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K

ALEIDOSCOPE

EXPLORING THE EXPERIENCE OF DISABILITY THROUGH LITERATURE AND THE FINE ARTS

Number 75 Summer/Fall Online 2017

AND THE FINE ARTS Number 75 Summer/Fall Online 2017 Reflective • Transformative • Eclectic "Nothin'

Reflective • Transformative • Eclectic

"Nothin' But Net" by Allan B. Goldstein

"The Stranger" by Gwenellen Tarbet

"Sixty-three Years is Not a Weekend" by Shirley Adelman

K ALEIDOSCOPE

EXPLORING THE EXPERIENCE OF DISABILITY THROUGH LITERATURE AND THE FINE ARTS

Contents

EDITORIAL NOTE

The Power of the Arts in an Uncertain World

4

Gail Willmott

FEATURED ESSAY

Nothin’ But Net

6

Allan B. Goldstein

FEATURED ART

Fragments

32

Sandy Palmer

FICTION

The Stranger

10

Gwenellen Tarbet

Roller Coaster

38

Justin Glanville

 

Sissy

54

Benjamin Toche

Summer/Fall 2017

Number 75

PERSONAL ESSAY

Sixty-three Years is Not a Weekend

16

Shirley Adelman

The Race

62

Carolyn B. Fraiser

POETRY

Dearest Son,

5

Nanette C. Orange

what goes

9

Gail Waldstein

Campfire

14

Fall Cycle

14

Secrets of the Stars

14

Denise Fletcher

Whatever Should Not Be Forgotten

19

Whatever Should Not Be Forgotten 19

Donna Tolley Corriher

Dopamine Agonist:

Parkinson’s in Chunk Form

24

He

24

The Wife

24

Catherine Strisik

Jim Stevens, Girl in the Window, 2016, abstract linear acrylic painting, 21” x 22” x 1.5”

Bodily Humours

25

Toby MacNutt

 

Long Goodbye

53

 

Paul Smith

Rivers

26

Maura Gage Cavell

 

Exchange of Vision

53

Yuan Changming

Caregiver’s Muse

31

Brenda Kay Ledford

 

Three Stringed Instruments

61

Michael S. Morris

Dreamers

31

William H. McCann, Jr.

 

First MS Attack

61

Joan Seliger Sidney

Hoarding

44

Linda Fuchs

 

The Sign

64

trismus

45

John Smith

infirmity

45

 

XCI

64

e. smith sleigh

James B. Nicola

Muddy Hands

49

Lynda McKinney Lambert

Offerings

65

On Love

65

Sarah Rehfeldt

CREATIVE NONFICTION

The Collective

Aaron Lefebvre

20

How to Cry

27

 

Kirie Pedersen

My Friend Frankie

46

Ruth Z. Deming

The Shapeshifter

60

Kelley A Pasmanick

ARTICLE

Fear and Loathing in Australia: An Inside Look at Anxiety Disorder, Shame and Stigma

50

Monica Cook

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

Lorraine Abbott

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

Lindow University of Wisconsin-Stout Menomonie, Wisconsin Kaleidoscope (ISSN 2329-5775) is published online

Kaleidoscope (ISSN 2329-5775) is published online semiannually. Copyright © 2017 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 responsi- bility for returning submissions without ample return postage. Address all correspon- dence 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 disabil- ity from a variety of perspectives including: individuals, families, friends, caregivers, healthcare professionals, and educators, among others. The material chosen for Kaleidoscope challenges stereotypi- cal, patronizing, and sentimental attitudes about disabilities.

EDITORIAL NOTE

The Power of the Arts in an Uncertain World

Gail Willmott

W e live in a tumultuous and very frightening time and it lately seems to me that the

degree of uncertainty has increased exponentially. The level of anxiety and distrust around the world seems to have grown more intense, even palpable, leading to an increase in the level of hatred and violence, both at home and abroad. Despite such events, there are many people who continue to work toward a more tolerant, just, and some- day, a more accepting world. (Each per- son, depending on his or her beliefs and feelings, may find ways to contribute to this effort.) For those of us who do feel weighed down by many of the present circumstances, what can we do in our own lives to combat fear and negativity

and to hold on to a more positive view of our fellow human beings?

If our eyes are open, each day holds many possibilities for creating positive change. There is the joy of being with family and friends, reveling in their successes and sharing in their struggles. There is the wonder and beauty of the natural world and our connection to other species. Those of us who choose to love and care for pets bring that connection close to home. There is the pleasure of reading for learning and/or

entertainment (often both at the same

time). There is the power of music that reaches us on an inner and intangible level, causing our spirits to soar with joy or to feel intense sadness, depend- ing on the memories that are evoked through listening. There are movies, some of which cause us to think and feel more deeply, and some which simply entertain and allow us to take

a break from our daily concerns and

struggles. For many people, writing is

a tool for expressing a myriad of ideas and emotions.

Please don’t make the mistake of think- ing that I believe the above suggestions are somehow a panacea for all the seri- ous problems faced by our world and the people in it. For me they represent

a strategy for coping with and trying

to break the cycle of negativity and de- pression that sometimes envelops me.

In the life of any person there will be difficult circumstances which must be accepted and coping strategies need to be developed. Kaleidoscope tries to

present realistic pictures of living with

a disability. It is not always a walk in

the park, nor should it necessarily be seen as a tragedy. Through creative expression, the writers and artists that we have published over the years, have

demonstrated the power of the arts to subordinate and transcend disability. Kaleidoscope shares the complexities of living with a disability while show- ing those who are our “typical” peers that we are more alike than different. Thus we help build a bridge that brings us closer to the day when disability does not represent “otherness,” but just another variation of human experience.

There is definitely a transformative power in all of the arts which is what makes them so important to our indi- vidual and communal lives. The fruits of creativity can often remind us of our best selves. The arts can help sustain us in times of fear and trouble whether on an individual, a national, or a global level. It is my hope that, at least to some degree, this is what Kaleidoscope does for our readers.

level. It is my hope that, at least to some degree, this is what Kaleidoscope does

Gail Willmott

NaNette C. OraNge

Dearest son,

Your eyes reflect a losing battle, a fight to hold back tears

while witnessing my failed attempts

to walk across the floor—

legs that danced with time don’t hold me upright anymore.

Your gestures speak of helplessness, wishing you could trade your heart for mine.

A priceless gift you offer—

no doctors or machinery.

Do not weep for me, dear child; your mom will be okay. No feeble limb or tired heart can strip my soul of strength.

I’m still a tigress, poised to pounce on sorrows and preserve our fondest memories.

Though I may be bedridden,

the sun still beams for me, offering another dawn

to see,

to touch,

and to love the son who keeps me strong.

POETRY

Previously published in the Survivor’s Review (2010) and in the author’s book, Innermost Journey: Poems for a Lifetime, published in 2013. Reprinted by permission of the author.

FEATURED ESSAY

Nothin’ But Net

Allan B. Goldstein

“D

oes everyone die?” asked Fred, my sixty-two-year- old younger brother.

I didn’t know why this topic was on

his mind; maybe it was the unnaturally eerie light caused by the misty air sur- rounding us on this warm, gray, early summer afternoon, as we watched a pick-up basketball game in a Lower Eastside park.

I knew he was much more than the

1950s label, “severely retarded,” which had coerced Mom to send him to Wil- lowbrook State School for the Mentally Retarded over Dad’s wishes, where he resided from age four to twenty. Fred had benefited from several decades of community-based living and from my guardianship for the past seventeen years since Mom died. I was no longer surprised by his posing abstract ques- tions. I always believed Fred was ca- pable of abstract thought. He never be- longed in Willowbrook—nobody did— but when expectations are low and your speech is difficult to understand, you are just supposed to ingest, digest, def- ecate, and sleep: it is unimaginable that you might wonder about tomorrow.

When I informed Fred of Mom’s death, he stunned my wife and me by im- mediately pointing to the ceiling of his shared group-home bedroom, saying, “I’m next,” remembering Dad’s death (which had occurred ten years earlier). So I’m stunned no more, only saddened that because he hadn’t received focused attention as a child, today called early intervention, I never had a brother to knock around ideas with while growing up (even if about death). And I had no one to share reflections about the fre- quent parental squabbles.

I felt intrigued and perhaps a little sur- prised, upon hearing Fred’s question about death. I teach disability studies in a university, where I always invite discussion about assisted suicide. The rights organization, Not Dead Yet (NDY), professes that feeling a burden to family is the reason most disabled people cite for electing to die. NDY suggests it is wiser to encourage society to help relieve that feeling rather than end a life.* Journalist Ellen Good- man, in her July 1, 2015 “Opinionator” piece, comments that although ninety percent of American people now think it’s important to have a conversation about end-of-life care, only thirty per- cent do so.** Perhaps my brother’s question was his end-of-life talk. His sincere need to know about dying was

primitive, earthy, primal—no fooling around here. No filters. Just him and me. Honesty. Okay, a big brother mo- ment, but nothing like my laying down the law about brushing teeth or learning to take a shower. Or excusing oneself after belching. Or telling every girl that you love her.

We were sitting on a wooden-slatted bench, with curved, concrete supports reminiscent of the two benches fronting the entrance to our New York Public Housing Authority apartment building before he and I were torn apart more than half a century earlier. The unof- ficially scheduled basketball game, which had attracted us to this spot after our knishes at the famous eatery half-a- block away, included ten baggy pants, ethnically diverse male players, aged late twenties to mid-thirties, tacitly and without rancor, acknowledging and repositioning for incidental fouls. With the uneasy feeling of providing unspeakable news, I said to my brother, his rectangular-rimmed glasses framing eyes directly fastened on mine, “Yes, everyone dies.”

My brother remained focused on me, unlike several minutes earlier when he was pointing to the Subway restaurant sign above the storefront on the other side of the courts and telling me he had been there, or at least one of its repli- cas.

“What do you think happens when we die?” I asked.

He placed his left hand under his droopy left eye and drew his fingers down his cheek. Sign language instruc- tion had begun long ago to accom- modate his difficulty making certain sounds.

“We cry?” I said. I later learned that his sign might have meant “sad.”

“Cry,” he said.

“We’re dead. We don’t cry anymore. I think the people around you will cry.”

It was only a few beats before he asked, “Who will die first?”

I’ve often thought that although I’m four years older than Fred, he will die before me. Perhaps it was his many years of kidney dialysis and one failed cadaver kidney transplant prior to his present, long-lasting successful trans- plant that made me think his health was precarious. But he did dodge the conta- gious diseases of Willowbrook, and as a Willowbrook class member, he receives excellent medical attention. Since his expression indicated more of an interest in making a plan than in being com- forted, I said, “I don’t know.” And I really don’t, not anymore, which is why

my will includes a supplementary trust fund in case the remainder of his life is without me, which will not jeopardize his government financial support that I consider payback for years of no educa- tion and a dismissed existence.

My brother looked away, not particular- ly at the ongoing game, or the two lone players shooting baskets on a parallel court. Or the Subway store. Perhaps he was speculating, interpreting my non- information.

“William Street will die,” he then said, referring to his previous residence, the one that conquered the unease he ex- perienced in the last of twenty years in his first group home which had become dysfunctional because finding compe- tent supervisors and managers was very difficult.

“No, places don’t die; it will go on forever,” I said offhandedly, not think- ing that buildings are knocked down because of disrepair or neighborhood redevelopment and service agencies collapse, either because of corruption or plain old mismanagement. And I hadn’t considered that changing resi- dences is a kind death—the people my brother lived with are no longer in his life. But those are different kinds of deaths, although they are endings. Fred was wondering about his ending—and I was captivated. My brother had voiced a powerful question about a topic in- frequently discussed within our society due to unvoiced fears. Realizing that no one lives forever, my wife and I have begun fulfilling a travel bucket list.

Why was Fred thinking of endings? Maybe it was because we were sitting together on a park bench by a basket- ball court experiencing energy show- cased by running, passing, and shooting that would ultimately become depleted. Maybe because he’d soon be leav- ing for a three-night visit to Vermont. Maybe because I’d soon be spending a month in South Africa. Or maybe this was a special moment neither of us wanted to end. It was as if we were within a dream. A good dream. And then Fred woke up—“Does everyone die? Are you going to leave me? Am I going to leave you?”

We had begun the afternoon at a nearby sporting goods store so that I could exchange a recently purchased pair of hiking boots. I introduced Fred to the familiar saleswoman, as having come along to help me. So it was no sur- prise to her when upon arriving at the proper replacement shoe, I asked Fred to choose among the three available colors.

“I’m neurotic,” I told her, when offered the choices. “He’ll help me.”

“Which ones, Fred?”

“Those,” he said, without hesitation.

“You’re sure. These?” I said.

“Those,” he said, sagely nodding his head.

And the saleswoman agreed. “They will show dirt less.”

The neutral gray/blue “Beluga” color meant I could also wear the shoes to work with either brown or black slacks.

“Thanks for your help today, Fred,” I said, as we stood up from the bench, the b-ball game having just ended with the wearied players sprawling across the adjacent benches. We had been an- ticipating his Vermont trip for several months—a scenic ride in a van with other people having intellectual disabil- ities, overnight stays at hotels, stops at quaint village shops and a visit to Ben and Jerry’s ice cream factory. “Remem- ber, when they offer you ice cream, it’s okay to eat it.” Because of his too many years on a dialysis diet, he habitually declined ice cream.

He looked at me.

“Chocolate, vanilla, strawberry, well maybe not strawberry, it’s okay to have it.”

“Okay.”

Fred repeats conversations, maybe to make sure he has understood, so I

figured we’d be discussing death and dying again. Maybe the two of us are simply morbid, Woody Allen clones, as we’re all from the same neighbor- hood, and so we can’t have a good

time. Death and dying

ice cream. B-ball and knishes. Hiking shoes and Vermont. Brothers. Fred was

Fred and

direct, to the point—no rim, no back- board, nothin’ but net when selecting “those shoes,” and asking, “Who will die first?” It was easy to follow his shoe choice, but although my response to his second question was honest, it was also inconclusive, indefinite, and vague, be- cause who will die first? And who will cry?

*“Not Dead Yet.” Not Dead Yet. N.p., n.d. Web. 1 July 2015.

**Goodman, Ellen. “How to Talk About Dying.” The New York Times,

“Opinionator.” N.p., n.d. Web. 1 July

2015.

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.

gail WaldsteiN

what goes

sweet laugh his mouth perfectly cared for teeth he forks food into vacancy an avid listener perfect dinner companion well costumed polite but she must think for two

the insouciance of eyes trained to pierce mathematical mysteries seer the helical knot

biochemistry

hydrogen from algae

to fomenting

cousin

she brushes his arm

periodically

he extracted

red tides

reminds him

his great gray head is

real

temples like a posse closing in the face posed below the mind

once his questions old habit of

it’s new

longing to comprehend suppose she’s not there

facile in science

black frames crease

querulous

inquiry

this mask

eyes unblinking

his minute organisms had to be oxygen-deprived to

produce hydrogen

source

battery

own oxygen needs

unmet

palms brought proximate finger tips steeple

he studies

which remind all

energy a kind of

fuel cells

necessary as his

now

hands tremble

then hides these things

they no longer grasp pencils to calculate barely remember to hold a fork

POETRY

FICTION

The Stranger

Gwenellen Tarbet

T he sun umbrellas are a warm green in the early sum-

mer sunshine. A light breeze still carrying a hint of

spring imbues the seating area with the fragrance of

exotic coffees. Kayla, shaking with anger, approaches a man sitting at the table near the door of the café. He is talking with a woman at the next table.

“Excuse me,” she says to the man. He stops in mid-sentence. His blue eyes are friendly as he looks up at her.

“I know you probably think you mean well,” she says.

The onslaught begins

*

*

*

The morning started out as an opportunity for Kayla and her

husband Jordan to have a nice cup of coffee without the kids.

A chance for peace and quiet, a morning free of demands. A

chance to chat and sip coffee and enjoy the gentle sunshine.

Inside the café, Jordan and Kayla expected the sun to bounce off gleaming appliances and lose itself in dark corners full of shadows. They are used to the small tables being crammed together and the path to the till being full of backpacks and purses and feet. The noise of numerous lively loud conversa- tions melding into one indistinguishable buzz is familiar to them. So is the fear edging on panic that Kayla experiences when confronted with this scene. Jordan takes her hand in his and squeezes it. Does he know that she needs the reas- surance of his touch? Does he know that if it weren’t for him, she would probably never leave the house? She hopes not. She tries to cover her fear as best she can.

She has the best cover of all in Jordan. His white cane tells the world that he is visually impaired. Not so obvious are his hearing aids. An unusual combination. It makes it okay for her to lean on him in the sea of light and noise, drawing strength from one another. She doesn’t look weak cling- ing to Jordan’s hand, as they walk forward. She needs to let Jordan know which way to go with gentle signals on his hand and arm. She pushes gently forward, or pulls back when he needs to stop. By turning slightly left or right, she helps him negotiate the maze of tables. Most people are kind, and when they see his cane, they move out of the way, a backpack or a purse goes under a chair, an outstretched leg is pulled in. At the till, he takes longer to make his order because it’s hard to read the menu board. The server and the other customers are patient. Kayla is always surprised at people’s capacity for kindness. It’s not something she can take for granted. They move to the side to wait for their or- der, still holding hands. Kayla leans into Jordan. He is a big man and his solidity and the light smell of his soap mixed with his own particular smell comfort her.

“Our order is up next,” she says her mouth up to his ear so he can make out her words.

A man cuts in front of them carrying his coffee. Like them,

he appears to be in his early forties. He notices Jordan’s white cane and stops. His face lights up like a child’s at Christmas.

“I know what can cure you my man,” he says. “Look into

the sun my dear fellow and you will put that cane down and be free.”

Kayla nods politely at the man, hoping this small acknowl- edgement will satisfy the stranger and he will go away. Jor- dan is still trying to see who is talking to him. He sees that someone is in front of them, but can’t find his face to read his lips.

When they were first dating, she asked him, “What is it like?”

“Imagine taping a piece of paper with two pinholes over your eyes,” he told her, “and you have to make-do on what you see in the pinholes. Then take earplugs and shove them in your ears.That’s what it’s like.”

She tried it once not long after. She didn’t like it. She couldn’t imagine going into the outside world like that. It was hard enough going into the outside world without that.

She stands on tiptoe so that she can reach Jordan’s ear. “He says to look into the sun to cure what ails you.”

Jordan meets her eyes. “A blind man is supposed to look into the sun. That will help?”

She shrugs her shoulders. The stranger hasn’t left, he stands in front of the couple, staring. Kayla shifts from one foot from the other, restless. She is trying to avoid looking him in the eye.

“The sun will set you free man.” He is shouting this now, having spotted Jordan’s hearing aids. The din in the restau- rant quiets a little as people stop talking to watch the com- motion.

Jordan and Kayla smile politely and hope the stranger will go away. With a final admonition “to look into the sun” and with a hearty slap on Jordan’s back, he takes his coffee out into the sunshine. Kayla notices that he sits at a table near the entrance.

“Seems kind of stupid to look into the sun.” Jordan says. He smiles a little bit, but she can tell the man has annoyed him. She knew for sure he didn’t like the slap on the back. He shrugs, the incident forgotten already.

Except she can’t forget it. His words play over and over in

her brain like a feedback loop. She sees the stranger outside, and she can guess what is going to happen when they leave. Her stomach roils in fear and something else. The beginnings

of anger. She wants to hide, to flee, but the stranger has them

trapped in the café.

“What did he mean by looking into the sun?” Jordan asks her.

She ponders what the stranger meant. The sun, the sun No wait, he means to look into the Son. He means Jesus. He means the Son is the cure. Their coffee has arrived and they make their way outside, looking for an empty table. On cue, the man near the entrance, yells one more time at Jordan.

“Look into the Son man!”

“He means look into the Son, S-O-N, not S-U-N,” she ex- plains to Jordan after they sit as far away from the stranger as possible.

The anger in her gut is hotter now, it is burning away the fear. They try to enjoy their coffee, but she can hear the man talking to the customers around him.

“He can throw that cane away man, I’ve seen it happen.”

There it is again. The notion that illness or disability is caused from lack of strength, or morals, or adequate dietary fiber or any one of a number of random choices that people use as their own personal talisman. The notion that God strikes down the guilty with disease and disfigurement, or a

bad case of the hives. She can’t bear to hear another word out

of that man’s mouth.

“Wait here.” She tells Jordan.

She gets up and crosses the pavement to the man. The sun umbrellas are a warm green in the early summer sunshine.

A light breeze still carrying a hint of spring imbues the seat-

ing area with the fragrance of exotic coffees. Songbirds and pigeons are eating the crumbs from under the table where the stranger talks to a woman at the table beside him.

“Excuse me,” she says to the man. He stops in mid-sentence.

His blue eyes are friendly as he looks up at her.

“I know you probably think you mean well,” she starts.

Her heart is pounding. No, she will not give the stranger that excuse. Anger burns away fear, and in this moment, right now, she is free.

“How dare you,” she says.

The stranger frowns a little, he is clearly confused. Kayla points at Jordan.

“How dare you humiliate my husband? How dare you turn our outing into a circus of humiliation.”

The stranger shifts back in his chair and she notices his growing unease. His emotional state is the last of her con- cerns at this moment. She hopes he feels like crawling into a hole. Her focus is to help the stranger along on his journey into humiliation. There is no one in the world except Kayla and the stranger.

“You told him to look into the Son, to look to Jesus or God or whatever to cure him. To cure him?” Her voice is low and she is having trouble forming the words as they come out of her mouth.

“How dare you imply that his blindness is caused by a vengeful God! You know nothing about him, and you obvi- ously know nothing about God. He was born blind. What kind of a God would do that to a baby? Why would you tell Jordan that he is a walking sign of sin?”

She put her hands on the table and leaned closer to the stranger. “You don’t know anything about his faith or spiri- tuality. You know nothing about his journey. You don’t know what a kind and honest man he is, or how smart or how good a father he is.”

She takes a deep breath because she feels like she is chok- ing.

“You saw a white cane and you figured you had permission to say whatever you wanted. Because he’s blind. You’re not being kind, you’re getting off at making a public spec- tacle of him. So, I suggest, that before you worry about the splinter in my husband’s eye, you take the frickin’ log out of your own.”

She wants to spit in this man’s face, but she knows that she can’t do that. Her anger is beyond expression. She tells herself that she is angry on Jordan’s behalf. She is angry because someone she loves has been humiliated.

The stranger has backed away from her as far as he can get

in his chair. He probably really didn’t mean any harm. He is probably not a cruel man. Kayla doesn’t care. The stranger looks utterly bewildered and confused. She realizes that people at other tables are looking at her. She walks with as much dignity as she can muster back to Jordan.

Her hands are shaking so much she can barely drink her coffee.

“Did that help?” Jordan asks her.

Kayla bites her lip. “No.”

Her heart is pounding. No, she will not give the stranger that excuse. Anger burns away fear, and in this moment, right now, she is free.

In the future, Kayla will look back on this day and a part of her will wish that this particular story ended there. That Jor- dan praised her bravery and she felt good because she stood up to the stranger. However, life doesn’t generally work that way. Seemingly unimportant events can be the catalyst, the beginning of a difficult journey. Going for coffee that morn- ing was one such event.

The silence in the car was awkward.

After several tense moments Jordan says, “I guess I’m sup- posed to be grateful to you.”

Kayla swallows. “Why’s that?”

“You stood up for me, gave that guy hell.”

Kayla doesn’t know where this is going. “I don’t understand what you are saying.”

“I could have stood up for myself.”

Kayla scoffs. “How were you going to do that? You couldn’t even understand what he was talking about.”

“I could have asked him. I could have gone up and talked to him.”

“Then why didn’t you?”

“Because I wasn’t the one who was feeling humiliated and hurt.”

Kayla stares at Jordan in surprise. “What do you mean by that?”

Jordan points to the road. “You’re going to rear-end that car.” Kayla sees the back end of the white SUV filling up the windshield and slams on the brakes. The anti-lock brakes kick in and they barely avoid a collision.

Kayla’s hands grasp the steering wheel, her knuckles are white.

Jordan is still looking ahead through the windshield, his voice is flat without emotion.

“Does it embarrass you?” he says.

“Does what embarrass me?” Kayla asks. She doesn’t like to talk about it. “Don’t be silly,” she says.

“It’s okay Kayla, I mean I know it’s one thing to say to yourself, My husband is blind and deaf, and tell people about it. People are always interested in it. But that doesn’t cover the living with it. You know, the times when I’m five steps behind in a conversation and say a joke at the wrong time and you cover for me, or when I knock down displays at the store because they’re in the middle of the aisle and I didn’t see them. Does it bother you to lead me around by the hand? I want to know?”

“Why do we have to talk about this now?” she asks.

“Because, this guy today, was ignorant. He didn’t bother me, but he really upset you. The whole point of this morn- ing was to enjoy ourselves. To get us out of the house to- gether and have fun.”

She snorts. “Fun is overrated.”

The light has turned green again. She concentrates on the road. She hopes he will change the subject.

“I mean, it’s not that you weren’t right,” Jordan continues. “I think he was rude. But you didn’t ask me how I felt. If

it had really bothered me, I would have walked over and

talked to him. I can do that you know. But you’re always

explaining me. Always giving excuses for me. It’s like I’m

a tornado and you’re the clean-up crew.”

“I’m just doing my job.” Kayla says.

“But I didn’t marry you for you to take care of me. I mar- ried you because I love you.”

“So what am I supposed to do, stand back and just let you go? Let people be mean to you?”

“Maybe, yes.”

“I don’t understand,” Kayla says. “I don’t understand how you can be mad at me for defending you.”

She wishes that they would stop talking and just go into the house and everything would be normal and she could forget about this morning.

“Listen Kayla honey. I was like this before we got married. I know how to be blind. You can’t protect me from it.”

“I’m not protecting you from anything,” she says. “I’m just doing my job and taking care of my family. You know lots of people would be proud of what I did there.”

Kayla carefully pulls into their driveway. She shuts off the engine and pulls the keys out of the ignition. Jordan reaches over and grasps her hand gently. She wishes he would let go. She wishes that they would stop talking and just go into the house and everything would be normal and she could forget about this morning. She leaves her hand where it is.

She looks up. His green eyes are focused on her face so hard. He wants to make sure that he doesn’t miss a word of what she says.

“Just doing your job?” Jordan says quietly. “Is that true?”

Kayla looks down at her hand grasped loosely by his. Her hand is clenched around the car keys. The metal is digging into her hand and she realizes that it hurts. She realizes that she didn’t notice the pain until now. She is tired. The after effects of her earlier anger. Her head is pounding and she feels nauseous. It’s like a hangover and all she wants to do is go into the house and sleep.

She sighs, “It’s my job to take care of you and the kids. What else am I here for? Do we really have to talk about this now? The kids are waiting inside.”

“Kayla, I’d like to think we’re more than a job. I know you’ve been having trouble ever since Henry was born. I’ve watched you go deeper and deeper into yourself. It’s been so long since I’ve seen you smile, or laugh. I miss that about you, I miss that about us.”

“What do you want me to say to that? Okay, Jordan, I’ll try and perk it up a bit?”

His eyes are full of fear. A part of her notices it, but mostly she is too tired to care.

“Because it’s like this,” she continues, “I don’t know what I’m supposed to be anymore. I feel like most of the time I just run around taking care of everyone and no one notices. You all act like that’s all I’m here for. Every day is just the same, I get up, I clean the house, I run errands. The house gets messy, and there’s always more errands to do. It never ends. It never changes. It’s all I can do to get through the day. Then you come home and we don’t talk about any- thing. I get your supper and I go to bed because I’m just so tired.”

She looks down at their clasped hands.

“Why now?” she asks. “Why wait till now to ask me?”

“I guess I hoped it would get better on its own. I’m afraid you don’t love me anymore.”

The sight of Jordan crying undoes her. He never cries. The words pass through her lips before she can bite them back.

“Everything is so dark,” she says.

She tightens her grip on his hand because she is spiraling down to a dark silent place and she doesn’t know how to stop.

She clutches Jordan’s hand and begins to sob. “Oh fuck Jor- dan, I feel like I’m going blind.”

He pulls her into his arms awkwardly because of the con- sole in between them. Nevertheless he holds her tight. His hands tremble as he strokes her hair.

“We can find our way together Kayla, I know we can.” Jor- dan says.

Kayla desperately hopes he is right.

deNise FletCher

seCrets of the stars

The stars hold secrets to the universe all varied in their galaxies, the ever-expanding space changes daily, even instantaneously as supernovas explode and black holes suck in gases from nearby stars.

Rebirth is a natural occurrence in the evening sky as new stars form like seeds of the Acacia trees.

deNise FletCher

Campfire

The flame glows at moonlight Embers float into the night Elders gather ’round the fire Small children join the choir

deNise FletCher

POETRY

fall CyCle

A motley crew

of trees grew a

Fine hue of red- orange that fed earth the dead leaves to recreate its birth.

PERSONAL ESSAY

Sixty-three Years is Not a Weekend

Shirley Adelman

C arrying a book bag, purse, and cane, I pulled myself up to the high step of a cross-town bus and aimed for the nearest vacant seat as the bus lurched for-

ward.

“I was in such a hurry, I forgot my walking stick,” said the woman seated next to me. “You see my hand?” she contin- ued, opening her palm to reveal a large, reddened area. “I can’t remember anything. I was supposed to see the doctor two hours ago, so I was rushing and forgot my walking stick. That’s why I fell: I forgot my walking stick.”

With a sideward turn of my head, I looked at the woman and was surprised by what I saw. Shiny, white hair, stylishly cut, framed a pleasant face, carefully made-up.

“I’m eighty-six,” she told me.

I had been thinking that she looked great for a woman in her mid-seventies.

“Oh, you look very good.” I told her.

“You don’t know what I look like inside,” she said. “I was married sixty-three years, sixty-three years, and then my husband died.”

“Do you have children?” I asked.

“They live far away, very far away,” she replied and then continued worrying aloud. “Who knows if he’ll see me, I’m so late, two hours, and I’m still not there.”

“Where are you going?” I asked.

“Jefferson Hospital, my doctor is at Jefferson Hospital in Philadelphia,” she answered.

As I finished saying “Try not to worry. Soon we’ll be at 11th Street,” the bus stopped in a maze of traffic at Broad and Market.

“I have a detour here,” the driver called out. “I’m going to Race Street, and I don’t know where I’ll be able to turn,” he announced.

“What about 11th, have you heard if 11th Street is clear?” I asked.

“Don’t know. Look at this mess,” he said, pointing out his window to a bottleneck of cars, fire engines, and trucks. “If you want to know where you’ll end up, get off here.”

Meanwhile, the woman beside me was saying, “I’ve lost my mind since my husband died. I don’t know where I am. Six- ty-three years I was with him. The doctor gave me medicine to help me remember, and it made me worse. That’s why I’m going to see my doctor now. I can’t remember. Sixty- three years. Now I’m alone.”

A chill passed through me.

Turning to me, she asked, “Where am I?”

“Oh, there’s so much traffic, nothing is recognizable,” I re- plied. “We can get off here and walk to Jefferson Hospital. I’ll take you to your doctor’s office if you like.”

“It’s a good thing. I don’t know where I am,” she said.

As we stepped off the bus, I noticed she was carrying a small, open basket, the sort that is filled with coconut and chocolate eggs for a child’s Easter gift. In the center of the basket, a bright yellow chain with a single key rested on a round, paisley pillow.

“Thank you, thank you,” she said. “I’m so lost. I could never find the hospital from here.”

As she continued the refrain, “I’m lost, I’m lost,” we inched our way through the crowds on Market Street. I feared, at the very least, the little open basket she carried so lightly on her arm would be snatched away.

“It isn’t a good idea to announce that you’re lost in the mid- dle of a crowd. Some people might take advantage of you. And you’re not lost because I am taking you to the hospital. We’re walking together toward Walnut Street,” I said.

“Everything looks different since my husband died. I don’t recognize where I am.”

“Where do your children live?” I asked.

“My son is in Bryn Mawr with his wife and family. It’s far. I don’t drive, but if I go to him on Sunday, he takes me home. They’re busy. He works. His wife works. I was mar- ried for sixty-three years. My husband was my best friend. We were a team: we did everything together. I’m mad at God. He took him and left me. I don’t eat. I can’t eat alone.

I don’t sleep. I can’t sleep alone. I pay a man in my building ten dollars to take me to the cemetery. I go almost every day

to talk to my husband. Where am I? I don’t recognize any-

thing. The rabbi never came to see me. I gave him a check for three hundred and fifty dollars. That’s what someone told me I had to pay him for saying a few words, and I paid him, gave him a check. Never once did he call to ask ‘How

are you? Do you need help?’ Nothing. My son is in Who’s Who. He’s a famous professor. I’m not dumb. I helped out when times were tough. I took a job as a file clerk and worked myself up to office manager. That’s how I have a pension. My husband said I was his ‘honey doll.’ That’s how he talked to me.”

“You’ve done so much. It’s wonderful,” I told her.

“So, what’s your name?” she asked me.

“Shirley.”

“And I’m Sarah Hershey, just like the candy. Do you live in the city?” she asked.

“No, but I work in the city,” I replied.

“Good, because I want to have you for lunch. I have a nice apartment. I’ll make you a delicious lunch. You’ll eat at the table with me. Sixty-three years I was married, sixty-three years. People tell me, ‘You’ll get over it.’ What do they think? Sixty-three years is not a weekend.”

The sidewalks on 11th Street were dense with people rush- ing. I tripped over my cane. A couple of men, who must have been walking with their eyes closed, following their noses to the nearest eatery, walked into me.

“Watch you don’t hurt yourself,” Sarah cautioned.

As we neared the hospital complex at 11th and Walnut Streets, Sarah cried out.

“Now I know where I am. But I never could have found my way by myself. Maybe,” she said, “God is helping me because I did some good things in my life. He knows I couldn’t find my way by myself. This is the building. I know this is where I see my doctor.” She pointed across 11th Street to a low, stone structure.

We entered the building and found there were no offices, nor were there doctors’ offices in the next building Sarah excitedly recognized.

What are the subtleties we encode, I wondered, to distin- guish one gray façade from another and where do these

memories go? All this falling away of oneself that is ongo- ing: vanishing hair, flaking skin, teeth that turn from white to yellow if they don’t give way on a crusty roll, and we think we can patch it up and walk into the grave whole. God Almighty, I thought, everything has sped up but our falling away hasn’t slowed down. The news is not good for those who pause before remembering.

“This looks like a building that might have doctors’ offices,” I said, although entirely unable to see what distinguished it from the others we had tried. It did not, but a helpful man at the Information Desk looked up the doctor’s office address and provided an escort who held traffic while we crossed 11th Street. Lucky thing, I thought, the hospital information person hasn’t gone the way of directory assistance or we could have ended up in a deli.

“I told you. I knew this was it. I could tell from the out- side,” Sarah announced as we entered the building.

Up the elevator to the fifth floor we went. First left and then straight ahead to the doctor’s office. This time I followed Sarah.

“I’m so sorry I’m late,” Sarah said apologetically.

“Late?” the secretary responded, “Your appointment is in four weeks.”

“No, I got a call this morning, reminding me about my ap- pointment today.”

The secretary look down at the day’s schedule and said, “Your appointment was over two hours ago.”

“Mrs. Hershey has to see the doctor today. She must.” I insisted.

“We’ll get a nurse,” was the reply.

“No, no,” I insisted. Just then I spotted a doctor. How great, I thought, that they wear their title on their chests.

“Excuse me doctor, there is a patient you have to see,” I said.

“Oh, my doctor!” Sarah cried and threw her arms around him. Almost singing the words, “I have a cake for you,” she presented him with the basket she had been carrying. “It’s my best coffee cake. You should enjoy it,” she told him.

“This wonderful woman needs an escort home,” I told Sar- ah’s doctor. “Please,” I continued, “she cannot leave alone, and bereavement support would be a good idea.”

“We’ve tried that,” the doctor answered.

“Find someone who understands that sixty-three years is not a weekend,” I replied.

“Thank you,” he said.

“You won’t forget to call me?” Sarah reminded me.

“Forget to call you? Never. I want a taste of your ‘best cof- fee cake’ too.”

dONNa tOlley COrriher

Whatever shoulD not Be forgotten

She did try hacking off her hair. That didn’t work, So she went for flesh and they called in the professionals. “People have miscarriages all the time, And it’s just meant to be. You didn’t do anything wrong, Your body’s fine, You can have another.”

Such a big bandage for two little cuts.

He, Told his supervisor to go to hell, Didn’t get fired, Had his pay docked, Came home, And bitched to her. (His therapy only cost a hundred bucks.)

The cost of this—

POETRY

Two neat little slices about an inch and a half long, (Only the second seared at the edges of the pain). Someone is still talking. (One can’t listen and think at the same time.)

“I’m just really very tired right now, Will ya’ll please just shut up!” Sad smiles with deep, heavy sighs, And the door whispers shut.

It had almost worked;

He comes back,

A bubbling of defiance at the first snip.

To look at her and think how little she looks,

But other mirrors brought words:

And smile at the hair.

Cute.

He wants to hold her hand,

Waiflike.

But sits down instead,

Elfin.

And closes his eyes.

Pixieish.

She sees him asleep in the chair.

The sorrow of her eyes. What did they look like after the arm thing? She’d fainted right after feeling nauseous. Remembered thinking, “They’ll think I’m trying to kill myself.” Sighing in futility, Saying words the doctors wanted to hear. Maybe some other woman would help them get it.

His mouth is closed, He doesn’t snore, That scowl between his eyebrows. The sob releases and he is looking at her. He does try to pretend that he loves her. She remembers.

CREATIVE NONFICTION

The Collective

Aaron Lefebvre

I f you’ve seen any of Miranda July’s performances, then you know you can expect a few things: love, sex,

awkward situations, and often, art that explores who people really are—unique and sometimes a little scary. What July is really showing us is a mirror. Beyond the self all others are different, yet we are equally as strange, mysterious, or terrifying, to them. Some of us see the reflections in mirrors such as July’s better than others, and seeing does not always mean sight, but rather, insight.

An increase of insight is something I’ve gained as I lost my physical sight. But this does not help one move about the physical world, or engage in it as those with normal sight may. At events like Miranda July’s, I tend to sit toward the front so I’m close enough to see something. I have low vision, and spec- tator events are tricky at times. Movie theaters, ball games, concerts, and so forth, present challenges to those like me who live on the edge of seeing and not seeing. We see half of what most see, and we’re always finding ways to improve our chances of seeing more completely. I must always seek out a seat that allows me to enjoy what I’m trying to see. However, this event was a popular one, and most of the seats were filled by the time I arrived. I sat near the back, and I resolved to use my ears as my primary source of information retrieval.

During the program, there was one instance when seeing was absolutely necessary. In conjunction with Ms. July’s performances, she sometimes has the audience interact with her and with each other. For this performance, words were displayed on the projector screen on stage beside her.

“I’d like all the men out there to read what they see on the screen,” instructed July.

A collective male voice swelled in

the auditorium. Men’s voices rose all around me. Distinguishing the words was a feat unfit for even a god. Miranda July proved that large groups of men— even those involved with the arts, who are perhaps a little more sensitive and even more effeminate—when speaking

together unrehearsed as a single unit, always fail.

“Now I want the women to read what comes on the projector screen,” July said.

“We are all reading aloud, perfectly

in unison, naturally, as if it could not

be any other way,” the women of the audience said together, clearly and resolutely.

How many deep, screechy, or whiny, male voices had scattered their tones among the acoustic abyss of the audito- rium that evening? Perhaps all but my own, though I like to believe there was at least one other guy or gal removed from the performance.

My voice did not register in the col- lective, and if it had, would the others have coalesced more uniformly? Would hearing myself say the words have made the collective voice feel more successful? Did anyone notice that I did not speak along with the others? Would anyone have noticed if I had? I had no clue what had been said by the men, though I could infer from what the women said, and from the men’s ill-fated attempt, that it had something to do with speaking together. As for the women’s performance, I’ve often thought this is what the voice of God might sound like, every voice that has ever spoken or will speak, speaking at once. It was eerie to say the least.

Because the words being read by the audience were so distant, and because there would be no hope of my see- ing them without aid, I was made an observer near the back. This seems to be my lot in life. Ironically, while I do not see well enough, and must remove myself from many normal social inter- actions as a result, I become one who

watches, records, and is left to consider things under a different gaze. With each encounter where I am removed from the whole, my insight grows.

*

*

*

On their rental bikes, my friends, darted in and out of Chiang Mai, Thailand, traffic. Bike riding, especially in un- familiar and busy urban traffic, is an activity that would leave a rider with poor depth perception in dire peril. I watched them on their bikes from the safer confines of a van, driven by one of the staff from the bike-tour office.

I had expected the ride in the van to be quiet and a bit uncomfortable. Here I was riding along with a man I didn’t know, from a different culture and so- ciety. He was accommodating, and I’d discovered that most people in Thai- land, especially those who work in the vast tourism industry, speak English very well.

“There are bottles of water in that cool- er,” Dum, the driver, mentioned.

“Thanks,” I said.

As he drove, he gestured to a long con- crete wall to our left, my biking friends whizzing along beside it, concentrating on bike operation and possibly wonder- ing what the next monument would be and what they might learn about it. Or maybe they were just hoping they wouldn’t be sideswiped and killed by cars and trucks.

“That is the prison,” Dum said. “Most people are there for drug crimes.”

“Drug crimes?”

“In Chaing Mai, we have a metham- phetamine problem. Last week, the

police caught a group of criminals with

a store of drugs worth ten million U.S. dollars.”

Intuition told me that the bike-tour guide wouldn’t normally be pointing out the city prison, or admitting to a group of U.S. tourists that Chiang Mai had a drug problem.

“Do you want to go to the last stop or head back to the office?” Dum asked me.

Since I’d only really been impressed by the 900-year-old temple we’d stopped at, I said we could head back to the of- fice, no problem.

My friends and their guide biked to the last stop without us tailing them.

The office was really a house with

a nice veranda wrapping around the

front. Dum had me sit in a wicker lounge chair and he brought me another bottle of water and a bowl of bananas, along with the leftover jackfruit from the lunch we’d had at a temple during the tour.

“You see that tree?” he said, pointing along the property to a tree behind him laden with green clumps of some fruit unknown to me. “Young jackfruit,” he said. “At the night markets sometimes you can get a stew made with pork and young jackfruit.” He seemed very fond of the stew, and believed it would be something I would like equally well.

The name of the stew has escaped me, and I was unable to find it during the trip, but there were a few items that didn’t escape me. Some of which came from Dum’s discussion with me about his real, contemporary culture. He told me about his five-year-old daughter

who was learning to kickbox—“She likes the sport, but she cries during

practice sometimes,” he said proudly, beaming—and how chilly weather (40 degrees Fahrenheit) was too cold for him—and how he was too unfit to be

a tour guide because he liked food too

much. He patted his paunch, and I told him I was in the same boat and patted my paunch in return.

My tour mates had learned facts

about ancient Thailand, facts that one wouldn’t necessarily need to go on

a bike tour to learn in this age of in-

formation. While they were on their journey through Chiang Mai, seeing the sights that so many tourists before them had come to see, I sat on the Veranda with Dum exchanging facets of our worlds, learning more about life than views of temples and monuments could hope to instill.

I waited for the rest of the group to re-

turn as I enjoyed a cool bottle of water and relaxed in the balmy shade of the veranda with Dum.

When my friends came back, they were sweaty, breathing laboriously, and I could tell that they were in an entirely different state of mind than I was. I didn’t know any of what they had learned, but somehow I knew that what

I had learned from a simple conversa-

tion with a typical Thai man was more inspiring.

*

*

*

Musical performances have always baffled me. Music is auditory art, not visual art. When we go to see a musical artist perform, it should be to hear the music they make. At least this is how I’ve always felt. There’s a great thrill in seeing the musician or artist play in the flesh, producing this music for us to en- joy in the here and now. Occasionally, maybe more than occasionally, people

go to see a musical artist or band be- cause they simply want to experience the aura of that musician’s presence. The music may not even be that good, but their performance and demeanor on stage are so thrilling that it’s just as good a treat as hearing their music.

There was a time when this was true

for me. I’d go see a musical act just for the experience of seeing the musician.

I didn’t go then as I would now. These

days I really want to hear music in real- ity, as it actually breathes without all the digital ghosts of studio engineered sound found on a CD or in an MP3 file.

Now, if I’m going to a musical event, it had better be amazing because the mu- sic is amazing, not because the perfor- mance is amazing. This is because see- ing the performance is really no longer fun for me. But music is really fun for me. Being disconnected visually really allows one—and maybe you’ve expe- rienced this in the car with the radio up loud, or with headphones on and your eyes closed—to feel the music and feel connected to the musician through the airwaves they produce. I came to un- derstand this phenomenon several years ago when I went to see a solo acoustic guitarist perform.

Andy McKee, the guitarist, who has garnered some fame from a viral You- Tube video was playing at the Thunder- bird Café in Pittsburgh. I went because I’m a fan of his work, and I write com- positions in the same musical vein he does; he’s a great influence, musically and artistically.

I was far from the stage, leaving him

obscured from my vision, but not obscured from my ears. I could hear every detail of the bronze strings of his guitars as they reverberated and filled the space of the room with sound. I

understood then that I didn’t need to see him. I actually enjoyed the music more without being able to see what his hands were doing. I could feel the mu- sic. There were fewer distractions that way. Still, there were distractions.

A few guys to my right were talking

during one of his songs.

These days I really want to hear music in reality, as it actually breathes without all the digital ghosts of studio engineered sound found on a CD or in an MP3 file.

way. We all want different things and we all enjoy things differently, but that doesn’t make one experience more sig- nificant than another. It’s what we make of it that matters, and mostly, it matters to us alone. Collectively, we’re rarely in harmony about things. Even if we all agree something is badass, we might think it is for widely varying reasons. If we weren’t that way, the world would be a very boring, automaton-ridden place.

*

*

*

We’re not always separated from those around us by things we can’t control. There have been moments when I found myself walking alone, making observations of my own accord. People sometimes mistake this for me being affected negatively by what surrounds me. Granted, I might look troubled, or—as I imagine my appearance—pen- sive.

“I wish he’d play that song from You-

Tube over and over. It’s so awesome what he does with his hands. Looks badass,” the one guy said.

“Yeah that whole video is badass,” the other guy said back.

I wanted to chime in and say, “No, what’s badass is the music he makes with those techniques. Who cares what it looks like? It’s the sound that he makes that’s badass, that’s what’s important!” And I could have gone on and on.

But I didn’t. No one wants to hear a guitar nerd argue about why guitar music is so awesome unless they them- selves are guitar nerds. Besides, every- one who came to that show had differ- ent expectations, different hopes of how the night might unfold. That’s okay. It’s okay because we’re all different any-

In a small town along the Chao Phraya River, which runs through Bangkok in Thailand, the conditions to most would appear poverty-stricken, or nearly Third World. With my friends, our tour guide led us through the community where houses sat upon stilts and lush greenery surrounded us and exploded wherever there wasn’t a path or road or stream running to the river. One thing the guide mentioned was that people tend- ed to place their wealth in their spirit houses (small shrines on residents’ properties), most of which were ornate and intricately laced with shiny gems, assumedly fake.

Eventually, the guide took us to a pot- tery studio where a resident demon- strated how he spun bowls and other artifacts, most of which were functional in design and likely not intended for

decoration. There was a store next to the studio and kiln, which had loads of crafted wares. Many of the people in the group bought items ranging from teapots to cups to incense burners.

While they looked around the shop, I took the opportunity to step out and walk about on my own and see what

I could. I found myself standing on a

small footbridge that spanned over a

busy little stream. If I’d had the time, or felt welcome to it by the community,

I would have walked along the heavily

vegetated stream to see where it went and what might sit alongside it, if any- thing.

“It’s kind of sad, isn’t it?” someone from the group asked me while I looked on.

“I wouldn’t say that,” I said, wondering if she had misunderstood my solitary gazing session. “This just all feels familiar to me somehow. I had some close family friends who lived on Pa- cific islands for a time, probably not too far from Thailand. One was a potter and a lot of this reminds me of their home.”

We turned to head back to the group

and stopped to continue speaking under

a canopy that held with some sort of bar set up.

“I’d like to live somewhere like this for a time. It seems simpler somehow. Maybe harder living, but somehow peaceful.”

She nodded her head, but I don’t really think she understood.

I feel that way sometimes, like some

people don’t really understand your actions and the things you say. Some- times, society might not have a place in your personal forays into the world around you. When you find yourself se- cluded in social situations, or for some reason there’s something inhibiting your participation in a group, there’s really no need to feel left out. You’ve been given the opportunity to make it your own personal adventure.

*

*

*

I stood on stage and blue and white

lights obscured the audience beyond. It was as if I was playing guitar to no one, but behind those lights, in the darkness, was everyone. Being a solo performer can be a lonely occupation. It’s very different being on stage alone with all eyes upon you, than it is being in a group or a band where you are a part of another unit.

When you’re in a band, you’re connect- ed to it by music, and it doesn’t matter what happens on stage because you’re all in it together. If there’s a moment between songs when anecdotes, opin- ions, or jokes must be told, anyone with

a microphone on stage may participate.

As a solo performer, it’s entirely up to you to take care of the audience and

make sure they’re enjoying the time they’ve invested in watching you.

The most important thing to remember when you go on stage is that the audi- ence wants you to succeed. And if you don’t, that’s okay. Chances are no one is going to get upset about a song going to pieces as long as you recover and keep going. They’ll also forget your stupid jokes quickly.

It’s a strange feeling at times, volun- tarily removing myself from the crowd and putting myself in the limelight to do something I rehearse utterly alone, something that I love, for everyone else to enjoy. The tables turn on me here, I’m no longer a part of the collective, but I am now its head. I am no longer the observer. It observes me, and I am now the one who asks it to come along and make what it will from what I give it.

I play a song on guitar for what is vis- ible, what is visible to anyone who might find themselves in my position, regardless of whether or not they have good, poor, or no vision. I also play for what I know is there beyond sight, I play to what I’m a part of, to a mirror made of people, all so different yet re- vealing at its surface what I often feel is so distant: me.

POETRY

CatheriNe strisik

he

does not stop looking at my face, and even before, he did not. The way he looks as if his eyes stroke my cheek, lips, the curve of the bowl on the kitchen table, as if this is how he wants to remember me.

CatheriNe strisik

the Wife

Father’s Day. The grill is hot. The coals are red. A stranger appears− Says hello at the gate. In the physical form as husband. Come home. For a minute. So. The wife sits on his lap, an unusual gesture for her in front of others. She is trying to find him again. Her fingers in his hair. She is the mother of his last child. She is the gardener, and from the garlic she planted last October, the scapes curl up and around themselves. She has her needs. He has his. Now the breeze with its hint of sagebrush, its mid-afternoon palette of wanderlust. Laughter from the others who do not know how to drink and drink and watch and laugh at the same time. They need to be blind to the stranger and the wife. The most beautiful animal of the day is the chestnut mare that gallops in the neighbor’s field.

CatheriNe strisik

Dopamine agonist: parkinsons in Chunk form

When did the whispering begin, in which hour did the mistress entertain her lips embracing the microphone would be so seductive and odd to the listener who cannot remove his eyes from her breath, those magenta and swollen lips. The listener, damp with abundant dopamine, rearranges his shirt for the invitation, does not think of a cool rock to lay his cheek upon. The mistress gleams with sweat, wipes her neck. In the lapse between public words, the private matters; I love you whispered into the canals of the listener’s body. How every sound hints. How each undraped phrase bargains; the listener shudders, lured by her curve. Now, the whispers say, seduction, and she cannot let go her whisper. The listener. All. All. Sheer affliction.

These three poems are taken from the author’s poetry collection, The Mistress, published by Taos Press, 2016. Reprinted by permission of the author.

tOby MaCNutt

BoDily humours

i. forest

v. honey

I

stand and become the forest,

bones

creaking

like bees, buzzing

in the wind invisible.

a drone, a hum

I find my direction

from my own shadow.

ii.

thread

shoulders bound to hips

in fine lace spider webs,

dwindling

hexed skeleton, honeycombed armature of hive.

vi. blood

capillaries branch into fractal infinitude

one by one they fray,

thought flows through my body like blood,

innumerable

inaudible

perfusive,

tiny snaps.

 

red warmth

iii. air

an eye in every atom.

swing on my trapezius and slide down my spine.

iv. water

freedom

underwater

bulky body becomes

a sine curve

modulates thoughts

all waves flow.

POETRY

Maura gage Cavell

rivers

Scarlet stream, the membrane wreckage of what might have been. She howls as loudly as a werewolf might, steps into the bath to wash away the pain of losing a dream. The water is so hot she sweats lightly as she uses a soft lavender cloth, its thick comfort, to wash. The Tahitian vanilla fragrance, mixes with coconut scents. She pictures blue skies,

hot sand, multi-colored umbrellas. As she opens the pink fizz ball, bath salts the size of her fist, she smells its sweet pea fragrance, drops it into the bath.

It fizzes, turns the water

into silk. On the shelves in her room, she looks at the Hindu God Ganesha,

its elephant face, four arms, two legs, and she says

a silent prayer to him,

since he can remove obstacles. He is modest, wise, and knowledgeable. Should she try again? What if she loses another one? His lotus flowers seem to live. His trunk is a curlicue, his headdress gold and pink. His sweet foods wait near his feet. “With your two legs and four hands, please bless me.” On another shelf she finds masquerade

masks of brown, orange, burgundy, and gold.

One has musical notes on it; one has New Orleans scenes.

A cherry candle burns

and through the window comes the scent

of a fresh spring rain.

Her daughter’s painted wooden fish sits near the mask and is green, blue, red, and yellow painted and has antennae. Beside it is a Snoopy with a heart

that glows. She dreams of the rivers and lakes she used to play in, canoe through the strange insects on the banks—beetles

of orange and brown stripes,

armor undersides. A rusty

railroad spike, like a weapon,

is by her son’s bed as she

towels off, walks around

the upstairs while no one is home. He has a toy warrior assassin beside his pillow—a plastic model from a game. It has swords up its sleeve, on its back,

at its side. She puts toner

on a cotton ball, wipes her face with its soft fibers. Her husband’s panther statue stealthily seems to move into the pink Easter grass someone left on his dresser.

It shines in twirls and swirls.

She has calmed herself with what matters— those who are already here—

and relaxes into acceptance

of what was lost.

CREATIVE NONFICTION

How to Cry

Kirie Pedersen

1. IT’S BEEN A LOVELY DAY (EVEN IF I DID WANT TO KILL MYSELF)

I find that being in a family is the most excruciating

possible way to be alive. -Anne Enright, The Gathering

Greetings all,

After a pleasant Thanksgiving with Mom and my siblings, where he won all the after-dinner games, my father suf- fered a massive stroke. He’s currently on life support in the county hospital. Mom was also admitted, so they are on the same floor! Mom seems more alert after her own stroke, able to walk and talk again, very sweet. I was able to speak with her on the phone yesterday.

Dad is not expected to live, and Mom is referred to hospice, meaning the final months of her life.

That’s all I know at the moment, receiving hourly reports here in Manhattan, but please send loving thoughts as we all make this transition.

The upbeat, even cheerful tone reveals the depth of my de- nial, up to and including the exclamation point. And here’s the weirdest, and if anyone can explain it by logical means, please let me know. My parents died exactly one year apart. It was as though a hole opened in the universe and sucked them away.

From early childhood, I suffered from depression. At vari- ous times, I believed if I killed myself, I would assume power over pain and death. I tucked suicide into my back pocket, an option and sometimes a threat, to extract as needed. You can’t kill me because I’ll kill myself first.

“Who wanted you dead?” When I finally succumbed to ask- ing for help, that’s what the grief counselor asked.

“Oh, everyone!” I said.

2. IT WAS THIS When your parents die, your molecular structure breaks down and is rearranged. You literally become a different person. -Marco Yglesias

The morning after my father died, I woke with energy and enthusiasm. I loved my first espresso in the bright Manhat- tan morning. I was ready to run out onto Broadway and dance around. Then my mood shifted. Marco, my partner of ten years, was distracted. He had a show coming up. When he is concentrating on his work, he hardly acknowledges me, and this makes me crazy. Or used to. In those years, if anyone ignored me, I felt invisible. I thought I can’t stay one more second in this relationship.

“Are you ready to be a pioneer in the middle of nowhere?” I asked for the third time that morning. When he didn’t re- spond, I accused him of not caring about my feelings. My father was dead, I wanted Marco’s attention, and it wasn’t there.

“I’m tired of your feelings,” he said. He turned in a fierce circle, like a little dance, and he pounded the air with his fists. “Why would I want to live in the middle of nowhere when I can be in Manhattan?”

I didn’t bother to respond. I could not wait until he left the apartment, and then I could not wait until he returned. I felt like a dog following him around, dependent on his at- tention. That day, across the nation in sunny California, a famous writer hung himself, and I totally got it. At least I thought I did. I was more arrogant then. I thought now he’d captured everyone’s attention forever: Here is my pain and here its breadth and height and depth, its weight. This is how grief smells.

3. HOW TO CRY You only become yourself when both your parents are dead. -May Sarton

When Marco and I finally did return to the sea and sky of the Pacific Northwest, my father no longer in it, I was un- prepared for the blow. Nearby, in her hospice, my mother’s body died more slowly. For the year it took her to die, my universe shrank to the length of trails near our cabin, my mother’s bedside, and, when I finally gave up, the bereave- ment support group.

“Want something to take the edge off?” Sarah, my physi- cian’s assistant, turns her face toward me, and for a mo- ment, I’m bathed within her gaze. I exist. “Yeah, a lethal in- jection,” I say. Of course I want something to take the edge off. I think I’m funny, but Sarah turns back to the laptop she usually taps instead of looking at me. Suicidal ideation. I could be in big trouble for letting that slip out.

If I wasn’t going to take medication, Sarah suggested a be- reavement support group. The hospital hosted one, a long distance from my home but close to my mother’s hospice. Crying lessons, I called it. I would learn how to cry. As my mother shriveled, I hunched into a brown metal folding chair and shared secrets with strangers with whom I had nothing in common. Except, of course, death. We had death in common. That thing, that word you weren’t supposed to say any more.

But I didn’t want to listen to other people’s sorrows. I wanted to writhe on the floor, my fellow mourners tossing tissues at me, or at least kicking the tissue box in my direc- tion. (Even handing a tissue to the weeper was suspect, the grief counselor said. As if you were trying to stop his cry- ing.)

I don’t know what I expected, but I was surprised by the

people in the group, men and women and teenagers, all nicely dressed and smart and dignified. If I had rolled around on the floor and sobbed, it would have been per-

fectly fine with them. And very quickly, I gave up my self- absorption. I became interested in their stories and their lives. For one hour every week, I didn’t have to make tidy.

I didn’t have to ignore my father’s passing. I could say my

mother is dying. For one hour, I could rage at the dead or at myself, or I could feel nothing at all. I could even laugh if

I felt so inclined. The counselor liked us to end with some-

thing silly, so we could leave the room more light-spirited.

4. THE SCENIC ROUTE Addiction to family members impacts us on a cellular level, and because of this, escaping is like withdrawing from heroin. -Grief counselor

In Central Park on my last day before returning west, the witch hazel started to bloom. Beside my west coast cot- tage, the witch hazel my mother gave me burst with golden stars. I heard her voice that late winter afternoon in Port Townsend: “Would you like that for your birthday?” And she leaned over and swept the heavy pot onto her hip.

Grief became a screen that separated me from those I loved. Although I craved comfort, I forgot the rules of engage- ment. On some days, I couldn’t even remember how to talk. But worst of all was the exhaustion. My limbs became heavy. I dragged myself from bed to espresso pot to shower, and then onto the forest paths to walk for miles, while still so tired I wanted to lie down among the mosses and sleep. Several times, tended by my golden retriever and collie, I did. At night, if I finally managed to sink into sleep, I jolted back awake, sometimes filled with terror, perhaps that of the child who’s lost her parents and thus becomes prey. Ev- ery night, I asked Marco to hold me. He wrapped himself around me like a warm fragrant blanket, and his touch al- lowed me to relax in what felt like my own final days.

As best I could, I passed Marco’s loving touch to my mother, although I dreaded visiting her and then felt guilty for my dread. The hospice was a lovely arrangement in the home of a couple who grew organic gardens, cooked meals from scratch and allowed my mother and the other guest to eat or not eat as they chose. The only problem was that most of the time, my mother had no idea who I was. As I drove home, I imagined kayaking into the middle of the bay and how it might feel to slide, gently, into the sea. Before my father died, my mother often kayaked alone, her arms

whirling the paddles and her tiny body almost invisible in the shallow seat. “Should you be out there without a life preserver?” I called from my cottage above the bay. She shook her head at me. You really don’t get it, her look said.

On that December morning in Manhattan after my father’s sudden stroke, when I was almost merry, some shock must have exploded inside. By January, I was struck by every cold and flu that swept through the city. Twice Marco rushed me to the emergency room with kidney stones. Then

a tooth abscessed, requiring multiple surgeries, which then

failed. I created a cave in our Washington Heights sublet, hanging double layers of dark curtains and settling into bed with two layers of wax ear plugs and a silk eye patch. I had fallen over some kind of edge, and some internal structure collapsed. I wanted to return to merry. I wanted to take the scenic route, as my mother always called it, and arrive someplace else.

“Is this normal recovery from a bone graft?” I asked the surgeon.

“No,” he said.

After a month in my isolation chamber, I started what be- came the walking cure. I walked through Manhattan for miles, up and down, back and forth along the streets, around the length and width of Central Park. I didn’t listen to music or talk on my phone or look at people or sights. I simply walked.

One night I was walking home alone at night, north on Broadway near Columbia University. As I passed a

brightly-lit cafe, I glanced inside. At that precise moment,

a young woman froze in place, swayed slightly, and then

collapsed to the floor beside the bussing station. I wondered

if I should call for help, but a policeman arrived almost in-

stantly, and then another stood in the street to flag down the ambulance already wailing its way through traffic.

I ran the miles through the dark to our sublet. Once inside, I

tried to greet Marco, but instead I leaned against the wall in the entryway, started crying and could not stop. I could not erase the image of the young woman’s body, replaying the image of her collapse again and again, an endless reel on a horror film.

“I wish that ambulance was for me,” I said when I could

talk. My heart was pounding. I learned later this is called a trigger seeing the young woman faint caused a flashback to

a buried trauma of my own. My first semester at college I

held three jobs and still couldn’t make ends meet. I took on

another job, and there I was assaulted. The following morn- ing, I woke at 4:30 to dish out pancakes and eggs to my disheveled peers, couples leaning in toward each other after having spent the night together by choice. Standing there behind the food cart, I fainted. Someone helped me to my dorm room, and there, for the rest of that day, I pounded my head against the wall.

After that, as depression descended like a dark funnel, I was determined to heal myself. Already strong, I would become stronger. I trained as a healer, ready to fly at a moment’s notice to tend to the hurt. I worked as a rape, assault, and crisis counselor, taking double shifts on the holidays and talking callers down from suicide. I taught in an orphan- age. I took on high-risk foster children. I ran programs for disenfranchised youth and adults. I filled my home with abandoned children, and while I was at it, with dogs and cats otherwise doomed to be killed at the shelter.

Although not instantly cured, or even possessed of insight, it took the passing glimpse of a falling college-age girl in a café for me to begin to unravel, to admit I’d spent my life fleeing rage and pain, thinking I could heal others rather than tend my own wounds.

5. COMFORT MEASURES Social contact constantly rearranges our DNA. -Anna Fels

After doctors said my mother could no longer drive, my parents were locked into a six-mile radius on our isolated rural peninsula. I obtained some forms from their doctor and downloaded others. You need to write your wishes, I told them. My parents sat in their usual places at the table we’d had since I was a kid, their one splurge, as my father called it, covered with multiple layers of plastic so that de- cades later, the polished maple remained immaculate.

My parents leaned over the bright-green forms called Phy- sician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment Paradigm or POLST. They wrote rapidly, and without consulting each other or me. They knew exactly what they wanted and didn’t want. They shoved the green forms down the table toward me as if completing an exam.

“What about after death?” I asked. What did they want then? This was when they glanced at each other and frowned. My mother wanted to donate her body for re- search. If nobody wanted her, burial. Where? They hadn’t thought about it. He didn’t need a grave, my father said. I could scatter his ashes across the bay.

“No,” my mother said. “You’ll be beside me.” When my father shook his head, she raised hers to look him in the eye. “You’ll see,” she said, mock-stern.

I learned our family qualified for a site in the tiny village cemetery, and I contacted the cemetery commission and secured one of the final three sites available. One afternoon, my mother asked me to take her to see it. Just six miles from their cabin, the tiny cemetery overlooks the bay, the mountains rising directly behind. Their plot was beside that of the Native American founder of our village, who along with her non-Indian husband purchased and then donated much of the land that comprises our tiny village today. When I showed my mother the still unmarked plot and ex- plained the details, her face was blank.

“You can have a line of poetry if you want,” I said, “On a stone.” She shook her head. Once again, I wasn’t getting it.

“Daddy,” she said.

That I could understand. She meant the grave was for him. That he would die first. And she was, of course, right.

I’d been frightened of my mother’s physical death, but with the guidance of the hospice nurse, another member of our tiny rural community who’d known my parents for decades, the days of what is called active dying were gentle. My sisters and I had drops of morphine to ease my mother’s discomfort, and at times she seemed happy to hear us sing every song we knew, including those she taught us when we were small. Toward the end, as my sister held our mother in her arms, I read from a book my mother gave me when I was in fifth grade, Words for the Wind. I chose her favorite poem, Roethke’s “Meditations of an Old Woman.” For the thirty minutes or so it took me to read the long poem, she stopped her intense breathing, opened her eyes, and fixed her gaze on mine the way a child does as she’s being read to sleep. At particularly beautiful lines, her eyes widened. I read the final stanza:

What came to me vaguely is now clear, As if released by a spirit, Or agency outside me. Unprayed-for, And final.

She closed her eyes and resumed her exit.

6. WAKE TO SLEEP

I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow. / I feel my fate in what I cannot fear. / I learn by going where I have to go. -Theodore Roethke, “The Waking”

After my mother’s burial, my father’s ashes tucked into her coffin, I felt flattened. Every day, with my collie and golden retriever, I roamed the trails through the forests behind my cabin. These are the trails my parents and I and many friends maintained together. And still, once a week, I met with my fellow mourners. Several of us lost significant amounts of weight, becoming almost skeletal. I could not imagine how I had ever been able to do anything, or that I would ever again function in any kind of normal way.

The counselor said, “All responses are correct and normal.” She added, “don’t rush your grief. Don’t take on anything new if you can help it.”

A few in the group described the actual physical death of

their loved one, but some of us remembered regrets. “She wanted a scarf,” said a widower. He looked down at his hands. “The scarf only cost six dollars, and I wouldn’t let her have it.” One slept in her beloved’s shirt, and another carried her mother’s purse. One could not bear to change the sheets. One tore the clothes from her mother’s closets and drawers and flung them into garbage pails, dragging them to a distant shed. A few days after her fiancé’s sudden

death, an accountant stumbled from the loft of her barn. She clung for long minutes before she was able to pull herself back up. “His spirit pulled me,” she told us. “He wants me

to live.”

We also talked about where to live. Should she move closer

to family, as her sisters were insisting, and abandon the

house she loved? His kids, too, wanted him to shed the

now too-large house. Or so they said. But then he’d have

to pack. Should this woman remain in her mother-in-law’s

house even though the man who linked them was dead?

One widow suffered none of these pangs. She only joined us once, and she spoke with glee of her husband’s death. “My girlfriends and I are headed for Hawaii,” she said.

She didn’t need us, and we were glad. “Take us with you,” we murmured. But we lacked the will to minister such kind- ness or forgiveness to ourselves. In that icy Northwestern winter, our grief seemed frozen into our flesh. We might

yearn for bright sun on sandy beaches, but it wasn’t going

to happen. Not yet. Few of us could even manage hugs.

Despite the intimacy of what we shared, hugging was never the norm. We never exchanged numbers. We returned to our warrens like snails to shells, to reappear the following week. Until we didn’t. When we were done grieving, we simply vanished. Time collapsed and fell forward, moment telescoping out of moment, until in some ways I barely re- member any of them at all but for that stretch of time when we embraced without touching.

The long-range effects of that time are profound. By surren- dering to sadness and allowing my rage to emerge and then dissipate, I was healed in ways I never expected and which, every morning as I awaken with joy, surprise me. I find I am now able to be present for others whose parents or loved

ones die. I don’t try to stop their sadness. I don’t really even say very much. I’m simply patient, as others were with me.

I feel a deep connection to these new grievers, a kind of love that goes below surfaces.

Another change that takes me by utter surprise is that after

a lifetime of significant depression, I am free of that yoke.

My choice of cure for what seemed unendurable was the daily walking, along with what evolved as a daily practice of simple yoga and meditation. Because medication doesn’t work for me as a solution, I had to find the patience and time to what, as I at one point joked, was half my days spent in a kind of silent walking prayer. I also admit I feel a strong presence of my mother when I’m in the forest now, and I talk with her out loud if no one’s around. Perhaps the cure to the malady of depression for me was that walking and stretching and meditation can heal, if one’s willing to take it incredibly slow.

The third and final change has been that my friendships have deepened. I no longer follow Marco around like an abandoned puppy expecting his focus to be only on me. We talk with each other, and we listen to each other. I no longer expect anyone’s focus to be on me, ever. This is a kind of grace, and it characterizes my life today.

A version of this work appeared in the Winter/Spring 2016 edition of Lunch Ticket, published by Antioch University, Los Angeles.

breNda kay ledFOrd

Caregivers muse

The caregiver has no time to play hide-go-seek. My muse cannot hide,

I will find you.

To play hide-go-seek,

exhausted to the core.

I will find my muse,

you are my best friend.

Exhausted to the core,

I must nurture my soul;

you are my best friend, keeping my life anchored.

Light breaks through the clouds, to play hide-go-seek.

I must care for myself,

the caregiver has no time.

WilliaM h. MCCaNN, Jr.

POETRY

Dreamers

Doug could not hear— twin hearing aids turned up full, said as much. I struggled with walking, balance, playing ball And social skills Not to mention an IQ of 62. Joe, Tommy, Steve and I talked of College, career and family. Our teachers and parents Would have laughed.

FEATURED ART

Fragments

Sandy Palmer

FEATURED ART Fragments Sandy Palmer Jim Stevens, Megghan , 2014, monofilament painting, 18” x 24” x

Jim Stevens, Megghan, 2014, monofilament painting, 18” x 24” x 3.5

“My childhood vision was art, but it took a war, a stroke, and two little girls to finally make me see things as clearly as I did when I was a child.”

~Jim Stevens

J im Stevens is a man who defies logic by creating imag-

es in empty space. On strands of monofilament (fishing

line), the artist paints ethereal images that have been

mistaken for holograms and referred to as “captured shad- ows.” Stop and think about that—he paints on fishing line! You can see the image, but with spaces between the strands

and separation between each row you also see through the image. Hundreds of strands hang in eight separate rows within an acrylic encasement. Each strand a thin, essential piece of the whole. Viewed individually, you’d see nothing. Combined, what you see is amazing.

When Stevens was a young boy he was fascinated by his grandmother’s talent, and her art supplies, so one day he decided to sneak into her studio and take a piece of charcoal and some paper. Fearing she might not approve, he went around the side of the house, sat on the ground, and began

Jim Stevens, The Best of Us , 2016, abstract linear acrylic painting, 16” x 20”

Jim Stevens, The Best of Us, 2016, abstract linear acrylic painting, 16” x 20” x 1.5”

to draw. “I don’t recall what I was trying to draw—a dande- lion or some little flower. I was sitting with my back to the side of the house when all of a sudden this shadow comes across the paper. Uh oh! But instead of being mad, I heard a voice say, ‘Well, if you really want to know how to do that, you might as well come in the house and let me teach you.’”

When he was about seven years old, his dad asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up and Stevens said he wanted to be an artist and writer. “My father exploded. He cursed and swore no son of his was going to grow up to be a starving artist in an attic somewhere!” His father’s reprimand left an impression on him, in the form of bruises. Lesson learned.

At seventeen, he joined the Army. By eighteen he made staff sergeant. Only one year later he was shot in the head during a combat mission in Vietnam. It left bullet fragments

in his head and one month after being shot, he began having debilitating migraines. Twenty-three years later, during one of those migraines, blood vessels expanded and caused one of those bullet fragments to shift, blocking blood flow, and resulting in a stroke in his visual cortex. He was left with only pin-dot vision in both eyes. “I lost my eyesight in just thirty minutes. My career, my future, and my self-worth soon followed.”

Life felt miserably dark without sight and anger fueled his days. “I took a crowbar to my motorcycle, destroyed my art, and almost anything else I could get my hands on.” After his divorce, adjusting to life as a blind man while raising two young daughters on his own seemed like a daunting task. He remained stuck in the mire of despair and indigna- tion for a few years. This was a side of their father his girls had never seen. They could remember a time when Dad had a passion for all things, especially art. When Sara was thirteen and Megghan eleven, they began encouraging him

Jim Stevens, Embers , 2015, monofilament painting, 21” x 28” x 3.5 to get back

Jim Stevens, Embers, 2015, monofilament painting, 21” x 28” x 3.5

to get back to the art that he loved so much. Even as young girls, Megghan says they knew “he needed to focus that anger and put it into something constructive. We knew it would be difficult and he might not be able to do some of the things he used to do, but it would at least be an outlet for him.”

Art? Impossible, he thought. He was blind. But the girls persisted until he promised to try.

Megghan already knew what she wanted Dad to do—she wanted a carving of a wizard with a big hat and beard. Ste- vens selected a piece of ancient ivory and began to carve, but unable to fully see what he was working on, one day he became so frustrated he threw it across the room. “How am I supposed to do this?” he snapped. “I can’t see!” Meg- ghan picked it up, brought it back, and set it down in front of him. “Daddy, you promised not to quit.” Abased, he held the ivory in his hands. Using his sense of touch and a huge dose of patience, he began again. With only pin-dot vision he learned to rapidly scan his eyes to help see the subject. It took 900 tedious hours but he persevered and completed the wizard. Megghan, now an adult, still has it.

After learning to carve again, he turned his attention to drawing. “Gradually, over time, I taught myself how to draw, paint, and do scrimshaw again.” Using five differ-

ent lenses, he learned to switch from one to another as he worked, constantly scanning, and maintaining focus. “The more I worked, the better I got and the more people no- ticed, the busier I got. It took four long years of dedicated practice, work, and persistence, but one day I realized I had finally become so busy with my art I forgot to be angry.”

At home one day, Stevens heard his six-year-old grandson calling for help in the back yard. “He had his toy fishing pole and a huge bird nest of tangled monofilament line and I thought, Oh yeah. The blind guy’s gonna help the six-year- old untangle this. But as I was trying to help him the clouds went overhead and the monofilament on my fingers seemed to ripple. I saw that. It was a gorgeous effect and I couldn’t get it out of my head.”

He spent the next five months trying to work with the monofilament in different ways to create art. Many attempts ended up in the trash but through trial and error, he learned with each effort. Eventually he found a way to etch and then paint with acrylic directly on the monofilament. More than one hundred painted strands, strung side by side, create one layer of the image. He paints eight layers of the same image to complete a painting but he shades each layer differently to create depth. Once all of the layers are painted, he trans- fers the strands, one at a time, into a clear acrylic case. Each layer offset slightly. “My monofilament paintings are not

Close up abstract linear painting: Images are painted with irregular lines on a clear acrylic

Close up abstract linear painting: Images are painted with irregular lines on a clear acrylic panel that is then mounted over a black abstract painting on a Komatex panel. The linear image painted in white only becomes visible when layered over the black abstract background.

visible when layered over the black abstract background. Close up monofilament painting: An average of 450

Close up monofilament painting: An average of 450 yards of mono- filament line (roughly 129 strands across, 8 layers deep) is shown here within an acrylic case.

flat visual experiences. They are interactive, engaging both the eye and the mind’s sense of wonder.” On average, it takes two months, working ten hours a day, to complete one monofilament painting. His favorite one to date is the one of Megghan. He says, “It is the first monofilament painting I got right,” and it hangs in his living room.

Needing more and more room to work, the artist eventually converted his two-car garage into a studio. His grandson’s toy fishing pole now hangs there in a place of honor.

In addition to the monofilament paintings, which have earned him multiple awards, he also creates what he calls abstract linear paintings. Because he sees the contrast of black and white best, he starts by creating an abstract paint-

and white best, he starts by creating an abstract paint- Collage image showing part of the

Collage image showing part of the acrylic case for a monofilament painting, strands of one layer on a layout board, side angle of Embers, and photo of the artist using an Optivisor.

ing with black paint on a smooth Komatex panel. Separate- ly, on a clear acrylic panel he paints a realistic image with white lines, leaving the negative space transparent. When both paintings are complete, the acrylic panel with white paint is mounted in front of the abstract painting with black paint and the shading that creates the image is revealed. A finished image appears only when the two elements are combined. Slide a piece of white paper between the paint- ings and both the shading and the image seem to vanish. Realism and abstract art are combined to create one striking image that is actually seen through empty space—one with- out the other and it is incomplete.

Megghan is now her dad’s personal assistant; helping with whatever is needed, including scheduling her father’s time

Jim Stevens, Three Eagles , 2016, abstract linear acrylic painting, 38” x 48” x 1.5”

Jim Stevens, Three Eagles, 2016, abstract linear acrylic painting, 38” x 48” x 1.5”

and working to find new venues for his art. She is grateful to the folks at Veterans Affairs Recreational Therapy for encouraging him to develop his art and for displaying his work just as other venues do in their art exhibits. She says, “It is important to me when someone sees his work that they see it based on its own merit. I don’t want them com- ing to a show to see what a disabled person does. I don’t want that to be the headline. I want the work itself to be the headline. Then, by the way, you learn about the artist and his history and what he’s gone through. It doesn’t define his ability.”

Stevens emanates perfectionism. If he’s going to do it, he’s going to work hard to do it right. If he doesn’t do it right the first time, he’ll keep trying until he gets it right. Not just as an artist, but in life. After losing his eyesight and finally pursuing his art again, his daughters also encouraged him to try martial arts. A blind man pursuing martial arts? Why not?! He earned black belts in two different disciplines

and at 51 he became the oldest man, and only legally blind man, to ever win the men’s fighting competition at Den- ver’s multi-state Shaolin Kenpo Tournament of Champions in 2002. His sensei made sure no one knew he was blind until the competition was over. “I left the tournament with a broken nose, three cracked ribs, a torn rotator cuff, a dis- located knee, and first place trophy as tournament fighting champion.”

He doesn’t practice martial arts anymore but he stays busy with his art and involvement with two nonprofit organiza- tions—A3 and VFW Post 1. Stevens serves as a board member and treasurer for A3: Adapt • Adjust • Achieve, a chapter of the American Council of the Blind. He is proud that they take an active role in assisting people with vision impairments in their homes, the environment where they need to live and adapt, with the assistance of aids and train- ing. He is also the director of the Veterans Arts Council at

Jim Stevens, Wolf , 2014, monofilament painting, 21” x 28” x 3.5 VFW Post 1

Jim Stevens, Wolf, 2014, monofilament painting, 21” x 28” x 3.5

VFW Post 1 in Denver, the first and oldest VFW post in the country, where they don’t have an open bar—they have an art gallery and yoga instead. “We mentor and work with veterans who are also artists or would like to be.” VFW Post 1 is strategically located in the middle of the Arts Dis- trict on Santa Fe in Denver and their gallery showcases art created by veterans and promotes the sale of their work.

His aspirations to become an artist and writer have come to fruition despite his father’s stern admonition. The award- winning artist has received acclaim for his intriguing mono- filament and abstract linear paintings. He has served as the master scrimshaw craftsman for Fenton, a jewelry design studio based in New York, and he has written three compre- hensive books on the art of scrimshaw. It took many years, and the encouragement of “two pesky little girls,” but he achieved his dream. Fragments, slowly pieced together over

a lifetime, have revealed a true artist.

To see more of Jim Stevens’ work visit www.scrimshawstu-

dio.com. Kaleidoscope first learned of the artist by watch- ing a PBS Newshour video online. To see the video and get

a closer glimpse at his intriguing work go to http://to.pbs.

org/2p8oDfG.

at his intriguing work go to http://to.pbs. org/2p8oDfG.  Jim Stevens, Wizard, 2001, ivory carving, 6”

Jim Stevens, Wizard, 2001, ivory carving, 6” tall

FICTION

Roller Coaster

Justin Glanville

B arely anything was moving. Just a few strands of hair, waving in a breeze I couldn’t feel, on the head of the man in front of me. A single drop of sweat

running down my forehead. My eyes blinking, eyeliner run- ning.

We were trapped, Mark and I, at the precipice of the Beastly Beast, a roller coaster higher than any hill in Connecticut. And there were people all around us, letting loose little screams. Somehow that was worst of all: knowing how scared other people were, but not being able to see any of them because it would be too terrifying to turn around. I could hear only the sounds of their fear.

Here’s what I heard from behind: A girl and her friend, probably in the same sorority and on break from college, trying to laugh at first and then falling silent. A father soothing his bawling son—how old could the boy be? He sounded no more than ten, much too young to be here— and the mother even further back, repeating her husband’s name. Just his name, over and over, because there was noth- ing else to say. In front of me, a teenage boy put his arms in the air and bellowed in a show of bravado, but then he, too, grew quiet and still.

Mark was sitting next to me and I put my hand on his leg. However scared I was, I knew he felt worse. He had started having panic attacks two years ago, when he was on an airplane to Des Moines—some business trip, one of a thou- sand he’d taken. But that trip was different. No one knew why—not the shrinks, not Mark himself. He got nervous, and then more nervous, as they sat on the runway. It was the

waiting, he said, that was worst: sitting there, in that small prison of steel and upholstery, waiting to take off. He told me his palms grew so slick he couldn’t pick up the in-flight magazine. His heart pounded against his ribs for the whole flight until they landed, and he took a twenty-two-hour bus ride home. He asked his company to let him stop traveling, and they said no, so he quit.

He’d been different when we first married. His favorite thing to do was take road trips. He’d come home on a Friday night after work and announce we were going to Mystic, or to New York City. And we’d just go. I’d put a bandana on my head—one like I’d worn in college, paisley and faded—and make sandwiches and pack an extra pair of jeans. But it had been years since there had been a Friday like that. Friday nights we went shopping for groceries. Sat- urdays we went to the movies. Routine. Safe.

He was working in a small accounting office now, not far from me. We had lunch together sometimes—forty-five minutes over sandwiches and Coke, then back to the eleva- tors and the whir of artificial heating and cooling. Some- times during those lunches the boredom became almost intolerable. I’d feel a scream rising inside me, silent but shattering. Just chew, I’d tell myself. Chew.

We had come to the park with another couple, Carol and Steve. They had begged us to come. I told Mark I thought it would be good for us. “Remember the road trips?” I had said, and thought I saw him wince. “It’s been so long since we’ve done anything fun.”

“But I’ve always hated amusement parks,” Mark had said. “Even before.”

This was how we both talked about the panic: in sentence fragments. We left out specific words—they were too scary.

“You don’t have to go on any rides,” I’d said. “We’ll just go along and have a little fun.”

Finally, he’d agreed.

But something happened to me when we got to the park. I

remembered being a little girl, and my father taking me to

a similar place where I grew up in Ohio. I remembered my

thin little-girl hair flying in the wind on countless rides—the Tilt-A-Whirl and the Matterhorn. I remembered being fasci- nated by the oily, heaving machinery hidden behind wooden facades.

The four of us started with those rides: the old-fashioned ones. I laughed and screamed so hard my face hurt. I bought cotton candy and shared it with Carol and then—because who cared now?—an elephant ear, sandy with sugar, and ate it all myself. We drank beer, even though Mark wasn’t supposed to on his medication. I thrilled at my regression, giggling and yelling and pointing. I saw Mark glancing at me a few times like he was embarrassed. I didn’t care. I didn’t wipe the grease and sugar from my face and I felt free. When was the last time I’d felt free?

We walked past the Beastly Beast. I’d had my eye on it since we’d arrived. It loomed in the background every-

where we went: the highest coaster in the park, so vertical.

It scared me and drew me to it. After two hours or so, we

walked past the entrance. Laughter, sugar, and beer fizzed in my belly. “Let’s go,” I blurted.

Mark grimaced. “Moll—”

Carol laughed. “You’re a wild woman!”

“Come on!”

“No way. I’d hurl on the people in front of us,” Steve said. He clapped his hands on his belly. “Weak stomach.”

“Too much for me, too,” Carol said. “You two go ahead though. We had to twist your arms to come here and now you’re going for the scariest ride in the park!”

Mark looked at me. I knew he didn’t want to say no in front of our friends. His eyes asked me to let it drop. But I was feeling selfish and reckless. And anyway, this would be good for him. That’s what the shrinks had said: Don’t rein- force his anxiety. Help him confront his fear.

“These things are completely safe,” I said, using my work voice. I’m a mechanical engineer. Quelling people’s con- cerns about technology is practically my job. “Come on, trust me. I work with this kind of stuff all day. They’re not that much more complicated than a ceiling fan.”

“I’m not sure that would make me feel any better—riding a ceiling fan,” Carol said, laughing. I could tell she was trying to keep the mood light. That’s what Carol did.

Mark hesitated. I thought I meant it as a joke, but it came out cold, like a schoolyard taunt. “Come on, Mark,” I said, and I imagine how my eyes must have narrowed and my lip curled. “Don’t be a baby.”

He looked at me with a mix of shock and anger, and a few seconds later we were in line, Carol and Steve waving at us with forced smiles.

As we stood waiting, roasting in the sun, guilt overtook me. What had made me act like that? But I tried to stay upbeat—more for myself than for him. “Thanks for coming with me,” I said. “This will be fun.” He didn’t answer.

Now, stuck in mid-air, that seemed an eternity ago. The sun beat down on my arms and my skin seemed to be growing pinker. “It’ll be over soon,” I managed to croak to Mark. “They’ll fix it.” But I realized how unconvincing I was.

I looked at him, but he was away somewhere, looking

straight ahead, his eyes blank. “Mark,” I said. He said noth- ing.

I remember trying to focus on the safety bar that rested

in our laps. I studied the cushiony fabric that wrapped it, squeezed it with my fingers. I saw each little tear in the fab- ric. I started to count them. I memorized their shapes. And then I looked down at my shorts. The closer in I focused—

the smaller I could make my world—the better. I didn’t want to see what was outside the car. Not any of it. Not the ocean or the sun or the tiny people down below. They would only remind me how much space there was around us—how much terrible, empty space.

I tried reason. I was engineer; I knew coasters had gotten

stuck before, and would get stuck again, and the techni- cians would know what to do. The problem was probably just a matter of replacing a fuse or a wire. Any second they would be climbing up to us, up the ladder I could see to my side, fixing whatever needed to be fixed. Or the ride would start again on its own, and it would all be over. But then I’d catch a corner of sky, or feel Mark’s scary silence, and the panic would grow louder.

The panic, and the guilt. I had forced him to do this. I thought of apologizing, but what would be the point when my offense was ongoing, was becoming exponentially worse the longer we were stuck?

I felt a movement beside me. I was glad at first—he had

come back to life. He wasn’t in the grip of some irreversible psychological melt down. I turned to him, and a sound left my mouth—something like a scream, but thicker. He was wiggling his way out from under the safety bar. He was try- ing to get free.

“Mark!” I yelled. “What are you doing?”

The other riders began to murmur, and then to shout. Mark freed himself from beneath the safety bar and rose from his seat. We were at the very crest of the hill, and fairly level, but he wobbled a little.

“Sit down, man!” one of the faceless people behind us yelled. A chorus of consent from the others: “Sit down!” “Don’t be stupid!” “You’re going to get yourself killed!”

I pulled at his shirt, but he was stronger than me, and deter- mined. He was moving toward the side of the car, and I saw where he was going: to the ladder. He was going to try to climb down.

“No! Honey, no!” Why the pet name now, of all times? It was preposterous that I should be wasting breath on “hon- ey” when I could have managed another “no” instead.

He swung one leg out of the car. His foot found the steel of the track while his hands held the side of the car. I clutched his other leg with both hands, crying now, blubbering non- words. He shook me off. He wouldn’t stop.

“Jesus,” said one of the men behind me. “He’s going to climb down!”

“Stop him!” yelled another, to no one in particular.

I had to follow him. I had to stop him somehow, or if I

couldn’t stop him, I had to go with him. I don’t know why. Maybe I was afraid he would die alone. Or maybe I was glad for the permission to escape—to move, to take control. Maybe anything would have felt better than sitting there, prone.

He had both feet on the tracks now, but he was still holding on to the side of the car, crouched. I remember his face. It was still blank, his jaw clenched, and he was trembling a little with concentration.

Letting go of the side of the car with my hands required a force of will I never knew I had.

I pulled up on the safety bar with all the strength I had, and it budged upwards maybe half an inch. It was enough to

start to work my thighs free. I rocked from side to side until

I got one of my legs out from under the bar. I rested it on the side. The other one was easier.

“Lady, you’re crazy! Don’t do it!”

Mark was on the ladder now. All I could see were his hands and the top of his head. He had made it that far, at least, without falling. I slid to the edge of the car, toward him, and started to climb out. I had to look down to find my footing, and the view was surreal in its extremeness. Everything was so tiny and large, all at once. I tried to keep my focus blurred so I couldn’t see details. I think that helped. I think it saved me: trying not to see.

By the time my legs were out of the car, he was perhaps

five feet down the ladder. Letting go of the side of the car with my hands required a force of will I never knew I had.

I gripped the tracks, kneeling now, and crawled backwards

until my feet reached the first rung. People on the coaster were screaming at me.

“Mark!” I yelled. I didn’t know what to say next. Did I want him to come back up? Or was I only calling his name, want- ing him to know that I was there?

I inched down the first few steps on the ladder. I’d never

been so terrified, but somehow my body kept moving. Something beyond thinking took over. My eyes were like lasers: I didn’t see anything except the metal of the rungs. I

kept repeating “Oh God,” over and over: “Oh God oh God oh God oh God.” I’m not religious. But I needed to say something.

We were on our own now, the two of us. I could see him below me, just his head and his hands. As I negotiated my steps downward an odd sense of almost-peace began to overtake me. It was better out here, on the ladder, without everyone else’s panic crowding around, taking up all the oxygen. And at least I had something to do now other than sit in helpless terror and guilt.

I decided around the fourth or fifth rung that I would be

safer barefoot. I was wearing flip-flops, and they were mak- ing me slip. Keeping them on my feet—the piece of fabric pinching between my toes—only added more work. I shook them off and watched them spiral away, hundreds of feet down. Better. I could grip the rungs with my toes, flesh against steel.

As we descended, the people above were still calling to us, but their voices were growing fainter. Instead I could hear amplified voices from far below. Tinny voices through megaphones. “Attention, patrons on the ladder”—how ri- diculous that they called us that, “patrons” instead of some- thing more urgent and less commercial like “refugees” or “escapees”—“Stay where you are. I repeat: Stay where you are. Help is on the way.”

To stay still seemed the worst of all possible options— worse than continuing downward, worse even than just let- ting go and falling, hoping someone below would catch me. To stay still would mean to stop doing, and the movement of my arms and legs was all I had. We both kept going.

The sun had been beating against the metal rungs all day, and I felt like I was touching an iron. Each step became more painful. My skin seemed to be burning, and I imag- ined deep red lines forming on my palms and the bottoms of my feet where the rungs touched. There was still so far to go—at least halfway. I remember trying to take my mind elsewhere. I thought of a beach in Georgia where Mark and

I had spent a week last winter. But it was useless. All of my mind was “heat” and “ladder” and “height” and “Mark.”

I thought I felt a vibration, a brief movement of the struc-

ture. But it went away, and I decided I had imagined it. But then I felt it again, stronger. Was it the wind? But there was no wind. Just baking, still heat. The people on the mega- phones were telling us to stop.

“Mark?” I called, my voice shaking. “Are you OK? What is

that?”

“It’s going to move,” he said. I could barely hear him. His voice was flat. It was the first time he had spoken since the stall.

There was a screech of metal, and the movement grew stronger. I looked up. Far above, I could see that the coaster had started to move. Inching forward.

“Oh my God, stop it!” I yelled. The coaster was going to descend the first hill. I could hear the passengers above screaming.

In my peripheral vision, the spiderweb of the support beams became blurry with vibration. My palms were slick with sweat and throbbed from the heat. Sweat poured down

To stay still seemed the worst of all possible options—worse than continuing downward, worse even than just letting go and falling, hoping someone below would catch me.

my face. I looked down at Mark, to make sure he was still there. In an instant my glasses slid off my face, hastened by the sweat. They were gone. I screamed. I could barely see beyond the ladder. Just unfocused shapes all around.

I could tell the coaster was beginning to go downhill be- cause the passengers screamed louder and the structure shook more. I was still, paralyzed, knowing I might not be able to keep hold if I tried to take another step. I was crying. Between the sweat and tears, I was drenched. This was ter- ror: the body wringing itself out, trying to become smaller and drier.

When I looked down, I could see the fuzzy shape of Mark below. I thought he was looking up at me, because I could see the pink of skin more than the brown of hair. I yelled his name.

The coaster was flying downhill now, a sound of thunder and screaming, and the shaking became violent. My hands and feet gripped the rungs, but they were slipping. I felt as if I were being shaken from the ladder.

And then I heard it: a choked yell from below. I screamed Mark’s name. I looked down, and I could tell his position

had changed. His shape was larger, extended farther away from the ladder. One of his limbs must have slipped.

“Mark, are you OK? Mark?” I had to scream at the top of my lungs even to hear myself.

No response. The coaster was far away now, and a silence fell.

“Please say something!”

After what felt like an eternity the coaster reached the top and stopped. Seeing it there, motionless, I felt nauseous. What if we returned and it got stuck again?

“OK, now,” the man said.

I didn’t move.

“Go ahead,” he said. “It’s safe now.”

In

retrospect, I think he must have needed all his energy just

“No it’s not!” I blubbered. I thought of defying him, of con- tinuing downward. But he would block me.

to

stay there, to keep holding on. But at the time I was an-

gry. Furious. Why wouldn’t he say anything?

“Mark!” I yelled again.

And then there was a sensation on the ladder that was dif- ferent. A regular tap, tap, tap. I looked down, and made out a shape approaching from below Mark. It was a man. I could hear static and indistinct voices on his walkie-talkie.

I couldn’t see exactly what was happening, but the man

seemed to get behind Mark and give him a boost. Mark’s shape flattened against the ladder. “You’re OK,” the man was saying to Mark. “Just hold on.” I took a breath. It felt like my first since the coaster had moved.

The man’s voice became louder. He was addressing both

of us now. “Listen closely,” he said. “We’re going back up.

There’s another coaster coming. An empty one. We’re going

to take that down.”

“No!” I screamed. I was still crying. “I want to go down!” The idea of going back would feel like giving up.

“Ma’am, just do as I say.”

“But we’re almost down!”

“You’re only about a quarter of the way. It’s safer to climb back up.”

A quarter of the way? How could I have been so mistaken?

I could see movement to my left on the tracks, and the

chunk-chunk-chunk of another coaster making its way up the first hill.

“Hold still until it stops,” the man said.

The shaking was slight—barely noticeable. Nothing like the roar and clatter of the descending coaster.

“Ma’am.”

I got my hand to move first, probably because I could see it.

I could see and feel my palm—was it really mine?—clasp around the burning rung above. I lifted a foot, unsure how far up I needed to move it. My big toe brushed a rung and found a hold. The burning was fresh and almost unbearable.

I switched to the other side. First my hand, then my foot. I

had made it to the next rung. It seemed to have taken min- utes.

“Don’t think about it so much,” the man said. “Just keep going.”

My voice was shaking, outraged. “Don’t tell me what to do!” I said, like a child. I couldn’t even muster a proper adult curse. I thought of Mark. “Mark? Are you OK?”

There was a pause. Then the man spoke. “He’s fine. I’ve got him. Keep going.”

Each rung was a fresh, searing agony. The flesh on my feet and hands must be blistered by now. I prayed for numbness. Below, I could hear and feel Mark’s steps echoing mine, and I felt a rush of tenderness toward him. Something about his quiet persistence seemed so poignant. Not like my blub- bering protests.

We climbed the final few rungs and the coaster sat mo-

tionless before me. It was only about five feet away, but it might as well have been a mile. Reaching the ladder from the coaster with my glasses on had been one thing, but now

I was blind. I would have to negotiate the support beams

and track between me and this new coaster by feel. I could see gaping pockets of sky between each piece of steel.

“Take hold of the first support beam with your hands and put your feet on the top rung,” the man instructed. “Then reach for the track and put your knees on the support beam. That’s the first step.”

My palms were slippery with sweat. Would they hold? A sob shuddered through me. “I can’t do it!” I said.

“You have to.”

He was right. My only other choice was to stay where I was forever, or to let myself fall. If I chose the latter, I’d prob- ably take Mark and the man with me. The man repeated his instructions. It sounded like he was reciting a proto- col—like this was the method used by people who were supposed to be on the ladder. That gave me some comfort. It was enough to make me move my hands to the first sup- port beam, and my feet on the top rung of the ladder. This position was precarious enough to get me to move quickly to the next.

I was on all fours. The position forced me to look down-

ward, through the tracks. I couldn’t make out shapes but I saw movement far below, and vast amounts of space. The entire structure seemed to sway sharply to one side as my brain registered my position. Vertigo. For a moment I saw nothing, just blackness. I wonder now if I passed out for a moment, my body and mind deciding they had had enough. But I wouldn’t give in. There was Mark behind me; I could hear the grunts of his effort. I had to keep going to give him room to move.

I wrenched my neck upward so I could see the coaster.

Somehow I managed to keep hold with my hands and my knees unbent. His voice came into focus. “Slowly! Take it easy!” he said, as if that would do any good now. I stepped one foot into the car, then the other, and collapsed onto the seat. I was shaking.

I watched Mark repeat my motions. He stood. I had slid to the far side of the car so he could sit beside me. Mark seemed to consider the space for a moment. His blank eyes focused, and then looked away. He put his foot in the car in front of me, and lay down on the two seats in a fetal posi- tion.

“Mark, come back here! With me!” I needed to have him next to me, to grasp whatever parts of him I could. But he didn’t move, didn’t make a sound. I fell silent, Mark’s indictment strong enough to reach through my fear. If he would only look at me, or say something, I would know there was at least hope of forgiveness. But he was still.

The man stood then, and reported our status using his walk- ie-talkie. I couldn’t see his face, but I knew he was regard- ing the strange situation before him—the couple in separate cars. He sat down next to me, nimble, unafraid. He looked so young, with a thin neck and wrists and thick blond hair.

The man pulled the safety bar down onto our laps. “Sir, you’ll have to sit up,” he said to Mark. Still, nothing.

The man said something encouraging that my mind couldn’t

“You’ll have to sit up so you can lower the safety bar.”

hear. “Now take hold of the side of the car. Then stand up on the track and get in.”

Nothing.

“Where?” I yelled.

“The coaster won’t move until you do.”

“Where what?”

That did it. Mark sat up, keeping his head pointed down, and lowered the safety bar.

“Where do I hold? Where where where where where where?” I was screaming now, trying to find a place to put my terror.

The man spoke into his walkie-talkie, giving clearance to release the ride. I thought of Carol and Steve, down below.

“The side of the seat. There’s a bar between the seat bottom and the floor of the car.”

They had, of course, been watching the whole time, horri- fied. I thought of them looking upward, how glad they must have felt for the asphalt beneath their feet. How long had the ordeal lasted—maybe half an hour? Twenty minutes?

saw it. I held my breath and reached. I wouldn’t let myself look down.

I

And already I had forgotten what it felt like to have some- thing solid beneath me.

“Now stand up slow—”

I wasn’t listening. In my panic, I stood as fast as I could,

and lost my balance. My knees bowed and I buckled over. My chin struck the side of the car and pain shot through my skull. I could hear the man yelling, but couldn’t make out any words.

The coaster jerked to life and I was jolted from my thoughts. We crept toward the precipice, and I barely had time for dread before we were weightless, flying down- ward. Somehow, after everything, I was screaming, eyes and mouth wide, emptying my lungs at the motionless man before me.

POETRY

liNda FuChs

hoarDing

My back up plan for my final release When a prescription changes

I keep all the leftovers

And if a refill is available

I buy it and stash it too

These pills are sacred. Do not touch them.

I never know when I will need them but I am sure that I will

I know I have to time the refills just right so the pharmacist will give me the meds and not question me

I mourn for the hundreds of pills

my daughter found and discarded.

These pills are sacred Do not touch them. I never know when I will need them but I am sure that I will

I have used part of the stash when life became too unbearable

I never took the whole stash because I was afraid

I would throw up and they would be lost to me forever

I hope that someday I will find the right balance and quietly check out

These pills are sacred. Do not touch them.

I never know when I will need them but I am sure that I will

When I do check out, I hope it will be like the song by Sarah McLachlan,

“In the arms of the angels, may you find some comfort there.”

I don’t wish to hurt anyone,

just to be released from my inner hell.

These pills are sacred. Do not touch them.

I never know when I will need them but I am sure that I will

Today, I have decided that suicide is no longer an option. (I feel I have committed treason— it was my security blanket, my comforter

I liked knowing I would have the escape when I truly needed it.) Even so, I will honor my commitment.

These pills are no longer sacred.

e. smith sleigh

trismus

how is it that my mouth is welded shut and my thoughts vaporize into this desert brain dearth

tell me that deliberation is vanquished by necessity and I will tell you that necessity need not infect the thing curled inside my skull

it provides no answers today

during the descent, the sunset, the

last journey home

move automatically down this

path

lonesome pass through time and human shadow

only my feet

this

me, unaccompanied

this nothing left to say

tell me an unveiling will occur at the end of my trek where dearth becomes death

becomes life again

e. smith sleigh

infirmity

a slight of hand

effervescent soda fizzing in the kitchen through the window in the other room

a thought sent to an imagined shadow

a bright light streaming dimmed by the fleeting

darkness of a cloud somewhere in the attic

a creak in the floorboard

house pops

I’m drowsy

the dog’s stomach growls too

I hurt

my stomach growls

I don’t understand why

his stomach

we’re both restless

rumble sounds like the word why

startled

he falls off the bed

I scream WHY into the ceiling

lost in hallucination

the color spectrum and words roll through

my mind

just turned itself on

no one’s home

clock ticking in the hall

the mixer

CREATIVE NONFICTION

My Friend Frankie

Ruth Z. Deming

T here he is, Frank Kelso Wolfe, coming down the

stairs in his slippers and bathrobe. Whistling, he

looks around for his mom and dad. The kitchen

clock reads ten thirty. He’s slept late again, but who wouldn’t. It takes him hours to fall asleep. His mind is so active, so filled with ideas. Already the little tablet on his end table is crammed with ideas for poems and paintings and sculpture.

A big man, with skin the color of cocoa, he fries a couple of

eggs, along with four strips of bacon, which he drains on a paper towel, helping himself to one hot delicious strip, and licking his fingers.

Sitting at the table, he tries to taste each delicious bite, but his mind is racing again, off and running like an overwound clock.

Better not forget to take my pills, he thinks. In the middle

of the table is a huge white pill box. He pries open the

“Wednesday morning” container and empties five pills into his hand. Friggin’ mental illness, he thinks. If only there was a pill to curb that appetite of his. All those pretty little pills—pastel blue, pink, yellow—plus a two-toned capsule that reminds him of a car they once owned with a black top and red body—they make him fat as a house.

Downing the pills with a glass of Tropicana orange juice, he remembers many a time when he purposely did not take the pills. Talk about getting sick! There is no sickness in the world like becoming psychotic. He gives a soft laugh. “Jeez, what I put my parents through.” Last year, he be- lieved he was a famous stand-up comedian and was com-

municating—telepathically—with Eddie Murphy.

“Mom and Dad,” he said to his parents as they sat on the front porch. “I know it’s hard to believe, but Eddie Mur- phy—yes!—THE Eddie Murphy is talking to me this very minute. He wants me to open for him at the Steel City Cof- fee House.”

He shook his head in disbelief.

“Frank,” said his mother in that stern voice of hers he hates. “Frank, did you take your medication?”

She was a take-charge woman, like his sister Nettie Jean, while his dad, the retired assistant superintendent of Grater- ford Prison, liked nothing better than to putter in the garden and perfect the art of relaxation. Frank still remembered when his dad was spokesperson for a hostage situation that ended with no one getting killed. Well, that time, anyway. Inmates in those days often came out to the house and helped do chores.

His dad, a superb chef, who did all the cooking—ah! those luscious sweet potato fries dipped in honey mustard— would tenderly show the inmates, clad in orange jumpsuits, how to boil an egg to make egg salad.

Frank would stare at these men—white and black and brown—when their backs were turned. These were real criminals, not actors on Law and Order. Just ordinary peo- ple who robbed banks, assaulted people, and forged checks.

The only thing Frank did wrong was not take his medica- tion.

“Eddie Murphy! Do tell!” He gave a whoop and a holler and cakewalked around the front porch.

His mother grabbed him by the arm and marched him into the house.

She sat him down at the kitchen table, looked him over and shook her head.

They heard a squirrel running across the wire outside.

“The squirrels have more sense than you do, Frank Wolfe,” she said.

*

*

*

Frank got into the habit of sequestering himself in his room after he lost his job as a certified peer specialist. He had actually earned money for being mentally ill. As a peer, he helped other mentally ill men organize their day and pre- pare for the world of work. In the morning, he would meet Joe or Big Sal or Bobby for breakfast at McDonalds. He would pay for their breakfast and his own, and while listen- ing to them, he would down three—yes, three—egg, cheese and bacon biscuit sandwiches.

But his chronic pain got worse. The pain in his feet, his knees, and his hips became unbearable so he ceased leaving home and lost his job.

His strong faith in God never wavered, but he wondered why he was being punished.

He would call his friend Ruth on the phone. What he didn’t know was that, if she was home, she would decide if she had the strength to listen to him.

“Hello, dahling,” he would say in a playful voice. And then he would launch into a dissertation on his pain, especially in his size 12 feet. “I’m holding on for one more day, sweet- ness. I go down the steps on my butt. It’s the only thing that gets me downstairs.”

She was of no help at all, but just hearing her voice, a sort of raspy cheerful voice, made him feel better. For as long as the phone call lasted, he forgot his agony. He would have stayed on the phone all day, but she always had things to do. He could hear her doing things while he talked. Once he heard her open a door and go outside. The birds were in a frenzy of chirping. They seemed to enter his own bedroom and fly all around, landing on his desk and computer and book shelves.

Until, of course, he got off the phone and was left in misery again.

Oh, Lord, why are you punishing me?

*

*

*

Books! Was there ever a man who loved books more than Frank Kelso Wolfe? Frank was a biracial man, with a white mom and a black dad. Back in the small town in Ohio where they met and married, they encountered little preju- dice. On his own, Frank discovered Native Son by Richard Wright, the story of Bigger Thomas, who kills a white woman; The Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison, who paints himself black and finds out what it’s like to be black in a white man’s world; and of course all of James Baldwin’s books. Who could blame Baldwin, thought Frank, studying his kind, yet sad face on the book jacket, for living as an expatriate in Paris.

Frank also liked to page through his own books. He was one of those rare birds: a published poet. Had he really written hundreds and hundreds of poems? Re-reading them, while lying in bed with a soft lamp illuminating each page, he silently thanked God for giving him the gift of writing.

Today I shall cut myself shaving, and slap on some Aqua-Velva, just so I’ll remember the sting. / Last night I brushed my teeth, then drank a glass of orange juice, / so as to not take sweetness for granted. / My bed, less and less a comfort, I make it every day despite / the struggle of standing, finding pleasure in things well ordered.

From his bed, his eye fell upon the book The Red Badge of Courage. He was in too much pain to pull it off the shelf, but suddenly he had an idea. Since he liked it so much, why not read it to his parents? His dad, after all, was happily retired, and his mom could certainly take a break from her housekeeping duties. Like her son, Cecilia was a whistler. He loved the sound of her whistling as she dusted the living room, with its old-fashioned furniture. Why buy anything new when there was such loveliness and comfort in what they already had.

The three of them sat in the living room. Frank opened the drapes so daylight could flood the room. From the purple easy chair, he showed them the cover of The Red Badge of Courage, with the American flag carried by the standard- bearer of the Union soldiers, dressed in blue.

“It’s about courage,” he told them in his soft voice. He dared say nothing about his failing courage in living with his physical pain. He cleared his throat and began to read:

“The cold passed reluctantly from the earth, and the retiring fogs revealed an army stretched out on the hills, resting. As the landscape changed from brown to green, the army awak- ened, and began to tremble with eagerness at the noise of rumors. It cast its eyes upon the roads, which were growing from long troughs of liquid mud to proper thoroughfares.”

“Wait a minute, Sonny,” said his dad. “You know I ain’t so young anymore and I can’t hear you.”

“All right, Dad,” said Frank. He pulled over the purple ot- toman and sat right in front of his father, who sat next to his wife with his arm around her on what they called their “green davenport.”

As long as I read, thought Frank, I will live.

And so they went through book after book.

He read them short classics like The Time Machine by H.G. Wells, The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka, and O Pioneers by Willa Cather.

“Never liked O Pioneers in high school,” Frank confessed. “So I thought I’d give it another try.”

“It’s good, Frankie,” said his mother. “And you read it so well!”

Their son had lots of practice. He was a stand-up comic and poet at the Steel City Coffeehouse in Phoenixville. A born performer, his YouTube videos show him striding confi- dently onstage, with the help of a cane, seating himself at the mic, and speaking with intimacy to the audience, urging them to give him a round of applause.

The many sides of Frank Kelso Wolfe.

My God, he thought. What a legacy I’ll leave behind. He knew for certain there would come a day; he knew not when, that he would end it all.

Lying in bed one night, he reviewed his life. It was a great life, really. He knew this and hated to leave it, but he and the Devil duked it out. In high school, he had been a scholar and an athlete. Had he known at the time that mental ill- ness would stalk him for the rest of his days, he would have snagged one of the pretty cheerleaders in high school. He was always attracted to white women, like his blond-haired mother. He remembered Leslie, a short woman with huge calf muscles, who tossed that star-spangled baton so high in the air at football games you thought it would sail up to the moon. Yes, that’s who he would have chosen, little Leslie. Wonder where she was now and if she’d remember him in the obituary notice.

For three months, Frank and the Devil played catch me if you can.

“Today is the day!” Frank would announce to himself, only

to find there was something worth living for the next day.

Suicide experts know that once a person makes up his mind

to do himself in, a calmness comes over him, like a lull in

the ocean waves.

A wordsmith to the end, Frank lay in bed thinking of all the

words for death. He deemed it cheating to use the diction- ary. His was the Random House Unabridged, which was almost as fat as he was, he thought. His favorite expression was “to croak,” a term his psychiatrist was fond of using. He loved his psychiatrist and was sorry to disappoint him.

Should he write a note? Heck, his entire life of forty-five years served as his note. There was one thing he had to do before he went to the other side. That little nephew of his, Jamie, with his black hair and smiling face, he must see him again.

But the Devil was at his back. He couldn’t wait. He was suddenly propelled to take action.

He’d failed before, many, many times. “Failbetter,” was a term dreamed up by the playwright Samuel Beckett.

This time he would fail better than ever. He would succeed.

He placed his cane on his bed, along with one of the caps he loved to wear. His married sister Nettie said he looked “so debonair” when he wore them. Dressed in a warm flannel shirt, khaki pants, and thick socks and shoes, which cush- ioned a bit of the pain when he walked, he looked around his room, his sanctuary.

“Goodbye room,” he said and blew it a kiss, after closing the door.

He went up to the attic and let himself out onto the roof. He startled a couple of doves that sat on the roof cooing like pigeons. Everything he loved was in view now. His parents were downstairs and had no idea what he was planning. A neighbor across the street came out of her house in her white apron. Frank didn’t even bother to wave. He was in the same kind of trance as when he wrote or painted. Look- ing up at the blue sky, he had a sudden thought.

This is the day of my death, October 7, 2014.

Spreading his arms out like a bird, he dove headfirst into the ground below. The crisp autumn air against his face and body gave him a few moments of joy. And though she didn’t notice, he smiled at the woman in the white apron and wished her peace.

Epilogue: Frank Kelso Wolfe was feted mightily after his death. The funeral home was filled to bursting. Montgomery County Community College, where he had taken classes and was a member of the writers’ group, did a huge tribute to him. His two-hour YouTube memorial video remains online. I was a dear friend of “Frankie’s,” as I called him, and used my imagination to write this story. His mom and sister gave me permission to tell of his final days on earth.

lyNda MCkiNNey laMbert

muDDy hanDs

POETRY

“You turn things upside down! Shall the potter be regarded as the clay,that the thing made should say of its maker, ‘He did not make me;’ or the thing formed say of him who formed it, ‘He has no understanding?’”

(Isaiah 29:16)

Breaking News: October 2007 Visual Artist Lost Eyesight

I did not know night from day

I could not see a clock - time vanished

phone numbers evaporated the colors on my palette were one same shade of gray normal was now upside-down days and nights

I could DREAM

in layers of living colors

I still envisioned wonders

should try might try again pick up a hunk of wet clay

Slowly, the muddy substance felt like a new possibility to my hands the clay brought back memories

My muddy hands did the hard work

remembering

muddy hands gave confidence *** Reflection on “muddy hands”

I squeezed mud into treasures

wet clay gave me magic spirit boxes for cherished objects wall sculptures to honor the earth the healing of my broken eyes when I use my muddy hands my vision is intact.

ARTICLE

Fear and Loathing in Australia:

An Inside Look at Anxiety Disorder, Shame and Stigma

Monica Cook

Iam jerked awake from a sound sleep.

The room is black except for a sliver of moonlight creeping through the hastily closed curtains. I try to wipe away the miasma of sleep, wondering what woke me.

Without warning I am hit by a violent stomach cramp that takes my breath away. A shock of fear surges through my body and leaves my toes tingling and numb. I fight with the web of blankets constricting me, pinning me to the bed, and stumble to the bathroom.

When I finally return to the bedroom, I am sweating and shaking. I sit with my back pressed against the headboard for support. My thoughts are not my own. They race in front of me, all around me, and only rarely do they settle long enough to hear them clearly: crazy, sick, dying, heart attack.

My heartbeat is a rhythmic pounding. It’s fading into the background of the chorus that is my out of control thoughts and physical sensations.

“Are you ok?” I hear a male voice in the distance. Wherever I am, I am outside the normal space of our bedroom.

A hand reaches out, but I can’t stand the feeling of anything touching my tingling skin. I pull away and start to rock back and forth as tears fall unbidden from my staring eyes.

I am bundled into the car. It is early morning, before sun- rise, and it’s been raining. The streetlights cast a jaundiced glow across the road. I am watching the traffic lines whiz past through a telescope. They are close and yet far away.

“You’re just having a panic attack,” a bright-faced emer- gency doctor explains in her cheerful voice as I recline on the stark white sheets of a hospital bed.

Just a panic attack, I think, but don’t trust myself to re- spond.

“Here’s a script for some anti-depressants. Get these filled as soon as possible and make an appointment with your GP.” She rips the prescription off the pad, gives me a per- functory pat on the leg and exits.

We leave the hospital and step out into a picturesque Ad- elaide dawn. My partner puts a sympathetic arm around my shoulder as we walk back to the car. The surreal tunnel vision has lifted and I am starting to feel normal again, if slightly drowsy and embarrassed.

There are no eerie church bells or swirling black clouds overhead to signal that this event will trigger an ongoing

battle with anxiety, which, in some ways, has become the center of my life.

But I am not alone. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), anxiety disorder is the most common mental illness, affecting 14% of Australians. A support ser- vice based in Australia, beyondblue [sic], has cited a larger number, one in four. Both figures equate to a considerable number of people who struggle and live with anxiety disor- der in this country.

Most Australians will be familiar with the physical sensa- tions of anxiety—unease, confusion, tightening chest, diz- ziness, hot and cold flushes. The combination and extremity of manifestations vary between individuals. Anxiety is a physiological response to our observations that has devel- oped to ensure the survival of our species.

Fear stimulates our bodies to release adrenalin and prepares

us to confront danger by either fighting or running away. In order to prime ourselves for the encounter, we go through

a number of physical changes—heart rate increases, veins

constrict, muscles tense, digestion shuts down, and our brain focuses on finding and assessing potential threats. This process is commonly referred to as the “fight or flight” response.

While the “fight or flight” response is useful if you are being chased by a bear, it is far less helpful when there is nothing tangible to fear. Carly, a twenty-one-year-old

woman from Victoria, experienced her first panic attack in

a shop. No bears in sight, Carly’s body prepared to fight or

flee and, without a clearly discernible reason for these feel- ings, she panicked. She turned her probing brain outward and, finding no reason for the physical feelings she was ex- periencing, she started to worry that maybe something was wrong inside of her. Maybe she was going crazy. Maybe she was dying.

When there is no discernible reason for your anxiety, you begin to fear your fear. You start to wonder when it will return—at the shops, the post office, driving to work? Will you be able to escape the situation, return to a safe place, and stop the panic?

This is how anxiety develops into an anxiety disorder.

There are several different types of anxiety disorders: gen- eralized anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, social anxiety, PTSD, panic, and phobia. However, they all have a common element—excessive worry. Individuals with anxi- ety disorders take worrying to an Olympic level.

Andrew, a twenty-five-year-old man from Queensland,

worries about social situations. He imagines all the ways

in which he could potentially embarrass himself. He might

say the wrong thing, trip over a chair entering the room, or faint. These potential embarrassments seem real, so real that they trigger his autonomic nervous system and he panics. He begins to feel nauseous, shakes, and can’t breathe.

For those with an anxiety disorder, the constant worry and physical sensations become unbearable. You become an “anxiety sniper,” constantly on the lookout for any symp-

toms or situations that may induce a panic attack or anxious feelings. Everyday tasks like grocery shopping, eating out,

or going to the movies become a potential anxiety battle-

ground. Anxiety disorder can turn your life upside down and leave you clutching the nearest person or object for support.

A common coping technique is avoidance. You simply

avoid anything and everything that causes anxiety. For Alyssa, a twenty-four-year-old woman from South Austra- lia, this means avoiding social situations like the plague. She will plan, practice, and prepare for any potential social interactions, but in the end, she will find a reason not to get involved.

It’s a similar story with Carly, who experienced her first panic attack at the shops. She now avoids any situations that may cause her to feel anxious. She isn’t able to work, go out with friends or family, and she has developed agorapho- bia—an intense fear, panic, and avoidance of being in pub- lic places. Agoraphobics can experience fear so intense that they become housebound, unable to venture outside due to an overwhelming feeling of impending doom.

So, how do we deal with the mountains of (mostly) irratio- nal worry, physical symptoms, and inevitable isolation of an anxiety disorder?

As in my experience with the emergency room physician, the most common treatment for anxiety is medication. While there is no magic pill to cure an anxiety disorder, some people do find medication helpful in managing and controlling their symptoms.

After my hospital visit, I folded the prescription for anti- depressants up neatly and carried it around with me for a couple days. In the end, I threw it in the bin. I wasn’t de- pressed. In fact, I was annoyed that the doctor made that as- sumption about me. I didn’t accept medication as an option until I hit rock bottom.

I stopped going to university because I couldn’t sit through the classes anymore. I began to imagine myself having a

panic attack and running, arms flailing and red faced, from

a lecture hall full of people. At all hours of the day and

night my whole body tingled with anxiety. I couldn’t sleep. My nerves were strung tighter than a lute, playing the same tune: panic.

The first medication I was prescribed for anxiety made me sleep. While I was thankful for the rest and respite, the feel- ings of anxiety and worry persisted. Eventually, I started taking Zoloft. It made me jittery and tense, but I slowly be- gan to feel an improvement. While I still experienced panic attacks and anxiety on a daily, even hourly basis, the symp- toms were muted and I was able to go back to university.

Gwen, a forty-five-year-old woman from Victoria, has benefited from the use of prescription medication to treat her anxiety disorder, but believes that other treatments may be useful. “Medication is not the perfect or only solution,” she says. “Cognitive behavior therapy is more valuable and there are a host of other treatments people find useful on an individual basis.”

My biggest breakthrough in learning how to cope with my own anxiety disorder didn’t come in the form of a pill. It occurred during the first therapy session I attended with a psychologist who specializes in treating individuals with anxiety disorders.

I was in a state of high anxiety, gripping the armrests of the blue linen chair in her chilly office and trying to come up with an exit strategy. What possible excuse could I use for

rushing out the door and into the safety of the nearest bath-

room?

While I meticulously planned my escape, she began list- ing the physical symptoms of anxiety and wrote them on a whiteboard. I was stunned. This was the first time someone had been able to verbalize exactly how I was feeling. She was the first person to explain the “fight or flight” response to me and it felt like someone had turned on a light. I wasn’t alone and I wasn’t crazy. There were other people like me,

feeling the same things and having the same thoughts.

If the ABS is right and 14% of Australians are dealing with anxiety disorders, where are they? Where are the more than one in ten people like me?

People with mental illness can be difficult to find. We look “normal” and, generally, there are no physical signs of our internal struggles. We are your mothers, fathers, aunts, un- cles, brothers, sisters, sons, and daughters. We might even be you.

When asked if he speaks openly about his mental illness, Michael, a thirty-eight-year-old man from Queensland,

says, “I prefer to keep it private derstand and look down on me.”

some people don’t un-

The shame associated with having a mental illness is one reason why we hide away. After a panic attack or period of high anxiety, I feel obliged to take a ride on the Shame Spi- ral. I recite of all the ways in which anxiety has negatively affected my life. A chant of you’re a terrible wife, a horrible daughter, a sorry excuse for a human being, a weakling plays on a loop as I circle downward into the dark abyss of the anxiety maelstrom.

Sonia, a thirty-one-year-old woman from Victoria, is famil- iar with the negative and degrading journey. During periods of high anxiety, her thoughts are a broken record, playing a distressing tune of I’m not good enough, I suck, I’m failing I hate me. Given these patterns of thoughts, it will come as little surprise that depression is a common side effect of anxiety disorder. The compounding illness increases the negativity, isolation, despair, and judgement.

Not only are we judging ourselves, but we also worry about being judged by others. In a study conducted by the Aus-

tralian National University on generalized anxiety disorder

and stigma, it was noted that

with increased psychological distress, demoralization and isolation and reduced employment and accommodation op- portunities. It may also serve as a barrier to seeking help for mental health problems.” So, not only is stigma making us feel worse, it also stops some of us from seeking help.

stigma can be associated

Gwen fears that people have thought she should just “suck it up” when it comes to dealing with mental illness. “Unfor- tunately mental health issues still aren’t seen as legitimate conditions by a lot of people, so they see depression and anxiety as a cop out,” she explains.

At the onset of my latest period of high anxiety, I decided that I was done hiding. If someone asked why I had a day off work, I plainly replied, “I get panic attacks and experi- ence high levels of anxiety. So, I just didn’t feel up to com- ing to work.”

Reactions were varied. Some coworkers furrowed their eyebrows and stared at me in disbelief. One, in particular, found it impossible to believe. “Are you sure you have an anxiety disorder?” he asked, obviously baffled. “You seem so outgoing.” Others responded by telling me about their own experiences with mental illness or friends and family who suffer from the same condition. The more I opened up, the easier it became.

I still have moments of doubt, periods where I fear that people are judging me, or worse, feeling sorry for me. I persevere because I believe that talking openly and honestly about mental illness will reduce shame and stigma.

beyondblue [sic] has recently launched a campaign titled, “My Name is Anxiety.” The television advertisements fea- ture men and women listing the common symptoms of anxi- ety. They are designed to help people recognize the signs and seek treatment.

The campaign is promoting education and understanding, which is arguably as important for those affected by mental illness as those unaffected. They are opening the door for discussion and recognition. We are not alone.

“Whilst there are still some very negative feelings toward

the topic of mental illness, I think that just stems from ig-

norance. It is like a fear of the unknown

regards to attitudes in Australia. “Eventually, hopefully, the stigma will be lifted all together.”

.” Carly says in

After years of darkness, there is a dim light struggling to reach me from the end of a long tunnel. I will no longer hide or allow shame to keep me silent. I am not alone.

Paul Smith

POETRY

long gooDBye

The harder tissues—bone, sinew, nail, cartilage Break, snap Remedied with sturdy devices By jolly men in overalls Softer ones, not susceptible to breakage But to infection and disease Treated sometimes with medicines More often with surgery performed By teams silent-faced in white smocks Then there are neurons Dislodged, misdirected, lost, wandering around Beyond the reach of chemical and mechanical fixes The subject of treatises Resulting in splinters of verdicts Treatment done in offices Each time a different building No need to worry Your name is known by all

yuaN ChaNgMiNg

exChange of vision

Jumping into her gaze Like a naked village boy Into a local autumn pond I see her vision full of Fishes swimming around Among dangling grasses Along folded sunlight

FICTION

Sissy

Benjamin Toche

T he barrel’s insides feel like sand and the color of it is

Sissy’s hair, smooth and warm. In the room, there are

fistfuls of it in the barrel and it hisses when I drop it

but out in the hallway it sounds like a soft snow. Sometimes it goes on the wood floor and makes a tick, tick, tick, tick, falling out of my hands. Sissy comes into the light and takes me under my arms to the bathroom. Her arm comes in front of my face and my mouth goes to it and she makes a sound like the old dog that Papa took away last winter that didn’t come back.

*

*

*

The hallway rug needed beating before Papa returned; otherwise, it might be bad. There was no augury of it, espe- cially not on weekend days when Papa left early and fished away the day. He could be violent or benevolent or some point on the spectrum between those poles. It all depended on things out of Christine’s hands and beyond her ken: the catch, or the weather, or the mosquitoes, or any of the ill- formed thoughts that he ruminated upon as he stood on the river bank. Christine rolled the cornmeal saturated rug and tucked it under an arm made wiry from physical labor and a skin paled by high latitudes. She took the birch handled broom from its corner and motioned toward the center of the living room where her brother sat in a corner of the floor. He clutched a fleece garment and busied himself by rolling a three-wheeled Matchbox fire engine in tight circles on the rude plywood flooring, the way a small child might. Save the arm that piloted the vehicle, John didn’t move.

“Come on, Johnny. Come on.” She motioned again and John swayed side to side as he stood, keeping a metronymic

beat that only he could hear. Leaving the fire engine, he am- bled toward the door where Christine stood with the broom and rug. “That’s a good boy, Johnny. Come on. Come have

a seat on the porch.”

Outside were mountains, great intrusions and bendings of rock, layered up and twisted against each other, the humped backs of slain trolls or sleeping giants, furred with green that shaded into a rocky scurf toward the ridgelines. Fingers of rushing water coursed down the faces of the slopes, pour- ing into the turgid river of the valley’s floor, itself a force that pounded over boulders loosed from the sides of the very mountains it descended. The sky above was clear, save

a low hanging gauze of cloud that gripped a few of the re-

cently snowed peaks. It was late August and the air smelled of wet decay, heralding the winter. Christine pushed at his shoulder and John folded his knees to sit cross-legged.

“Stay on the porch where I can see you and I’ll be right back.”

John sat on the porch and rocked back and forth on the gray weathered boards. He didn’t reply or give any signal that he had heard or would comply with her request. With his left arm he hugged the green fleece pullover of Papa’s while his right hand searched for imperfections in the wood grain and the raised heads of rusted nails. Christine bent and cupped John’s chin. She nudged, forcing his eyes upward but he stubbornly refused to meet hers. He mumbled a few dis-

jointed syllables and tucked his chin toward his chest.

“About a pound or so.”

“Come on, let me see those eyes.” John lifted his chin in- crementally and Christine caught the bottom slivers of the earth-colored irises. It was enough. She turned and took the rug out to the three-stranded barbed wire fence that stretched from the corner of the cabin to the road that led

He put his hands in the small of his back and stretched. “I suppose that’s a good enough excuse. Finish that up and clean them silvers.” He gestured to the sack on the porch. “I expect dinner on the table at six. Then you can grind up more corn to replace what he spoilt.”

away to the network of rural roads and highways. The road was long and occluded by birch and spruce boughs that

“Yes, Papa.”

scraped against the sides of Papa’s truck on his trips to the river. Christine draped the rug, rubber side down, over the

He turned and walked toward the cabin.

fencerow. She hummed and the notes, sounding like the soft brushing of steel wool against a cast iron skillet, fell

“Papa?”

between the tempo of the broom handle’s strikes and the gentle high-hat sound of the rug’s dirt as it plumed away

He stopped.

and impacted the dying grass. For a moment, Christine for- got everything.

“Johnny needs to be put in a school.”

A ribbon of gray dust snaking up from the trees signaled

Papa’s approach. Christine heard the truck just before it rumbled into view and up the parallel ruts of the overgrown

driveway. The truck’s rusted fenders rattled to a halt in front

“That again?” He spoke over his right shoulder.

“I can’t do anything for him here.” Christine held the broom handle to her chest.

of

the porch. Papa got out and reached into the truck bed

to

haul out a burlap sack, the lower half of which was dark

“How many years you going to complain about this?”

with moisture. He dropped the sack on the porch boards next to John and came down the fencerow.

“How come you out here with this mess?” Papa pointed with his gently sloping finger.

Christine kept up the rhythmic pounding of the rug, but spoke in the gaps of her swinging, “I had trouble with Johnny.”

“You forget your manners?”

Christine stopped beating the rug and faced Papa. “I had trouble with Johnny, Papa.”

“What kind of trouble?”

“The usual. Got into the storeroom and into the cornmeal. I spent half the morning cleaning it up, Papa.”

“We lose much?”

“Papa, he’s wild and so big I can’t control him. He won’t hardly look at me.” She rubbed a red blur on her forearm. “He bites.”

Papa came back down the fence and stood so close to Chris- tine that she could smell the rank odor of his unbrushed teeth. “Ain’t a thing wrong with that boy that a little disci- pline won’t fix.”

“Papa, I don’t mean anything by it. He needs help I can’t give.”

“I imagine that you’ll manage.” He turned and walked to the porch with a briskness that disallowed further argument or petition. On the porch, he stooped and chucked his hand under John’s chin. Christine saw Papa’s lips moving but his

voice was cancelled out by distance and a sudden glacial wind that arose and swept down the mountain. John shook his head and gripped the fleece tighter. Papa looked down onto the top of John’s head for a long pause before he dis- appeared inside the cabin.

*

*

*

The porch is smooth like the undersides of Sissy’s arms when she sits close and reads to me in the evening after I eat. The bag moves but the fish inside are dead and smell of the slow moving water that creeps in the ditch at the end of the driveway. Papa came and went away and Sissy is still down by the fence with the rugs and the broom and the mountains behind her are big, too big, like the sky.

*

*

*

“Papa? Dinner’s ready.”

Papa switched off the television and rose from his recliner. He entered the tiny space of the dining room to find John sitting at the table with a red gingham handkerchief tied around his neck. In front of him sat a plate of salmon fried in cornmeal, mashed potatoes, and apple wedges. The food was arranged on the plate so that each portion would not touch. At the edge of his plate was a jelly jar full of milk with a flexible straw hanging over the rim of the glass. Papa sat and Christine came to the table and set his plate in front of him before sitting down to an empty placemat.

“You ain’t eating?”

“I had a little when I was cooking.”

“Where’s my drink?” Christine frowned. Papa saw. “Don’t you dare to question me and what I like to do.”

“Papa, I didn’t mean nothing—”

He picked up his knife and stabbed it into the flank of the fried salmon on his plate. “You ain’t one to tell me my place. I don’t provide for all our needs here to be lectured to by my own children.”

“Yes, Papa.” Christine went to the refrigerator and got the brown-glassed growler from the appliance’s top. She un- screwed the bottle and poured some milky cider into a jelly jar. Christine moved to replace the bottle.

“Bring it.”

“Yes, Papa.”

“I work too damn hard not to enjoy myself.”

Christine said nothing and put the cider jug and filled glass at Papa’s plate and sat at the table again. The room was quiet except for the scratching of cutlery on old ceramic and the periodic gulps of cider or milk. Christine rested her chin in her hand and watched Papa eat, which he did accord- ing to an unwavering methodology. He cut a piece of fish, scooped potatoes, bit an apple wedge. The process repeated until the victuals were exhausted. John, too, ate according to the same unwritten rules. They seemed to neither relish nor acknowledge the food, treating it as if it were simply a thing required, an anonymous task. Christine watched her father and brother and started to slip into a daydream when Papa’s voice brought her back to the table.

“You ain’t one to tell me my place. I don’t provide for all our needs here to be lectured to by my own children.”

“Stop that, boy.” John didn’t look up and didn’t stop scrap- ing his fork tines across his plate. The noise was so com- mon that Christine had not even registered it.

“I said stop that.” Papa swatted at John’s hand and con- nected with a sharp smacking sound followed by the clatter of the fork and the resultant silence that the overhead incan- descent bulb strained to fill with its humming. John groaned ferally and cut his eyes sideways at Papa. He held his hands as if shadowboxing, opening and closing his fists, as he rocked in his chair. His left arm bumped the plate which in turn toppled his half-empty glass of milk. The liquid pooled on the tabletop as John began a louder and more insistent groaning.

“Shut that shit up!” Papa stood. “And get a goddamned towel to clean up your mess!” John sat rocking and Papa waited and Christine watched.

“Johnny, let’s go get—”

“You shut your goddamn mouth! You’re half the reason he’s so bad!” Papa stabbed his finger at Christine. She dropped her head and studied the puddle of milk on the tabletop as it crept toward her placemat. “Boy, you get your ass up and go get a towel. Now! I’m tired of this bullshit act like you don’t know no better.”

John rocked and stood and twisted his torso back and forth, swinging his now dropped arms in shallow arcs. He walked away from the table and followed a meandering course into the kitchen and got the towel from where it hung on the front handle of the oven. He returned in the selfsame fashion and dropped the towel onto the milk, mopping and spreading little bow shocks of milk toward the table’s edge. Papa watched and his lips curled downward. Papa stood, clenching and loosing his fists before raining backhands onto John’s head and neck and streaming invectives into the closeness of the dining room and in the pauses where Papa took breath John’s whimpering came through and the sound of John at the mercy of Papa’s rage welled up an untram- meled spring of urgency in Christine that superseded any previous filial conditioning. She acted.

“Don’t you dare hit him again.” Her fingers wrapped around Papa’s corded forearm, gripping with an intensity belied by the slenderness of the digits.

“Don’t you dare hit him again.” Her fingers wrapped around Papa’s corded forearm, gripping with an intensity belied by the slenderness of the digits. She had moved quickly and in his rage Papa had not seen the malign grace of her standing, moving, and closing in on him. Papa stood with an igno- rant amazement of one witnessing an inexplicable force of nature. The muscular tension of his arm remained and he tried to force past the obstacle of Christine’s grip. She held firm and a silent standoff blossomed into which John set up a low moaning. He continued to mop at the milk which now fell in several dribbling waterfalls from the tabletop to splatter onto the floor.

“You think you run this house?” Papa’s voice came through his teeth.

“Johnny,” Christine bored bright eyes into Papa’s own dim orbits. Her voice was a buttery softness, “Johnny, I want you to go play with your fire engine and I’ll take care of the mess.” John grumbled and left the towel to wander into the living room.

“So help me God you are going to pay for this one.”

“You don’t hit him. Ever.” Christine loosed Papa’s arm and turned her attention to the milk. Papa took the growler and repaired to his recliner in the living room.

*

*

*

I sleep with Sissy on the floor of the bedroom and when it gets cold when the snow comes she puts an extra quilt on me and then her arm over the top. She gets close and I can feel her breath on the back of my neck and smell the last thing she ate for the night. Papa comes for her and she goes away with him and comes back later and her breath is faster like she’s just run up the driveway and it feels hot on the back of my neck like a storm of butterflies and she hugs me close and whispers that she loves me.

*

*

*

Christine worked the stationary bike’s pedals that in turn powered the mill that ground the corn to replace the meal that John had fouled earlier. The bike droned in the confines of the storeroom and there was little entertainment but for reading the labels of the fifty-pound bags of various grains or counting the rows of canned salmon, caribou, and moose. There were sixty mason jars of each animal and the labels of the grain sacks read “Product of the USA.” Christine pedaled and let the hum of the mill burn away any thoughts that sought to manifest themselves. She was so far into the noise of the bike that the creak of the door went unnoticed.

“You going to be about that all night?”

Christine didn’t answer but looked to her right where Papa leaned against the door jamb with the forefinger of his right hand laced through the handle of his third growler. Chris- tine looked away to the bags and jars again.

“Don’t mind me.” Papa motioned with the growler and the contents sloshed, the noise coming just over the whirr of bicycle and grinder. “Just come to get some cider.” Papa leaned into the room and shuffled on heavy feet toward the corner where a shelf held nearly identical brown-glassed bottles that ranged from floor to ceiling. Christine watched him like one would watch a toddler just learning to walk.

“Papa?”

Papa turned.

“I’m sorry about earlier, Papa.”

“Is that so?” He approached the bike where Christine’s pale legs pumped. Papa dropped a drink-weighted hand on her upper thigh and rubbed the downy expanse of her moving flesh. Christine focused on the sacks of grain. “What else?”

“I’m just sorry is all.”

“Mmhmm. You still got to pay.”

Christine eyed the defunct speedometer that rested on the crossbar of the bicycle’s handles. “I know, Papa.” Her voice barely edged out the whirr in the room.

Papa dropped a drink-weighted hand on her upper thigh and rubbed the downy expanse of her moving flesh.

“How you aim to?” Papa’s hand moved to her shoulder.

“I’ve got to finish this.” Christine’s eyes grew hot and damp.

“You wash yourself before.”

“Johnny needs reading to.”

“I don’t know why.” Papa grinned as if privy to some in- comparable witticism.

“It does him good.”

Papa harrumphed and eased up his hand until it came to rest on Christine’s pink bicycle shorts, just at the intersection of femur and hip. He looked down and flexed his hand and as he did so he exhaled a thick, cider stained breath of expec- tation. Christine looked at the hand and upped her pace. His hand slipped off under the motion of Christine’s pedaling and he wandered away to the shelves of growlers. He took down a fresh container and moseyed toward the door. Papa stopped in the doorframe and pointed at Christine with the opened jug. “You make this quick. Your punishment, and me, needs tending to.”

“Papa, Johnny needs reading.”

“No. Right after you’re done with that cornmeal.”

“Can’t it wait ’til after I put him down for the night?”

Papa came back to the stationary bike with the eyes of a man prepared for violence. “You telling me what to do?”

“No, Papa.” Christine glanced at the hard set of his jaw and back down to the speedometer. Papa took a drink from the jug without taking his eyes from her downturned face.

“You finish. You wash up. You know where I’ll be.”

“Yes, Papa.”

Papa turned and shuffled through the door, drinking from the opened growler again as he lifted a foot over the thresh- old of the storeroom door. Christine watched his back as he went and when she was sure he would not return she tucked her chin and allowed two inflamed tears to drop onto the fabric of her shorts before she bent forward into the handle bar and quickened her pace even more.

*

*

*

Sissy comes to me in front of the television and kneels be- tween me and the black screen. Her hair hangs across her shoulder in a wet yellow braid that comes from the back of her head and she smells fresh like soap that sits in the plas- tic dish stuck to the shower wall. She wears a towel around her body and puts her hand under my chin but I don’t look up. Her voice says things and she holds the blue, soft leath- er-bound book with the silver letters on the front cover so that I can see it and she presses the book into my lap. She opens the pages that feel like onion skins and points to one of the black lines of letters in the middle of a page. Papa comes and says something to her and she says she loves me and they go away to together.

*

*

*

John sat alone with the book of scripture in his lap. He glanced over the pages of text in the stupor of one presented with an incredible and keyless cipher, a codex from some impossible and dead world the only evidence of which lay before the uninitiated reader. He flipped the pages and felt the light touch of the gilt edges and the wisp of air that escaped the leaves. John moaned, a long and low grating sound that filled up the room. He put the book to the side and stared into the darkened rectangle of the television screen, shifting back and forth on his buttocks. John looked down at his hands where they picked at the plywood floor. The fire engine was missing.

John looked about himself on the floor and panned up in

a jerky and haphazard fashion across all the horizontal

surfaces in the room until his eyes raked the lumpy cabin walls where antlers jumbled together in a piecemeal tack- ing. Further up, on a shelf near the ceiling, sat the right forepaw of some long-slaughtered brown bear. John’s eyes descended in the same fashion to rest on the screen again. He wrenched himself from the floor and shambled into the kitchen. He moved on arrhythmic limbs, sometimes drifting to one side or the other, from the light of the living room into the gloaming of the kitchen.

In the far corner of the kitchen sat the birch-handled broom. John moved to the handle and gripped it between thumb and forefinger. The broom head trailed behind him as he returned to the living room. John dropped to his hands and knees to look under Papa’s recliner. He shimmied the broom handle up under the chair and swept back and forth, banging against the chair’s springs and feet but of the fire engine there was no hint. John moved to the television stand and fished again, this time under and behind, but still found nothing. The rear of the cabin’s only bookcase yielded the same. John moaned through his teeth and pulled the broom to his chest, hugging it with both fists, fingers laced around the wood. He silenced and the cabin followed suit. Look- ing around again his eyes moved toward the hallway; John shuffled to the bedroom door.

John stood outside the door, broom in hand, and stared down at the dented brass knob. He leaned his forehead to- ward the door and rested it against the wood. From within came sounds. John put his hand on the doorknob and watched it as he turned.

Papa stood, back to the door, in the middle of the room with

a grimy pile of dungarees and underwear around his ankles.

His undershirt cut a wavering shadow across the backs of his legs. Christine poked her head from behind the white flank of Papa’s thigh and saw John in the doorway. She

gasped and wiped the back of her hand across her mouth and her head sunk.

“What’s the matter, Christy? You ain’t even halfway there yet.”

Christine darted a finger toward the door.

Papa wrenched his head over his shoulder and saw John holding the broom to his chest and gripping the doorknob with his other hand. Papa’s shoved at Christine’s head and she fell back with the front seam of her towel opening up as she tipped back and cracked her head against the bed frame. With his other hand, Papa jerked up his trousers and turned to face the doorway. He lurched toward the door, a

screaming mass of red face and shaking index finger. Papa pulled up short and raged while he latched his pants. John watched Christine rock, nude, on the floor next to the bed as she gripped the back of her head. Papa secured his pants and drew back. The open hand blow rang hard and bright across John’s jaw and his fingers loosed the broom handle. The broom tipped to the floor and John with it.

Christine launched onto Papa’s back and snaked her thin arms under his chin. Papa gurgled and reached back over his shoulder for a handful of Christine’s hair. Papa tucked his chin and threw elbows backwards with one arm and reached for hair with the other. Christine jammed her thumbnail into Papa’s right eye and grated the nail back and forth as she tried to leverage her forearm into a choke again. Papa bellowed and Christine shrieked and the two spun around like some jigging conjoined monster, one clothed and the other not, dancing in time to a guttural symphony of its own composing. The noise in the room reached an unbearable pitch of wordless screams and scuffling bodies and as father and daughter grappled neither noticed that John had regained his footing and held the broom near the bristles so that the tip of the handle touched the floor. John cranked his head to the side and squinted his eyes to slits, watching the violence in his peripheral vision. Papa grabbed a fistful of Christine’s hair and flung her from his back. She bounced across the bed and thudded into the wall and stayed limp where she fell.

“You goddamned whore!” Papa lunged toward the bed but the scream that issued from John’s throat halted his prog- ress. Papa turned in time to catch the brunt of the broom handle’s impact on his jaw. The birch wood shattered and splintered and Papa dropped hard to the floor. John looked down at the broken haft of the broom, now an ugly two foot long thrusting weapon. Christine did not move. Papa breathed in raggedly. John went to work.

*

*

*

Sissy takes me down to the river to get the wet fish in the big net and she opens them with the knife that shines the same way fish bellies do in the sun and all the orange and red of the fish spills out onto the smooth river rocks. Sissy throws the fish insides into the river and I watch them run in the gray water that rushes past with a noise like leaves in wind. I get in the truck and Sissy takes us from the river to home and I sit on the seat behind the glass and watch Sissy take out the fish and go with them inside the house. Papa went away and didn’t come back and now it is quiet at night.

CREATIVE NONFICTION

The Shapeshifter

Kelley A Pasmanick

Iwas transformed in a Walmart.

She wore a blue shirt with frills, as little girls do, and pink shorts. Her hair was braided in the way that mothers are wont to do, strategically off the nape of her neck in an at- tempt to make nice with the Georgia sun.

My head was hurting from walking on my crutches. My walk is a gallop. Left, right, left, right. The left always leads because that side is dominant, a trait indicative of spastic diplegia, a type of cerebral palsy.

She heard the gallop first and came running, “Horsey,” she said, coming around the corner in her own homage to my walk, a trot in the form of a skip, but I was not a horse.

She looked at me puzzled, nose scrunched in Bewitched mode, and looked both ways down the aisles, slowly, as if long-practiced to take that big-girl step of finally crossing the street by herself.

“Where is it?” she said. “I heard it.”

“Where’s what?” A smile began to creep onto my face. It tingled, after lying dormant for the majority of the after- noon in Americana gray.

“The horse,” she said as she looked me over from top to bottom. Had she been a few years older, I would have cringed. That look would have been automatically infused

with scorn. Her older self would wear a snarled smile, con- fident of her observation: You will never be anything other than what you are, while I can be whomever I want.

Today, her look was of undiluted curiosity.

I mimed the motion of walking, lifting my crutches and

then heavily replacing them in order to reproduce the cal- culated vibrations, which meant that the rubber tips of my crutches had made contact with the floor. “It was me.”

“Oh!” she said with an understanding that would have equaled learning the secret behind a treasured magic trick. “What are those? Why do you walk like that?”

I crouched down with knees bent, my face toward hers, and

smiled. “I use them to help me walk. They’re like a second pair of legs because mine need a little help.”

It clicked. “You’re an insect!” she said. “Cool!”

Laughter escaped from me at the originality of her connec- tion. “It is very cool. You have a good day.”

“Okay, bye,” she said, with a snaggletoothed, missing-teeth smile and a wave.

For Mendel and the countless other children over the years who have dared to ask me questions rather than continuing to remain afraid of me, I thank you.

MiChael s. MOrris

three stringeD instruments

What thoughts have I that would burst into flame

if not for bees buzzing in the lemon trees through the rain

and the sun’s crowning flowers blooming in its fulsome light

spent into an azure mist amidst ancient electrical wires

holding together old telephone towers as if three stringed instruments—

plucked by these fingers into their wildest elements

what thoughts have I that would burst into flame

if the dream of cooling seas, had not called my name

and the seas are a conductor and the music is of rain.

JOaN seliger sidNey

POETRY

first ms attaCk

i was entering my twenty-fourth year

when a bolt of lightning struck my knee & sparks flew toe to thigh

six weeks married

for anything but sex & teaching

still

i had no time

fears sneaked in

through the door that didn’t shut till i gave myself to doctors

believing they knew

everything

or with a snap of fingers

their genie

did you & your husband fight

would figure it out

asked the hospital physician

could be

(Freud twisting weeping women’s

this

newly-married hysteria

minds around icy bodies) no

i said

leaves on the maple tree outside

from my bed I watched

shrivel & flee across the street

in between

was passed from machine to machine

as perfect patient i

Previously published in Bereft and Blessed, Antrim House, 2014. Reprinted by permission of the author.

PERSONAL ESSAY

M y nephew never paid much attention to me.

I was the aunt who lived 3,000 miles away in California and only visited once a year. My heart broke when he seemed not to even remember me when I returned to North Carolina for Christmas or Memorial Day weekend. He only approached me when prodded by my sister to give me a brief half-hug goodbye before running off to the car to leave.

“Don’t take it personally,” my mom re- minded me. “That’s just the way he is.”

Although never officially diagnosed, my nephew had shown signs of autism spectrum disorder since he was very young. He rarely looked me in the eye and was easily over-stimulated by too many toys or too many people. Only movies with music calmed his anxiety. He’d stare at them, mesmerized for long periods of time, rocking back and forth in time with the beat of the music, unaware of anything else—or any other people—around him.

In 2012, my fiancé and I returned to North Carolina to get married in a