The
   
Barefoot Review
 


Diane Hoover Bechtler

Proposal

Before I learned I’d need a brain biopsy, I made another big decision. Lawrence had talked about getting married or moving in with me before my first Mayo trip. At that time, he and I believed I’d go to Mayo once, get a diagnosis, be treated and cured, restored to hiking, dancing, and unaided walking.

His proposal was somewhat lacking.

On the Sunday morning before I was to fly to Mayo, he propped on a pillow and said, “Do you want me to marry you before you leave?”

“Wow,” I said, “That is the most unromantic proposal I’ve ever had. Let me think. You’re offering a mercy marriage. Gosh I can hardly turn you down but I do turn you down, you arrogant ass. If you can’t do any better than that, I don’t want you to ever say it again. I bet you don’t even have a ring.”

He back-pedaled fast, “I want you to know it doesn’t matter, Diane. Your condition doesn’t change that who you are or that I care about you.”

“Sorry, Lawrence, but the illness does change things. It colors every thought I have. It affects every move I make. We went to breakfast. I wore my red patent leather slippers straight from Oz. I never wore them again.

I wrote Lawrence an email that turned into a letter taken home and discussed.

Lawrence,

Since my sister wasn’ t here this trip. I’ ve had a lot of time to think, lying on MRI tables, curled in fetal positions while fluid was being drained from my spine, you know, those quiet moments everyone has each day.

I talked to my docs about my personal life for a while because everything seems interconnected. They gave me what I feel is good advice. I cannot make any major decisions affecting my life and future right now. Way too much is going on, too much white noise. The same is true for us. We are both under enormous stress -- for me the worst of my life. I think the same for you.

I can’t marry or change my living arrangements at this time. I have to get through the challenges ahead and make choices in a more stable, informed frame of mind. My health condition is affecting my every move. Since my sister wasn’t here this trip, I’ve had a lot of time to think, lying on MRI tables, curled in fetal positions while fluid was being drained from my spine, you know, those quiet moments everyone has each day.

Life will focus rapidly as you wait for bad, worse, or worst news from Mayo. When the docs told me I needed to come again in four weeks and have a hole drilled in my brain, I put myself first

I was to make a choice about our relationship direction by the time I got back. I’ m not going to have done that. I am too caught in the now.

Diane Hoover Bechtler lives in Charlotte, North Carolina, with her husband, Michael Gross who is a poet with a day job and with their cats, Ishy and Mirry.
She suffers from a strange and rare brain disease. She works around it.


Rick Blum

No Escape

An immobile mime
he sits in a box
silent, in frozen thrall,
while effusion bursts forth
in bleach-whitened flashes
beyond invisible walls.

Carbonated coaches
twist this way and that,
bodies lissome and lithe,
inured to the torment
of muscles gone slack,
voices achingly blithe.

He follows their lead
reaching up for the sky;
Higher! they both implore.
Now down and down
past shivery shins
to ankles, feet and floor!

Then out to the front
and back of him, too,
taut fibers stretching beyond.
“And that’s how to keep
your body toned up,”
they chirp, cementing a bond.

He thanked them, most grateful,
for more limberly limbs,
despite the cold paradox:
the outcome he’d sought
still loomed out of reach:
how to escape that damned box

Rick Blum has been writing humorous prose and poetry for 25 years – five years longer than when the first symptoms of a progressive form of MS appeared. Since then he has tried innumerable treatments – from Tibetan herbs to impossible-to-maintain diets – to try to stop the progress of this disease. Though unsuccessful to date, he’s still casting about for more while he can still fish. Currently, he is holed up in his office in Massachusetts trying, when not distracted by the colors outside his window, to write the perfect bio.


Kathy Buckert

Cocooned in Hope

A sensation of pain ripped through my body as I struggled out of my anesthesia stupor. Why did it hurt so much? Did they cut me in half? As I wavered in and out of consciousness, needles jabbed my left arm over and over again accompanied by exasperated voices. “Try my right arm it works better,” I said as if in my unconscious state I understood their frustration that my veins refused to cooperate with the needles. It’s amazing what the mind does while we are unaware.

“How are you doing Kathy?” “I’m scared.” Was that me who answered? “We’ll give you something for it honey,” someone assured me. I slipped further back into my dream world. Voices in the dark, familiar voices reached into my drug induced slumber. I could feel a gentle stroking of my hair. A whisper slipped down a tunnel to my heart.

“I love you.”

Jerry’s voiced faltered as he said the words that would change my life for months to come. “Honey you have cancer, but they think they got it all.” My response shocked him. I simply said, “Okay.” No tears. No screams. Nothing but incredible peace penetrated my spirit. Was it the medication? It could be, but I would like to think that I found what my pastor referred to as “the peace that passes all understanding that keeps our hearts and minds at rest.”

As I struggled to open my eyes, I once again heard a familiar voice push its way through my shadow of consciousness.

“You’re still my little girl and I will never leave you.” The nurses said my heart rate visibly changed on the monitor when I recognized my dad’s voice. Deep in my spirit, I knew that that it may have been my earthly father saying those words to me. However, instinctively I knew my Heavenly father promised to never leave me nor forsake me, especially now in my darkest hour.

Wracked with pain, I tried to put myself into my usual fetal position for sleep while the morphine dripped, dripped, dripped into my body. Jerry wouldn’t leave the hospital. He thought I may be teetering on the edge of some cliff. He didn’t want me to go into a panic attack while he slept alone in our bed wrapped in his own fears. We had an understanding of the tendencies toward anxiety that we shared. When claustrophobia or a sense of unease hit us hard, we both knew how to be strong for the other.

While Jerry slept in the solarium down the hall, the nurses came in the room every hour and asked me, “On a scale of one to ten, what is your pain level.” I never went below an eight.

“Do you want to change your position? You don’t look comfortable.” And every time I said, “No.” Cocooned within the haze of morphine, tubes, and God; the fetal position, although it didn’t look comfortable, gave me security. By the light of day, the image of all those tubes taking and giving this life force of healing to my body unnerved me. The minute my nurse tried to sit me up, the one source that took away pain began to suck the very life out of me. My blood pressure dropped to 60/40, and the cloudy edge of reality slipped away into darkness. My battle had started. The words that I heard weeks before slipped into my dazed condition. “Trust me Kathy, but it won’t go without a fight.” I fought my way back out of my disoriented state just as my children walked through the door followed by Dr. Clifford. The look on their faces said it all. I looked like death. Dr. Clifford explained in detail everything that took place during the surgery. Every time he mentioned something new they remove, my children’s reactions hurt more than the surgical wounds. Melinda caressed my hair, Bethany squeezed my hand a little harder, Brandon moved closer to the window, and Geoff looked at his father and then at me, back and forth, back and forth.

“Dr. Clifford, what do you think of everything,” I asked hoping my straightforward question would bring some peace of mind.

“I don’t know if you are going to live or die until your pathology report comes back.” Die? Who said anything about dying? Why would you even mention death in front of my children? Geoff was only seven years old and Brandon was only eleven. The girls were older, but still how could he do that to them? I had a husband who loved me, children who needed me. I couldn’t die. I don’t why we didn’t call him on his less than professional behavior. My only explanation: We were dumbfounded by his demeanor. Our eyes darted back forth one to the other like some pinball machine with a mind of its own. Our mouths didn’t open. I, of course, thought my death was imminent.

“I’m sorry,” he said curtly and he left the room. “Mom, he’s not the expert. Talk to your oncologist when he comes in this afternoon,” Melinda once again had the voice of reason. I knew I shouldn’t jump to conclusions until I heard what my oncologist, Dr. Eltabbahk, had to say.

In the midst of my crazy inward storm, he assured us that I would be okay, but that I would probably need chemotherapy. The thoughts of chemotherapy didn’t even register; we had hope again. To this day, I believe with every ounce of my being that no matter what the prognosis is you have to give hope to someone who is facing a catastrophic illness. Without it they give up. I didn’t give up. I fought. I survived.

Kathy Buckert is a poet and creative non-fiction writer from Rochester, New York. She was diagnosed with stage 3 ovarian cancer in 1998 after outpatient surgery to remove a benign tumor. During her cancer experience, she learned how faith, hope, and survival go hand-in-hand. Journaling her experiences helped her cope with the day-to-day living that comes with a cancer diagnosis.


Mary Crider

Have a Nice Day

I threw a dollar to the homeless man, the hopeless man, the invisible man, and I said, “Have a nice day” as I went merrily on my way.

Did I see his desperate eyes as I looked up to the skies? “What a beautiful day,” as I went merrily on my way

I’ll be headed to my home and my big poster bed, but on this cold night, where will he lay his head? And I said, “Have a nice day” as I went merrily on my way

What happened to humanity? Did it fall into insanity? Is it all about our vanity? We fight, we claw to have it all, always to win and never fall. Is it so bad to lose it all? And I said, “have a nice day” as I when merrily on my way.

Is it fate? Is destiny? Is it divine intervention? Or do we live our lives by the mother of invention?

I threw a dollar to the homeless man, the hopeless man, the invisible man, and I said, “Have a nice day” as I went merrily on my way.

Summer Fanous

Untitled

The hospital has always been a regularly visited place for me, similar to a mall, school or church. For as long as I can remember, my dad has frequented this place, I have become accustomed to the gift shop, latex gloves and surgical masks. My first memory is that of a visit I had with my mother, brother and grandparents when I was about 8.

The spiritual counsellor left behind a pastel blue rosary that had been blessed. I was too young to realize what was happening, I thought he was just “sick” like anyone else. But as I got older and became more curious about his health, I started to question those holy beads and my faith altogether. If there were a God, why would my father suffer so much?

It started off with a heart attack. I truly believe its because he keeps everything bottled up inside. Financial issues, divorce, business troubles, family problems and more affect him daily. He is stubborn and shy, harbouring guilt and shame that has built up inside of him like the cholesterol clogging his arteries. Eating Italian beef submarines and deep fried fries and chicken and drinking McDonald's coffee with 4 creams and just as much sugar doesn’t help either.

As much as my mother, who loves him with all her aching heart, has tried to keep him on the doctors prescribed diet, he refuses and chooses to “live his life.” Years pass and he learns that he has type 2 diabetes. He took the pills his doctor recommended and then willingly or unwittingly discontinued the regimen. He goes to the hospital again. My wrinkled grandmother cries her eyes out for her eldest son, afraid she will lose the child who has always taken care of her.

High cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes and a heart attack under his belt just wasn’t enough for him to change his habits or outlook on life. Time continues and his stress levels rise, unable to communicate his feelings effectively, he buries it all inside. Then suddenly, another heart attack. I was a sophomore in high school and so scared that my dad wouldn’t make it to see me graduate. But it was as if God had other plans.

By this time, I felt as though I had to believe, it seemed like he was defying so many odds, there had to be a reason. A few check ups and doctors visits later, it is determined that his heart is too weak to continue on living normally. By this time he had picked up the dangerous habit of smoking hookah, a water pipe filled with flavoured tobacco, daily for hours at a time. My mom cried and pleaded with him to cut back at least, because she knew she wouldn’t be able to make him stop completely.

His stubborn attitude propelled him to feel entitled about his accomplishments and life, and he continued to harm his body. The doctor suggested a quadruple bypass heart surgery; veins from his legs were removed and replaced the defective ones in his body’s life source. Thankfully, all went well and he was told to have some rest for his recovery. “Don’t go to work for at least two months” were the cardiologists’ words, but did he listen? Of course not.

As soon as he felt the slightest bit better, he hopped up and marched back to the body and mechanic shop that he owns and although he wasn’t turning wrenches or pumping lifts, he was still dealing with the business. The noise of heavy machinery, grease, customer complaints, people defaulting on payments, was an environment he definitely shouldn’t have been in. Yet, he stayed and whenever he felt weak, he just walked across the street to see his city-approved doctor.

For years, he has been prescribed buckets full of pills for all his ailments, though I always suspected he was being misdiagnosed, because how is it possible to take about 20+ pills a day and still not see any improvements? Something was wrong indeed; he was hospitalized again and again. By this time, my siblings and I felt as though he was a cat with 9 lives, our reaction wasn’t as drastic as the first few times.

But it was still serious; he had to get a defibrillator installed as a backup to his already weak and mended but no good results heart. He thought he was superman, as if this new battery would give him power to continue to live life as he pleased. People treated him the way he saw himself, as if nothing was wrong with him. Inside our home, he was very outspoken; his word was the rule of the land. But outside, that was a different story.

People took advantage of his kindness and always asked for favours, and he was too shy to ever say no. One time, he was dropping off people at the airport and collapsed before they could board. His heart had given up on him again and he was rushed to the E.R. No matter what the doctors tried to do, he was never completely cured. He is now on the list for a heart transplant, but at 59 years old, and with so many complications already, I doubt he’d be picked at all.

My mom worries about him every minute, as she is dependant on him. I fear that he won’t make it to see his grandson who will bear his name. My brother is burdened with the thought of having to be the man of the house. My dad is just living his life the way he wants, with no regard for how anyone else feels. Eating, drinking and smoking what is bad for him, to stubborn to stop, to shy to admit he’s wrong.

I wish he could swallow his guilt and shame and just accept his life for what it really is. Maybe then he will realize what a blessing it is and can be.

Summer Fanous is a freelance writer from Chicago who currently resides in Toronto with her husband. She writes about her father, a 59-year-old son, husband, and grandfather who has many health-related issues including type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. She can be reached at www.SummerFanous.com.


Miriam Green

Lost

She often dwells in a remote terrain
where daily life is unremembered. Late
November visits like a wound, I mourn
her mind’s descent. How disengaged I act
to counteract her chirpy child-like self.
Who is the mother here? And who is lost?
Again, again the tangles in her brain
suggest the startled way she hesitates
to say my name or know when I was born.
Her time is nullified, her space contracts
and every crooked stare’s a plea for help.
Sometimes her face, her hands appear like ghosts
that smile and wave their spectral love at me,
burning, burning in my memory.

Brain Tangles

Dandelions
clump like tumors
in the riotous garden

of your mind. Empty diagnosis,
you insist. No one tells
you the truth, not the doctors,

not your husband. Not God
behind His one-way mirrors. Sometimes
you admit you’re confused.

The clock’s hands read
like a foreign language.
House plants wither without

water. There’s a book in the freezer,
coins in the sugar bowl.
You jam the wrong key

into the locked door and
rage when it won’t open.
You wander in rooms

you have already abandoned.
If there is a key, it is hidden
in the chaos of your drawers.

We sort through piles
of single socks and match
the pairs as if

we could patch your brain,
tangles that constrict
all knowledge

until even your name is lost.

Recipe for a Small Star

    for Ima
Say her name. Say
her name. Shout it. Louder,
louder, louder.
String the memories together
like beads of light
that explode in a brilliant flash
as stars in the night sky.

Alzheimer’s Pantoum

“How are you today?” she asks
as if it’s the first time. I tell her
I’m fine, I’m taking a poetry class,
Liora’s got a solo in the school musical.

As if it’s the first time, I tell her
we’re all fine. Hillel made a new friend,
Liora’s got a solo in the school musical.
“How are you today?” she asks.

We’re all fine! Hillel made a new friend.
We chatter away about nothing.
“How are you today?” she asks.
It’s cold outside, and she’s dressed for summer.

We chatter away about nothing.
I thought she’d always be my mother.
It’s snowing outside, and she’s dressed for summer.
Her mind keeps its secrets.

I thought she’d always be my mother.
Now my skills exceed hers.
Her mind keeps its secrets,
memory as cruel as winter.

Now my skills exceed hers.
“How are you today?” she asks,
memory as cruel as winter.
I’m fine, I’m taking a poetry class.

after Linda Pastan

Miriam Green is a graduate of the Shaindy Rudoff Creative Writing Program at Bar Ilan University in Israel. Each week, Miriam visits her mother, who is suffering from Alzheimer’s. They walk the busy streets of Netanya along the Mediterranean coast, drink coffee, shop, and talk. Sometimes they cook dinner together. Often, they just enjoy the sunshine. Miriam is appreciative of each moment she has with her mother, knowing that further disintegration of her faculties is just around the corner. Miriam is a 20-year resident of Beer Sheva, Israel, and a mother of three.


Art Heifetz

The View from the Tower

If I remember the echo of your laugh
If prayers could animate
the matchstick arms
that dangle by your side,
I’d compose a dozen daily
and post them on the old-growth
cedars in Olympia
which shoot straight up to Heaven.

It’s been three years since you felt
the numbness in your hands
and your illness is still
a terrible mystery to us,
its cause and cure as yet
undiscovered.
All the doctors know is that
room by room
the body shuts down
while the mind remains alert,
that the muscles wither
like spindly plants
until, no longer able to
breathe or swallow,
you wait for the darkness
to settle in.

Seated in the brilliant sunlight
of this revolving restaurant
five hundred feet above Seattle,
the end seems as far away
as the sailboats in the sound.
You sip the wine through a straw.
You savor every bite of the prime rib,
cut by the chef into tiny pieces.
Your dress and jewelry have
an understated elegance.
Rose blush has brought the color
back to your cheeks.

You close your eyes
and imagine that
you’re dining in first class,
looking through the cabin window
at the billowing, red-tinged clouds
while the earth
in all its blue green splendor
turns beneath your feet.

Art Heifetz teaches ESL to refugees in Richmond, Va. He has had nearly 100 poems published in the U.S., Canada, India, Argentina, Israel, Australia, France, Spain, and Singapore. He was recently nominated for the Pushcart Prize. His website is polishedbrasspoems.com


Amanda Reimer

Sunflower
    for Katelyn

There once was a flower named for the sun,
she glowed brightly, her laughter dancing
on pearly teeth; and though her life set
with the night, her story rises eternally.

She glowed brightly, her laughter dancing,
a beautiful sun, a shining counterpart
with the night. Her story rises eternally
like a phoenix from the flame. She is

a beautiful sun, a shining counterpart
to the cancer hidden behind a dazzling smile
like a phoenix from the flame. She is
freed from the chains. She says goodbye

to the cancer hidden behind a dazzling smile
on pearly teeth; and though her life set,
freed from the chains, she says goodbye.
There once was a flower named for the sun.

Amanda Reimer is a class of 2015 undergraduate at Carroll University studying writing and communication. When her Girl Scout leader and mentor, Pam, and childhood friend, Katelyn, succumbed to brain cancer and ovarian cancer respectively, she wanted to share their bravery and love through words. These poems are a tribute to the beauty of life and the process of grieving for the loved and lost. Amanda shares her writing at amandareimer.wordpress.com.


Katherine DiBella Seluja

Blue Vase

empty
translucent container

to hold your only duty
how many bouquets did you miss

when I gaze through blue glass
your thorns come into view

long stemmed wonder
garland of barren questions

what of the funneled calla
the wilting lily

baby's breath
torn and frayed

still your tangled roots
mildew in grey water

rest now     floating brown leaf posy

Schizophrenia

He sits frozen
in Paul Simon's lap

the snakes have slid from Paul's guitar
vibrating in the key of G

Lou tries for the harmony
only single grunts escape

his mouth is crammed with eighth notes
sliding down his throat

dripping from his lips
his elbow a pulley

his hand an iron claw
pulley draws claw to mouth

scooping at notes
and then he sees her

that girl in the hospital day-room
grasping and plucking the air

eighth notes sliding from her fingers

Self-inflicted

Wound edges dark and damp
eighteen millimeters deep

Required medication
twice daily bandage change

He had been alone
the truck was cold and still

Her photo torn and crumpled
certain the lock was on

Meant only to clean the barrel
wooden stock against truck seat

After the blast he staggered
shattered foot dragged half a mile

All the while he muttered
what she would have said

There you go again
selfish with your things

careless with all the weight of wonder

Katherine DiBella Seluja has worked in healthcare for 30 years. Her older brother, Lou, was diagnosed with schizophrenia when he was a child. Lou experienced five nervous breakdowns during his early 20's. He eventually outgrew his psychosis but did not escape the consequences of alcoholism that he developed as a way to cope with his mental illness. Growing up with and often taking care of Lou has had a huge impact on Katherine's life. She can be found at katherineseluja.com.

Shelby Stephenson

Mood: Forever A Sequel

  1
Now the joy we knew has cycled,
  In a tight and self-conscious brow,
    The sex and text become benumbed;
Still Hope and Time work unbuckled,
The scutcheon, Normal Mood, flayed,
  As far back as Youth its nose thumbed
At Depression’s malaise − which stayed,
  A squatter we can’t disavow.

  2
We walked along the Fairy Glen,
  The fields, meadows, purple with wild
Layers singing for us like twins,
  The wind, singling, doubling its lyre.
The spruces blue-greened their limbs to sky,
  Where clouds accumulated and blurred,
As needles underfoot pricked dye
  A blood-red, which hurt good our words.
It was as if a floating band,
  Sent from some Elysian fields,
Played for us together to scan
  A way to Love’s abundant yields.

  3
We kissed among those spruces blue,
  The sky leaning on our shoulders,
Light as sunset courting the dew;
  We scraped in tunes of time, boulders,
Shadows drumming silence for us,
  Until the tree-tips stopped leaf-still,
As if to sign the wind No Fuss,
  And let the world, noiseless, reel
On the hills of Lintemarho,
  Like loaves of corridors displayed,
Arranging themselves in harmony,
  Sounding land’s edge to be the sea.

  4
How real it was! The quietude −
  By any other gauge The Farm
Could have been another world’s rude
  Commerce centering in one form:
The feeling of too much sadness
  Folding the seasons in a row
Our eyes beheld no more than less
  A mid-summer as winter’s snow:
Gingerbread men, white lake effect;
  Crab-apples, along the line-fence,
Separating neighbors, in a frieze,
  While wind whirling down chimney-stacks,
Hearthstone-bound, laughed like a giant
  And foxes, lost from all but tracks,
Loping out of grace heaven-blent;
  I did not want to pinch myself −
The trip was too rare for all show,
  An actual dream, Summer Place,
Named for sisters from Buffalo.

  5
Reality’s not a bad bore,
  As Shub’s mind, now certainly is,
For the way that cold landscape tore
  Our hearts from ragged thoughts to bliss
Drew changes on the easel-clouds
  We cannot duplicate, our minds,
Our hearts, swinging true to limb-boughs,
  Thoughts in retrospect that seem Time’s
Sword sheathed in snow a northeaster
  Might blow down our blouses to bring
Decades of grounds for bestial
  Trespasses my lines cannot sing.
Depression is a bear, I mean.
  Now I’ve said it − sink into
And out of any path we scheme
  Together, out of Fate’s hard due.
The day ledges cradled the hill
  In your state made my Caroline
Over and done with words a thrill
  Could bring in even one spare line,
Compared to the somber trickles
  The sand brushed in our eyelashes,
Lowering, raising like tickles
  From wells of our souls the rushes −
Deepened mica-bits wide open,
  Unfocused on those laser-heights
That uncurbed mania dotes on,
  Yourself, myself, too, Nothing, blights.
Linda, Terry, Marnie, Hope −
  Lintemarho − how envious −
Welcoming the bipolar scope
  Storms must be − coming to lend us
What sweet recalls our eyes reveal
  Now separate in a neat scene
To dip, sway out of sync, until
  Your cycle joins the Fairy Glen.

Rhiannon Thorne

Denial of Awareness

The world slips away under the weight of a wine bottle,
that nectared hush and temporal grace,
I am ensorced in silence,

thinking about the love of my life
who I have learned to live without,

the splicing pain a little death

that springs back from time to time
to swallow me.

This time I am begging it. Anything,

O God, anything tonight
and likely tomorrow
and maybe the next day
or always

to avoid the sharper new truth:

that you may be leaving shortly,

just now

when I've found you.

Pluto Can Wait

Awaken Morpheus, for a moment,
hold my hands in your smaller hands,
press your nose to my nose
and we can slide from here

the colors kaleidoscopic -
we are two Roman-tongues seeking refuge
at the end of a dream. O,

My Darling,
I have, after all, decided
that Pluto has no taste for you;

Not today or tomorrow
or this year -

he is a man of rich discernment,
knows well the value of maturity;
that the deepest things
must wait.

We are young yet; our toes just sliding
into the full moon.

Nor, my lady,
are we the folly of a Zeus-bull,
running head first into a maiden's womb;

we will not end up
scattered among the stars,

the eternal memory.

No, none of it would make sense,
the ending breath,
the pruning -

wrap your wild arms around me,

we'll go on dreaming.

Rhiannon Thorne lives in Phoenix, Arizona where she telecommutes from home and co-edits cahoodaloodaling with fellow poet-in-arms and love Kate Hammerich. Kate was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia when she was 20. Now, 8 years later, she has begun dealing with the deterioration of her body, both from the disease, and the battery of medications and repeat surgeries that came along with it. Rhiannon and Kate have been known to swap poems all night and howl at the moon.


Lynne Viti

Late October Sestina

For Don

I
We hear you've got more ice cream in the house.
Armed with mops and rags, friends came from Maine.
They scrubbed the floors, took on the basement room
Where the teenagers, years ago, would gather
Watch movies on the VCR, or blast their music.
You’re back awhile, another little furlough.

II
It must be odd, this practice of the furlough
The trips from house to hospital to house,
All that time you have now to listen to music,
To think on past Novembers, back in Maine,
Potato cellar work, when you would gather
The spuds, and carry them above ground to a room.

III
Amazingly, the house now has so much room
Kids gone, all schooled, back then they had the furloughs.
From school to home to school, they’d gather
Books, laundry, CDs, laptops, strewn through the house
Then all too soon, they’d vanish. Thoughts of Maine
Gave way to missing them, their chaos and their music.

IV
Right now, if you can listen, there’s the music
Of juncos, maybe cardinals just outside this room.
Perhaps some came here when the first snow fell on Maine.
They think of Massachusetts as the place to furlough.
The fine old trees, the shrubbery near the house,
All shelter for these songbirds, so they gather.

V
They take off, just like planes, then soon, they gather,
Trill, call out, caw, or chirp--I guess it’s music
To draw you from the inside of your house.
You tiptoe to the porch from living room
To savor every moment of your furlough.
You’re in the moment now, no thoughts of Maine.

VI
The weather’s getting colder up in Maine.
The forecasts call for snow showers, I gather.
Good thing you’re here, for your October furlough.
Warm days ahead where we are, good for music
From headphones or from speakers shaking the room,
Take a load off, Fanny reverbs through the house.

VII
May this restorative furlough, dear friend from Maine,
Your family in this house, as you all gather
Be your music, be your joy in every room.

Crystal Hill Homestand

For Don

Post chemo, i.v.s, dull food, and infection,
from Boston you have travelled home to stay
for R & R, a good steak, and affection
from family, family dog, just for a day
or two or three, in which to laze in bed, but not
that metal hospital cot with sterile linens.
You might walk out on Indian summer grasses
Or shuffle through the leaves, sort of beginning
to bask in autumn sunlight, turn your face
up to the sky, squinting against the rays
that slant onto the earth in this, your own place
not thinking long on next week. No, today’s
the day you want to sit and read the sports page,
reflect on what the odds are for your team,
listen to music, drink tea, begin to gauge
how much you’re loved, how great the stream
of life around you, going on quite as usual,
elections, wars, casinos, Nobel Prize
littering the front page. Soon, you’ll
nap and dream, and waking, will arise—
It’s good to leave the battle for a while
gather up your strength
breathe deeply, and smile.

Lynne Viti teaches writing about law, technology and media at Wellesley College. She has written and published on such disparate topics as law, television, gardening, fashion, and growing up in Baltimore. See her links to publications on her blog: stillinschool.wordpress.com. These poems honor of her good friend Don. Diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia, he recently underwent a stem cell transplant after several rounds of chemotherapy.

Always be a poet, even in prose.
                                – Charles Baudelaire
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