Thursday, April 30, 2015

Four Pieces, by Barbara Ruth


here it is, my desiderata:
spiritual progress; the skill of surreptitiously sliding
along; sustained resistance in the face of oppression;
an accurate map to scale; indulgence for my shortcomings; sudden sunshine after long rain; no scrape I can’t get out of.

I am an ordinary, unheroic tourist.
I am native to this place, I shift shape, ceremoniously make magic
out of words. I travel far.
my maladies, my victories, both acute and chronic.
I climb mountains and I can’t get out of bed.


when I’m anxious for no reason
I clean the one corner of one room of the house
instead of drugging
myself to death.

When I’m so depressed I can’t stand it
I pull the blankets over my head
instead of drugging
myself to death.

When I haven’t slept for four days and four nights
I write as the tears sting my burning eyes
instead of drugging
myself to death.

When I can’t think, can’t rest, can’t write, can’t read
I wait instead
of drugging
to death.

Loma Prieta Epilepticus

    I was by myself that day. I’d been hanging out on my hospital bed, with the back raised, reading maybe, or doing paperwork. I know I was using the bed because it was days before the electricity came on again and I could return it to the flat position. I remember afterwards, yearning to stretch out, in my bed, and pull up the covers. Just that. I got up to go to the the kitchen. Then the lurch, the roll of the room. But that was one of my symptoms.  I’d said it  to my neurologist: my own personal earthquakes.
    I think it was warm. Afterwards, didn’t we say earthquake weather? But didn’t we often say that, here in California?
    After the quaking stopped, my neighbors checked on me. Shame, embarrassment, uncertainty as to exactly what DID happen; I didn’t tell them much. It hurt my brain to look for words. Even if I tried to explain - what could they do about it? I had a few scratches; someone got a first aid kit when I couldn’t remember where my band-aids were. No scars; the bruises didn’t show till the next day.
That evening the gas lines were turned off and the power was out so all my neighbors were cooking on their barbecues outdoors, and that just made matters worse as far as I was concerned, the air reeking of lighter fluid and charcoal and meat.
    Darlene came that night. She wasn’t even my attendant any more, but she was my friend and the phones were down and she was worried about me. She got me some food, cleaned up the broken glass on the kitchen, and settled me on the couch for sleeping.
    But the earthquake, the big one, not just my personal quaking, but this: the black and white of the linoleum smearing into each other, the black engulfing the white, and the black grew larger and larger, coming for me and the white shimmered and squeaked.
    I remember backing up from it. I didn’t want that black maw to reach me. But it did, as the lurching jolted me, and the black, the absence of color, the black, the absence of balance, the black and a color past black I do not know the name for  swallowed my brain and the place past black was all there was.
    Seizure. It will seizure. Seize your partner throw them all around. Seize her. We’re all having a seizure. The world is a seizure and all of us are seized.

Full Moon In Scorpio

    Adaptive yoga class, and I can’t make sense of the teacher’s words. I can hear her; we share the same California accent; she calls out the poses in English, not Sanskrit. But words and meaning keep drifting apart. When I do understand, I can’t figure out how to move my body into those poses I’ve done a hundred times. I’ve lost the file marked “Following Directions.” Am I having a stroke?
    Yesterday, on my way to an emergency dentist appointment, my attendant’s car broke down. It was over 100 degrees by then. We had to open the windows, even though we were right beside the cacophony of leaf blowers.   
I managed to postpone my collapse until safely home. Once in bed, I fell into a deep sweaty sleep. I awoke paralyzed, couldn’t turn my head, let alone find the grab bar to pull myself up out of bed. How long did that last? Five minutes? An hour? Maybe I had a seizure. Or maybe I dreamed it.
    Often my mind goes off on a tangent. Most times I like that.
    Yoga class is over. I’m home, still unsure what to do.
    I  could call 911. I’d have to tell the dispatcher, “Silent approach, no flashing lights, those things can trigger my seizures.” Sometimes that works. But they’ll pound on my door, stomp into my house, swirling my brain and polluting my home with the fumes of dryer sheets and shampoos, sunblock and gum: the smells of normal people. They’ll talk too loud, too fast. “When was the last time you took your medication? What else have you taken? What are you on right now?” Sometimes they complain that the house numbers on my street are out of order. “You should move,” they’ve told me, three different times, at different addresses in three different towns, when all I wanted was to quietly talk to an paramedic who didn’t reek of fabric softener, get a little help deciding if I needed to brave the ER.
    I’ve done hard time in the nearest hospital, the one they’ll take me to. The ER is always packed, overflowing with human misery, patients and staff stinking far worse than the First Responders. The moon is full, in the sign of Scorpio, they’re bound to have even more business than usual.  The cleaning carts relentlessly employed, never quite defeating the stench of death. And when they release me - how will I get myself home?
    I could call 911. But I can’t figure out how to answer the first question the dispatcher always asks: “What is the nature of your emergency?”