The ingratitude of the well

Inspired by the incredible Cordelia Feldman and her novel In Bloom, for sale now. For World Cancer Day.

It would be easy to say

I haven’t been stricken because I couldn’t cope with it

there would be no one, I have learned, if I were;

not a flower garden, or brothers with curry, or kind lipsticked nurses

socialized healthcare, or odd private room

there would not be a mom bathing or a dad talking

about vegetable garden and the latest episode of Silent Witness

who could really cope?

Even as I say this, knowing the avocado heart of it

I also know I could be stricken tomorrow, or already

as all of us could

(as all of us could)

and privately in a fat second

(like when you see a train wreck and you process a hundred thoughts all at once)

I know I have my will written (handwritten, badly, not rubber stamped)

ready to mail to fate should it come.

When I got sick, though not C.A.N.C.E.R.S.I.C.K., nevertheless I really planned

taking another way out

in my head, thoughts of how bad it had become, lead to imaginings

of suicide and how savage that is to hear

for someone who is dying and does not want to die

the ingratitude of the well

these thoughts fly around me

like bees unwilling yet to sting

my heart is heavy for her

wondering selfishly what I would do

had I the same burden

praying to an empty sky, for that not to happen

superstitious that even the mere wish not to be sick

evokes it

as if fate were laughing and throwing darts

at fleeing people

so helpless, we sink our teeth into projects

wind up time like a ball of yarn

knit it into shapes we can understand

all while keeping horror at bay

the imagined car crash, the loved one never returning home

a cancer growing inside like a whistle

on a hurtling train

it is easy to not find time for empathy

or to feel, it is too close, too raw, too impossible

to process

most of all I think of her grace

how she can appreciate something like a child might

I think of her humor

how she’s had me folded on the floor laughing at the

sheer fucking brilliance of her

I am proud in ways that hurt

she’s everything I am not and she’s also

deeply human

if one person says ‘I’m sorry for your loss‘ I will

scream; “She’s not gone yet! She’s never

going to be gone, that’s just not how

she rolls. Don’t underestimate her

don’t think you own her anymore

than you own your own life.

Those platitudes are all we sometimes have

we mean them more

than scrolling past someone’s bad news

crossing ourselves, as we step over graves

one day slated to be ours

we side step death like the dancers we are

thinking we’re somehow avoiding

something born before we were

and I focus and think of her

how if I could show her my feelings

they would be in movement, in laughter

in light, spinning like an electric waterfall

like her spinning class, where just for a moment

she is that girl beneath the hot trance lights of

the 90’s and I am dancing along side her

as the earth holds us both, alive

despite any ‘support’ she has

which I am more glad of than anything

though what support does against terror?

I cannot lend a description to

my own failings in the courage department

planning my demise when the first meteorite hit

although I read we use meteorite and meteor and astroid

interchangably

and they are actually very different

with only the burning of the sun

in common to collease

their strength as potential planet killers

my math teacher used to say

a morbid mind will only bring sorrow

of course she was right

in her Laura Ashley dungerees

that would now be worth $300 on Ebay

a funny ole world my grandma prosthelytized

nipping at the ever full box of wine in the kitchen

clipping her rose garden when ABBA wasn’t

sufficient to propel demons

I get it

I really do

there’s only avoidance really

we can’t look into the sun too long

we’ll lose our sight before

we’ve made our way back from the garden

or maybe

we’ll stay, our heads upturned

soaking in the rays

To dearest Cordelia, I adore you.

Please consider purchasing Cordelia’s first novel In Bloom, it is magnificent.

https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/cordelia-feldmans-eight-things-not-to-say-to-someone-with-cancer-p6bvz0xhsts

MAKE ME

war paint

When I’m not telling people

I am the least competitive person you’ll meet

I shouldn’t have moved to America, I am an anathema

I am nevertheless, competing with myself

to survive

the breakage, subtle and merciless of my whole

appears to be my greatest talent

should they look me up in the dictionary

I would stare out bleakly at Consequences in Fetus of Nicotine In-Utero

it began before words were formed, a slow

incompleteness quite unlike the robust energies

of my relatives

a thin, wan girl, slow to learn, I made up for it by being sporty

denying the gnawing, gnarling pain in my stomach

was more than a night terror

swimming for medals was competitive after all but

didn’t feel so when, head under water, the cheers sounded

like waves breaking on distant shores, easy to forget

noxious rinse of chlorine in verruca filled inner-city

swimming pool where small measure of fame could be found

among cast-off plasters.

Beneath water I felt powerful, unmolested, not burdened

by sandwich of pain in my gut or how

no-one for me sitting among keening spectators

when I came up for air.

Since then, fantasy has been my succor, I can’t deny it

perhaps I have lived half in petri-dish and tree house

with ‘here be dragons’ written on its door.

When teachers told me; I wasn’t behaving like a good girl

I said ‘make me‘ and spent the afternoon kicking muddy

kid shoes against linoleum hallways

what do they think we imagine as, willful, disobedient, opinionated

we are shunted from our positions as ‘well behaved’ to the

shrine of sinners lost in plastic corridors?

We learn the company of other Reparates

is oddly comforting, no-one to remind us we cannot

make sense of numbers and still struggle with spelling

soon I gave up trying for A’s

locking lips with strange boys who wanted my best friends

instead of this disinterested girl

briefly kissing felt like swimming underwater

but coming up for air was much harder.

I am teleported now into a body and time I never imagined

surviving this long or sitting at this table, watching birds

battle their pecking order outside in a hostile green world

I rarely visit

it’s not reluctance or shyness, they have grown comfortable with

the shifting skin of me

something that happens when you begin to leach

that essence of youth and vigor

realizing, if you can make it out of bed today

you’re doing better than the day before.

I hear in my head, the scold of my mother

who believed I gave myself this illness

and much as they’ve told me that’s madness

I am often found returning to those words

as if they have some clammy power over me

which of course, they do.

I know I was well and then I was not

just like you can remember the day you lost your virginity

or survived a car accident or inherited a country cottage

it’s a day when colors and sounds change

in this case, terror walked into my throat

sucking on me, whispered; bitch, this is your new normal.

Fight as I may, these years have unfolded like those

paper flowers I used to buy in joke stores

put them in water and watch them bloom

only long enough before turning to ink and

wet tree pulp

it’s a form of flaying when strangers are kinder than

those you expect

angry with yourself for not learning sooner

expectation leads to disappointment.

This could be why I didn’t

enter many races or attempt to claw my way to the top (of what?)

better to stay low and wait it out until

you can have your turn

only sometimes, waiting uses up all the time you have left

then it’s almost too late and you have to change

everything.

Nowadays I compete with myself

can I cure the beast that’s become constant companion?

Will it matter if I do?

What happens afterward?

Fear is mauve and dives and swoops like unmated Mockingbird

I hear the kitchen clock and fast thud of my tired heart

Somewhere, I’m still the girl in the treehouse who says ‘make me’

perhaps one day it won’t be disappointment but

something lovely, I can only hope

though my body likes to punch me in the gut

as I fall asleep and try to dream

thump, thump, thump, my mother’s voice

this was something you did wrong

thump, thump, thump, my own voice

no it wasn’t this was an explosion taking the long way around

even getting half way there would be some kind

of accomplishment

which is why I always said it’s not about winning

but making the effort

to which I was told, that’s pretty negative foreign-born-girl.

Where’s your sense of spunk? I think I lost it somewhere between

throwing up for 4 months on end and the doctors saying

maybe it’s incurable…. ho ho ho …. you see

I’m not from here, I don’t belong

though where I came from I hardly know anymore

so I will forge ahead, outcast or survivor, pick a damn straw

with every passing year I realize

I can’t win, I but I will fight

MAKE ME I whisper to myself

bloody well try to MAKE ME stop.

 

Christine – an honoring

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You don’t know this

But if there is a warrior

That warrior is you

If anyone blazes the way and holds the torch for the light to get through

That woman is you

Because you feel the fear and do it anyway

You set fire to yourself and offer your ashes to the Phoenix

You are unstoppable even as they come at you with everything and more

You’re the wind in the willows, the avalanche, the fucking heartbeat of ten thousand voices

You are Boudicca

Riding your chariot through the Roman siege

You are the woman in ten-year old sweat pants making me laugh until I weeze

Who can smell an idea and rip the world in half with your passion

And when you think you’re just some old bird biding her days

We’re here to remind you of the shine you’ve bequeathed so many

Before you, those things weren’t the same

They were easily passed by, easily put aside

And you said, hell no, and picked them up and gave them value

You galvanized the lost and herded them into something strong

We exist as we do BECAUSE OF YOU

You mock yourself because it’s what you know, but if you could see

The places you touch with your dreams and how they leave us

Better than we were

You’d be finally proud of your legacy thus far

And damn if nothing will ever stop you

Because if it hasn’t by now, then nothing will

Even on your dark days remember, you lit the way girl, it was you

It was you we owe so much to

And you who conjured the dawn.

For Christine E. Ray on her last day at SD and the first day of the rest of her life. We love you woman.