With the Edges of her Eyes


Today I’d like to share a poem I wrote about my maternal grandmother, who died in 1980, when I was only a senior in high school.

My grandmother was probably my favorite person on the planet.  I adored her and thought, as a teenager, that I could deal with just about any challenge, as long as it didn’t involve losing her.

Nana and I, two years before her death

My grandmother, born in 1903, was beautiful as a young girl:

However, when I was myself an adolescent, Nana fell and broke her hip.  She  was subsequently unable to reach her own feet, so when I visited her, my favorite place to stay in the summers, I often washed them for her–something I allude to in the poem that follows.

nana

(in memory of Martha Gilbert Kunkle)

we are oblique and
at odd angles:
     me at the feet
     i once washed
     on a regular basis
 
in the dream:
     she is getting older
                melting or
                shrinking
 
looking at me
only with the edges
     of her eyes.
 

Though often in my dreams my grandmother is still alive, I’m grateful in the mornings  to know Nana, in all the ways that matter,  has never really left–blessing enough–in my own now aging  eyes.

Sanity Sucks (even on a Good Day)!


I’m not nearly  as crazy as I used to be.  Now you could say I’m even semi-sane–though I’m not sure that’s always an advisable way to survive the madness that is image-obsessed, media-driven, fast-food-consuming  middle America.

We may all be better off a little more crazy and a lot less obsessed with success.

However, and this is an over-sized qualifier indeed, my head has never quite figured out how to do sanity full-time.  If only it were 9 to 5 instead of 24/7.  That’s a lot more normal than I’m able to manage–even on a good day.

Too often still, my brain looks like this:


I feel the surreal that is this:

Eclipse
 
I enter the tangle
     of sleep
                    walk
     beside you into the thick
     of camel hair
                    coarse
     and without water
 
the hand, a sudden
     five-pointed mutiny
     against the decay
 
                    a nightmare
of folded sheets
 

So don’t worry if the dishes aren’t done, the laundry looms.  The kids are bound to grow into semi-civilized adults despite your best efforts.

Normal’s not all it’s cracked up to be.  So go a little crazy today.

Do something radical and off the wall:  GIVE YOURSELF A BREAK!

A Sister Lost: a Twin Remembered


In honor of Memorial Day, I’m remembering my identical twin sister Martha, who died several days after we were born. 

Twins born a month premature had little chance of survival in 1962, a time before medical science knew how to save the tiniest of infants.  I weighed just over 3 pounds, Marty just over 2.  The doctors promised my parents neither of us would survive, but it seems even then I was determined to beat the odds.

This poem is written in the voice of my sister, who describes our experience in the womb:  the veins lining the inside of the placenta we shared, her efforts to recite poetry about our time together , the fact that I was growing more quickly than she.

Hope you appreciate this poem about a primal kind of bonding and the profound sadness of losing someone whose DNA was identical to mine, someone who mirrored me even before the beginning, when “I” was “we” and “we” were wombed as one.

 

 To my twin sister who lived to tell about it

 

The room, which was poorly lit

     and warmer than we wanted,

     curved around us

               like planetarium

                    ceiling

               like the rind

                    of cantaloupe

                    as seen from the inside

 

I remember how you traced

     the networking of veins

     with the stub that became

                  the index finger

                  of your left hand

              

While I recited garbled

     poems about

           the splitting

                  of space

          the fact that you were

                 gathering more

                 matter

  

 

Writing Round the Vertigo


At the beginning of Mental Health Awareness Month, I posted a piece called “Leaving the Seclusion Room  (some not-so-crazy notes on recoverying from mental illness)” about my stay at an Oklahoma psychiatric facility.  In that post I wrote about the voices I heard—an echo of children’s chatter—a description that prompted a question from my friend Sarah, who asked if I had ever explored those voices poetically—exploited their poetic potential, so to speak.

It turns out, I had.

Sort of.

The poem I’ll share below is written in several voices that interrupt one another—echoing—overlapping—dizzying.  Though there’s only one child’s voice in the mix of layered sing-song, this poem reminds me of the voices I still sometimes hear during times of vertigo-inducing stress–a surreal “reality” that looks a bit like this:

(photo by John Drysdale, " High Living Crocodile," 1976)

So–I hope you’ll wind these stairs with me–

And take a listen—

 

Vertigo

 

My head is killing

     me and he is talking

     about the etiquette

          of date rape

 

     cassette in the player

     cassette in the player

 

          indigo

          girls

          indigo

 

Where have you been?

 

The staircase is winding

     off the edges of the lawn

     and I am here

                                  lavender

 

     lilies of the valley

     lilies

               of

                     the

                             valley

 

I’ve told you not to

     go there

 

     you

     you

 

There you

                     daughter in the photograph

                     age three in front

                     of an antique typewriter

Kathy--already a writer--age 3

Why can’t you be more like . . .

 

    lilies of the valley

     lilies

              of

                    the

                            valley

 

The world according to cats

     is not a crazy sphere

     of influence

                                 spinning

                                 spinning

 

          in my

 

     cassette in the player

     cassette in the player

 

          head

 

another variation on not-so-sane


Today I’ll share yet another poem I wrote during my 1990 admission to Parkside Hospital, a psychiatric facility in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

If yesterday’s poem demonstrated how my associations had loosened (in the psychotic sense), if it betrayed the way my brain was processing (or not processing, as the case may be) something we’ll loosely call information, then today’s piece provides the same kind of evidence, indicating even more strongly how strange my “thinking” had become. 

parkside hospital       

     “I am in my own mind, / I am locked in the wrong house.”

      —Anne Sexton, “For the Year of the Insane”

you wonder why I am sick but
you must come to understand
that apple trees drop apples
before they’re ripe and the
apples rot.
 
you must come to understand
that I am made to think of
kitchen utensils and screwdrivers
which belong in separate
drawers but which for me
are all mixed up with cotton
balls and alcohol and clothes
pins that are used to
hang laundry on the line.
 
doing laundry is a difficult
chore.  i have trouble getting
the spots out, getting blood
out of panty crotches, so that
when they dry, they dry stiff
more like cardboard than cotton.
 
(25 march 1990)
 

I apparently went round and round with this during my stay at the hospital, as I have several variations in my journal.  I won’t bore you with the embarrassing awfulness of any others.

Please know though, that I have no earthly idea what this means and will rightly claim the insanity defense, for what it’s worth.  What was I thinking?  Likely, a strong case could be made that I wasn’t thinking with anything remotely resembling reason, let alone sanity.

But then again, maybe I’m looking at this the wrong way, maybe my inability to make sense of this is a lesson in learning to develop empathy for myself, for who I was at that time.

How scared I must have been!  How confused! 

And what about others, the ones who are still struggling, right now–in real-time? 

Let’s remember them————————