), and Down to the Quick (Plain
View Press, 2007). Her writing has been strongly influenced
by her career and experience as a foster and adoptive parent.
e. smith sleigh’s poem, “A Puckish Plague,” was included
Luis Camnitzer’s installation, The Last Book which was
exhibited in New York and internationally. Her awards include a nomination for Kentucky Poet Laureate (2013-14)
and her poetry book, An American Still Life, was entered
in the 2016 Pulitzer Prize Competition. Her work has been
strongly influenced by her daughter Emily Catherine—her
dignity and grace during her struggle with cystic fibrosis
and death at the age of eighteen.
Linda S. Slusser is a retired high school teacher. Her articles and essays have appeared in Women (Winter 2016),
Heart of Ohio’s Focus Supplement (Spring 2016), and Good
Old Days (January-February 2016). Slusser has lived with
scleroderma, a chronic autoimmune disease, for sixteen
years. She shares, “Thanks to supportive friends, canine
companions, caring medical professionals, and a willingness to adapt, life has still been good.”
67

Julia C. Spring is a semi-retired social worker and lawyer who practiced health/mental health law and has taught
many students in both professions. Her work has appeared
in Blood and Thunder, Musings on the Art of Medicine
(2011), Hospital Drive (Winter 2013), Smoky Blue Arts and
Literary Magazine (Summer 2015), and The Journal of
Healing (Spring-Summer 2015). Spring sustained a spinal
cord injury with initial paraplegia in 1966 and now uses
crutches. Spring says, “How people survive and thrive in
our world is the dominant theme of my writing.”
Mike Traber is retired. His poems have appeared in several publications, including Passager (2002) and Ariel XX
(2001). Traber’s disability is impaired balance and he is also
legally blind. He says “I am a native New Yorker of German descent, who tries to keep his mouth shut and his ears
open to other people, their speech, and their cultures.”
Mary Ellen Talley is a speech and language pathologist in
Seattle, Washington public schools. She says, “My students
constantly challenge, entertain, and educate me as well as
inspiring much of my poetry.” Her poems have been published in Spillway (Winter 2014), Floating Bridge Review
(2014), and Main Street Rag (Summer 2012). Talley also
contributed to the anthology Raising Lily Ledbetter: Women
Poets Occupy the Workspace (Lost Horse Press, 2015).
Leah Vitello is a graduate instructional assistant at the
University of South Carolina. Her work has appeared in
Words Dance and The James Dickey Review. She occasionally posts on her blog “Home and the Wanderer.” Vitello is
profoundly deaf and has cochlear implants. “My deafness
is certainly a big part of me, so it naturally appears, though
subtly, in my writing.”
Liz Whiteacre teaches writing at the University of Indianapolis. She authored Hit the Ground and coedited the
anthology Monday Coffee & Other Stories of Mothering
Children with Special Needs. Her poems have appeared in
Wordgathering, Disability Studies Quarterly, The Healing
Muse, and Breath and Shadow. She is a recipient of the
2015 Excellence in Teaching Award from Ball State University as well as receiving a Pushcart Prize nomination in
2011 and the Inglis House Award Poetry Award in 2010.
Gail Willmott has been a staff member with Kaleidoscope
since 1982 and became editor-in-chief in July, 2003. She
received both her bachelor and master degrees from the
University of Illinois. “This is a career I have loved for
thirty-four years, despite the occasional chaos that ensues,
getting to know our contributors as well as working with
very accomplished and supportive colleagues.”

68

Jake Wolff is an assistant professor of English at Hartwick
College. He writes both fiction and nonfiction and his work
has appeared in American Short Fiction (March 2015), Bellevue Literary Review (Fall 2012), One Story (2012), and
Tin House (2011). He has received the George M. Harper
Award for Outstanding Creative Writing, Florida State University (2012), and the David and Jean Milofsky Prize in
Creative Writing, University of Wisconsin-Madison (2010).
Wolff shares, “I fell in love with writing because of my
stutter. Writing was the only way to communicate that felt
totally safe.”
L. F. Young is retired and says he is, “enjoying the pursuit
of his dream to write.” He has two e-books of juvenile fiction, Ryan’s Legend and its sequel, The Legend Returns,
produced by Morning Rain Publishing (2013, 2014). He
contributed to an anthology of short stories, Path of a Bullet, Blind Dog Books. Young is now a below-the-knee
amputee and says writing about becoming disabled is therapeutic; he hopes it will better inform the people who read
his work.

Debra Purcell, Riverstone, 2014, acrylics, 8” x 10”

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