Jane Rosenberg LaForge – Dialysis of the Mind

Dialysis of the Mind

 

I was working out today when I thought of my mother; how she required dialysis at the end of her life. A test to determine whether she had pancreatic cancer shut down her kidneys. Before the cancer could be treated, her kidneys had to be restored. So dialysis it was, for two weeks.

I exercise because exertion requires the heart to pump more blood, and for the blood to take in more oxygen. This has an invigorating effect, as if my blood and my organs are cleansed by my movements. Exercising also occasionally settles my mind.

My mother had at several illnesses leading up to pancreatic cancer: Cervical cancer, for one, although we did not learn of it until after her death through the medical records. She also had peripheral arterial disease. This is a painful condition in which blood fails to circulate in the limbs; it stops, as though the route to nourishing knees and shins has been blinkered off; as if it no longer exists. Peripheral Arterial Disease is caused by smoking. My mother smoked for many years before quitting at age 49. Mild exercise was prescribed to deal with this illness.

My mother once exercised quite frequently, playing tennis several times a week. But at age 70 she injured her knee on the tennis court. Surgery and therapy were ineffective. She also endured terrible arthritis most of her adult life. She hid it by taking long hot showers in the morning. “She steamed herself open like a clam,’’ my father once said.

We knew she had also experienced something like leukemia, except her body produced too many red blood cells, instead of white. The disease revealed itself through high blood pressure. She had too much blood for her vascular system. This condition was mistreated in my mother, and the result was pancreatitis. Pancreatitis is inflammation of the pancreas, and it causes pain, weight loss, nausea, and vomiting. It also may lead to pancreatic cancer.

Pancreatitis is most often found in aging male alcoholics, although our mother did not drink. My sister drank, and she lived with our mother until our mother

died. My sister and I had a great sibling rivalry. We competed for friends, over our grades and social status, and for the affection of our parents, especially our mother’s. Who knew her better, who was the most thoughtful of her, who sacrificed more of her life and time? Perhaps I just gave up, and moved out the house. Perhaps my sister actually won this competition.

For dialysis, my mother was required to lie on a table. An intravenous line was inserted in a vein in her arm to siphon out the blood. The blood was then run through a series of filters. Blood takes in everything: sugars from our food, oxygen from the air; the toxins there too. The fine silk of the filters removes excess water, nutrients, waste and detritus. The blood is returned to the body through another intravenous line in the arm. Dialysis is not perfect. It is a manual approximation of a natural process, and therefore lacks its grace, and precision.

My sister was with my mother as she was forced to do nothing but stare at a ceiling for four hours each day. She asked our mother which was worse: dialysis or the mental hospital. No one knew this at the time of our mother’s mental illness, but diseases of the mind are caused by the faulty cycling of neurotransmitters in the brain. Instead of dispersing into the blood once they were used, our mother’s neurotransmitters batted back and forth, over and over again, between her synapses. This can lead to obsession, mania, depression, and psychosis. These illnesses resist a dialysis of the mind.

When my sister told me she had asked our mother which was worse—the dialysis or the mental hospital–I did not say anything. My sister did not tell me the answer. Instead I thought to myself, “But did you ask her which time?”

 

 

 

Jane Rosenberg LaForge is the author of a full-length poetry collection, “With Apologies to Mick Jagger, Other Gods, and All Women” (The Aldrich Press 2012) and three poetry chapbooks. Her experimental novel and memoir, “An Unsuitable Princess,” will be published by Jaded Ibis Press in 2014.

Advertisements

Fred Meissner – Mother-In-Law: A Biography (Unauthorized)

Mother-In-Law: A Biography (Unauthorized)

1

“Well, you can’t thread a moving needle,” was my soon-to-be mother-in-law’s aphoristic response in her accented English to our announcement that we were pregnant and about to get married.

I felt immediate admiration for this woman who I would soon be calling “mom.”

2

Even though many of her stories take place in Romania, she is German and will correct you if you say otherwise. Her roots are firmly embedded in the chaos of a war-torn Europe. She comes from good peasant stock. She has that Old World knack for telling stories of the past, stories she tells over and over again like the strange mythic tales of Hesiod, the repetition making myth a part of our collective unconsciousness.

Sometimes, while she tells us one of her stories, I find myself nodding knowingly. 3

When she was very young, she watched her mother die. She’ll tell you that her mother suffered from an inexplicable illness that confined her to her bed where she sipped, continuously, opium tea. One quiet night, her mother called her into the bedroom, held her close awhile, and died.

She said her screams brought the other tenants in the building running.

4

After her mother’s death, she became the mother of the house—she tried her best to care for her father and for her older brother. Sometimes her father slipped away into sudden fits of anger and depression and he would send her from the

house, afraid that he might kill her. Sometimes her brother beat her if he caught her doing things he thought she ought not to do—smoking cigarettes, staying out too late, talking to boys.

She will tell you that she has no use for men. 5

Her first (of seven) was such a difficult birth she thought that she would die or he would die before the end, but the midwife there said that the frog that she had put into the water basin had not drowned—everything would be alright—keep bearing down. The midwife, it turned out, was right. She doesn’t talk a lot about the man who helped create this child. Her silence, I like to think, locks away a dusty memory that, possibly, might resemble love.

When pressed, she will tell you that this man, like so many others, perished in the war.

6

I met her brother once when he was visiting from Windsor, a quiet, diabetic man. They didn’t talk a lot, but she brought him water glasses full of rye, lightly coloured with ginger ale and ice. Eventually, the diabetes killed him. In the war (as she tells it) he had a commander who was going to take the troop on a suicide mission, but something “happened” to that commander (something that her brother never talks about) and the mission never went.

Some men, I suppose, lived somehow through all that madness.

7

She remembers that her brother came home one day on leave and when he visited, he found her pregnant and without a man, and he beat her black and blue. She also tells of the times when as children, she slept together in the same bed as her brother, and he’d fart and pull the covers over her head.

She laughs when she tells you this, love floating in her laughter like the bubbles from her boiling pea soup.

8

After her brother’s funeral, she slept like an exhausted child in the back of the car on the drive back from Windsor. She was seventy years old. I don’t remember seeing her cry, but her sorrow, like interminable waves from a sea of tears, rolled and crashed on the shores of our perception.

We kept watch for her, alone out there in all of that sadness.

9

After the war, she met a man who had a daughter but no wife; she had a son but no husband. Conveniently, they married. Two children later, they sailed for Canada. Four children after that, he had his first stroke. He was in his mid- thirties, but was like a child himself. We have a crumpled black-and-white photo of him poised, mid-stride, among some trees, smiling sheepishly. After he died, she will explain, her life was very hard.

I realize that I lose something in the transcription.

10

We make fun of her sometimes. She likes to read the “People” magazine that Terry brings her once a week or so. She’ll say, “Ach, that Jerry Sprinkler,” or “I don’t like Bruce Willie,” or “that Shannon Stone plays such dirty parts,” or “Patrick Shvantsig, he’s good looking.” I have a feeling that she makes some of these little blunders on purpose. When we leave, she sometimes lets me kiss her on her soft, soft wrinkled cheek; she tells her daughter that she loves her.

One time, recently, Terry cried when we left her mother’s place; I think I understand what she was feeling.

 

 

 

Mother-In-Law: A Biography’ was first published by paperplates.org (2009)

 

 

Fred Meissner is published in Ascent Aspirations, Electro-Twaddle, Armada Quarterly, Poetry Canada, and had a broadside selected for Rubicon Press. He has also had personal essays appearing in Cezanne’s Carrot, Toward the Light, Inscribed, and The Fieldstone Review, and he was invited to read some of his poems at the Eden Mills Writers Festival.

Justin Nicholes – Taiji 24

 

Taiji 24

 

This is going to be painful. This is going to hurt. Taiji traps in miniature the passing of a day. A day’s a lifetime, but tomorrow’s no redo. This is real.

The opening . . . imagine rising suns. It takes balance. Her voice wavers when she calls. Since her brother’s deformed hand (bone-whittled thumb unfit for rifles) would have kept him from the People’s National Army, her father bribed. A recruitment officer now owns shares in the highway-paving project through the city. He’ll be a career soldier, her father said, but a foreigner in the family would stall promotion.

Next: parting the wild horse’s mane. You do that by making a rule, one that answers that self-pitying question you’ve asked your whole adult life—whether you’re too selfish to love someone else—and the next time she writhes from family pressure, those late-night calls from mom, uncles, aunts, not to marry a foreigner, you will take her up on it. Nobody knows you’re already married. Her family, you thought, would come around. It’s been a year. She does bring it up, you do follow through, and possessed by some urge to really tear things down, you follow that red, arching sign down the alley to the bathhouse with no showers, the room with low beds, and make sure the whole thing’s done.

Brush the knee. It will get out, so go ahead and tell a few friends. The first one might be a colleague you’re sometimes friends with, but who you mostly just compete with—for overload money, empty titles, and access to the provost who visits the country once a year around graduation. He will hide signs of joy, trusty old schadenfreude. He has been sleeping with students and sees this as handy blackmail. Maybe unable to sleep, maybe hands numb from worry, he uses it in a text when your supervisor comes to observe classes (don’t let the word get out about the split, and more about awkward questions from colleagues), to make sure you won’t tell what you know while contract renewals are up in the air.

Catch-the-dove’s-tail simulates something graceful, but in the end these are methods of attack. Tail catching trains pinning wrists, bending elbows, and shifting qi. Don’t really do this to anybody.

Cloud hands, and keep your knees straight when you step sideways, because a few months later, you meet her at the bureau in the city. You screen your face with your shirt against the bitumen smell of road-paving construction. You come to the place that will translate and stamp the agreement. No kids, no shared property—it takes one afternoon. She’s grown her hair longer, could use sun. You realize how young she is.

Inspect the horse, kick. You sit next to each other and soon are called in. After small talk and laughs, she tries and says she’s okay but cannot stop crying. The guy wearing jeans and a flannel shirt sits at a desk among papers. His desktop bleeps with chat requests. Who the fuck is this guy, you think, to be playing marriage counselor? He says he can’t when she’s like that. She says it’s ok. He asks why. We just want to, she says, but he makes you go to the waiting room and talk about it first. She needs to calm down or he won’t.

Snake slips through, golden rooster. You say, to maybe keep it alive, Call your father. She says the money’s gone too far. Not only her brother. They are getting her promotions now, and raises.

After parrying, punching, plunging a fan through one’s back, a final gesture mimics doors closing. And the one you close tomorrow resembles but is not the same door as today’s. She hugs you outside the building and asks you to lunch.

You get a taxi by yourself, because there are no new days, just balance and nimbleness, muscle memory, practice for reshaping past patterns. Stand and meditate. Let the right ones in. From now until the next time, it’s not like you’re not living—or, a little later, like the nothing that’s before. It’s more an enclosure, a place of perspective. It takes a long time.

 

 

 

Justin Nicholes is the author of the novels River Dragon Sky (2012) and Ash Dogs (2008). His stories have appeared in The Saint Ann’s Review, Prick of the Spindle, Stickman Review, Slice, The Medulla Review, and elsewhere. He is the chief editor of The Pavilion and lives in Xinzheng City, China.

Gerard Sarnat – The Competition, Mendicino May Weekends

The Competition

 

One forty over ninety, not bad for a sixty-three year-old rising from the can, glancing back to look hard for red; jealous of a man dying of leukemia, my wife’s first lover some time before I met and wed her four decades past;

she reads his website each night before bed to be certain if he still is (not sure what to make of his not answering emails since last week); I scan the newspapers every day for MR’s obit, which I imagine will lead with the sentence:

“Died at seventy-three, LZ’s Teaching Assistant at Berkeley,
a charismatic bookish fellow and ne’er-do-well cradle robber.

 

Mendicino May Weekends

 

Spring after spring redwoods and ocean look unchanged but not our bodies
now in their sixties which stuffed
in the same skintight bike shorts & wetsuits as decades past shamelessly no regrets still cycle boogie-board & hot tub bare-assed feeling a bit stiffer each year.

 

 

 

Gerard Sarnat is the author of two critically acclaimed poetry collections, HOMELESS CHRONICLES from Abraham to Burning Man, and Disputes. A Stanford and Harvard-trained physician, CEO of healthcare organizations and Stanford professor, Gerard’s been published in over seventy journals and anthologies. For Huffington Post’s review and more, visit Gerard Sarnat.com.

Jennifer MacBain-Stephens – crystal ball in reverse

 crystal ball in reverse

 

Wanting to nap but then I feel your small head weighing on my shoulder. On this cramped night flight, 29,000 feet high with civilizations’ electric stars bursting below, I put my palm on your forehead, feeling eight pounds of exhaustion, buzzing remnants of excitement from seeing San Francisco and touching a stingray for the first time, the giddiness of wearing a gold dress to your cousin’s wedding, and the soon to be sweet relief of sleeping in your own bed. Cradling your head in my hand like a crystal ball in reverse, I see you when your whole body fitted on my forearm. I see you at two years old, half naked with chocolate on your nose, laughing with me just because I was laughing. I see you at four, dumping a pound of colored sprinkles on a homemade birthday cake. I see you at eight, sashaying home from school alone for the first time on pajama day. I see you always moving because you are never still- except now. Me, feeling your warm hair and skin, braced against a hard skull.

 

 

 

Jennifer MacBain-Stephens received a B.A. and a B.F.A. from New York University and currently calls the Midwest home. She has poems published in Superstition Review, Emerge Literary Journal, Red Savina Review, Foliate Oak Literary Magazine, Burningwood Literary Journal, The Apeiron Review, Dead Flowers: A Poetry Rag, Star 82 Review, Thirteen Myna Birds, Rufous City Review, Squalor Review, Stirring: A Literary Collection, Untitled with Passengers, Gravel Magazine, Sein und Werden, The New Poet, Scapegoat Review, and Iowa City’s 2013 Poetry in Public Project.

Michele N. Harmeling – Reanimation, Tantrums, Where We Might Live, Had We Nowhere

Reanimation

 

 

”I’m grateful to you, you see. I wanted to tell you.” – Raymond Carver

I.
Once, we fished with my father on a lake with no end—or no end our young eyes

could see. My brother cast too far backwards.
To unhook and release, sometimes you must force tiny barbs up and through while your catch sits quietly, and dares not move.

II.
As kids, playing dead was just something we did—like possums or tricks dogs did for bits of smoked salmon; there was always a fight scene.
There was always a wake.

III.
Sometimes, you see, it all catches up with you:
hooks and bait, silver scales that won’t be washed from your boots.

Late at night, when he was young, my brother woke us all with his splashing and quiet chatter in the bathroom

IV.
where he’d taken a whole string of grayling—their stiff, rigor-curved tails in his hands. He was giving them a bath, he said,
so they would feel a little better. Would feel like
swimming again.

 

 

Tantrums
I.
When we hear about the destruction—tornadoes leaving little behind but rubble, sorrow
–we are shocked, then pensive:

we’ve imagined it, too, you see—sudden disaster, emergence from cellar
to ruin,

searching endlessly in tattered dressing gowns for signs of the family cat.

II.
They are called “The Jumpers”,
for that’s what they did: hurled bodies from upper stories, plummeted to sidewalk.

Do we really believe we’d have done any different?

We’ve imagined that, too:
martyrdom, that is.
The symbolism of flight, ash-caked faces

pointed directly at the ground.

III.
For who hasn’t, at least once,
envisioned a plane crash, from which one emerges as the only survivor.

Who hasn’t surmised that they too, would live through it, subsisting on broken-open packets of peanuts,

drinking, perhaps, one’s own urine, patching wounds with cocktail napkins and spit.

IV.
From day to day, I survive any number of deaths, catalog them

according to perceived glamour: terrible illness, the wrath of nature, anaphylaxis,
broken fuselage upon snow.

 

 

Where We Might Live, Had We Nowhere

 

At first light, when the wind is stronger than dawn, there are no bird calls. There is only the sound of a tide
that does not ebb, but only grows, carries with it fragments:

birch bark, dried alder cones, mats of black fur clipped from the dog’s tail.

There are nests in the willows held together with that fur, round little shrouds, that are now

homes, too.

 

 

 

 

Michele N. Harmeling is a poet and essayist residing in picturesque Palmer, Alaska. Her work has appeared in such publications as the Alaska Quarterly Review, Juked Magazine, Reed Magazine, and the Adirondack Review; she is the recipient of the 2009 Whiskey Island Poetry Prize. Her spare time is generally spent foraging for wild edibles, backpacking, fishing, reading and lavishing attention on her husband and dog, Puck. Her writing can also be found at sundaymorningpoems.wordpress.com.

Rebecca Givens Rolland – SCAPE, Above Eye Level

SCAPE

 

What I heard in the meadow, beyond
the cleaved rock, startled me. I won’t repeat it,
except to say I was far off when it started
again. Electric wire, drill saw. Agitating
downward, barrelling at us. Our
heavy hands. Over the earthquake a doubling
of sound and swallow, birdsong. I was thinking of catching
air before it splashed out. If we were to leave
now, how would we caution each other. The paint
of houses’ insides on our sleeves. How we tried
to cover over the wound as if it were just
an accident. As if caring for each other had
not made the distance go blind. She is widowed
now and I do not see her. I’m often going
into houses in the direction where I can’t
get out. I think it’s a problem with space,
how the floor plan won’t reveal the insides. How
the last words are never recorded and I don’t notice
till I’m on the airplane overnight, breathing
in and moving to the right, and sound
returns to me in a green wave. Bones clack
on plants, survivors. I call them human. No animal
would have been handled this way. She had
a child that died before she held it. This is something,
when we see her, we’re supposed to ignore. This
the panel of wood I keep knocking up
against when I keep myself busy. Too many
hours between takeoff and landing. The white
noise of it makes me feel I am handling
something. That I’ve stepped into the site the guide
told me to swim into, then climb – walk left,
swim right, pin one knee up and swing
over – ladder one hand from reaching –

 

 

 

Above Eye Level

 

I wake and it could be any century, trees
etched into shelves of white, winter

doused in its own fragile blessings, horse
climbing stairs in one season, dropping

down wide fields in the next. Cantering,
keels of barges, leaves. If wilderness

called now, I’d say, impossible. If sirens
siphoned a message, this city will keep

getting covered till there’s nothing left
– I turn inward to eyelashes, to a stricter

day. Let that century steal me slowly back.
Let me steel myself. Now north wind.

You have to know when you’ve been beaten,
when trying no longer proves. Cars sputter

gray noise in any case. When I walk, it’s
with the footsteps of one who watches

whole trees get downed. Horizon’s been
sunken in honey, flames. No one will tape

my mouth shut, will carry a fish and a lamp
to feed the family, let the family go on. No

sitting in silence, traveling a hundred oceans
through. When I wake, I find no vacancies.

No window but the one to my right, slightly
above eye level. Man in a brown hat

cleaning his lot, blasting off flakes with his
machine. Though snow whips his face

he keeps going. Snow slaps him, he slaps it back.
Reckless thinking only of revenge.

‘SCAPE’ and ’Above Eye Level’ was first published in IO Poetry http://iopoetry.org

(These poems were kindly shared with Sassafras via a request from the editor)

Rebecca Givens Rolland‘s first book of poems, The Wreck of Birds, won the 2011 May Sarton New Hampshire First Book Prize and was published by Bauhan Publishing. Her poems have recently appeared in Colorado Review, Denver Quarterly, and American Letters & Commentary. Currently she is a doctoral student in education at Harvard.