By Marie Menta
Sitting on the edge of the hospital bed, your trembling hand in mine. Your pounding heart is quickening. blood pressure dropping. Septic shock. Again. I gently stroke your 13 years-old cheek, that nestled in my breast before becoming sick. Body weak. The chemo that destroyed the cancer in your blood, has also, petulantly, poisoned any protection Of bacteria flood. Blood pressure still dropping. More people entering. Nurse clogs tapping. Units of blood hung from a second pole. Swaying, dripping, feeding. The doctor arrives, orders the staff, “Speed the infusions to…” (What? I don’t hear.) although I sense the urgency. Not quite able to look at me, she in the white coat says softly, “This is the critical point.” Tensions rife; Twists the knife: I know this doctor-speak; It’s Death or Life. Blood pressure 60 over 30. Heart racing bpm over 150. I am struck silent gazing on your lips and now-lashless closed eyes. No audible cries. Suffering incessantly since you were 3. Now bald and moon-faced again, your spirit clings to me. We’re silently breathing in tandem on the slippery life-ledge. IV pumps whirring fast and louder Jackhammers jumping. Accelerate and Scream. Runaway train descending, Dark tunnel, terrifying dream. “Chuka Chuka CHUka CHUKA CHUKA! CHUKAA!!” Then a calm. I’m seeing coal black hair blow wildly in the wind, Not bare-headed in a cold, dark tomb. Hair, full and thick as when you emerged from my womb. Spirits exhaling their baby breaths grace, whispering to me - “Memorize his pale, placid face. And be thankful he can’t hear the raging pumps’ pace.” My vision still upon you, my mouth opens slightly and feel my lips smile, send my breath quietly. Blood pressure beginning to arise. 70 over 40 BPM slowing to 140… Watching your chest rising, falling- Flashbacks. Tiptoeing in your room as the sun would begin rising, to see your belly breath- Waves undulating; Reaching the shore. Wet. Warm. Saltwater. Drops. Falling. Are you really mine? Desperately watching the monitors, I see, blood pressure now 80 over 50. BPM 130. Waiting for the next numbers to flash on the screen… 90 over 60 BPM 120. Thank you, thank you numbers of rebirth! I begin again to feel the solid, living Earth. Turning to the doctor and nurses; Signs of belief? In them, I see visible relief. The IV pumps slowing, gradually. Shoulders and jaws begin to let down; I gaze back on you thinking, (strangely,) “You need a new gown.” Because you will, indeed, survive again this time. Breath waves rolling onto the shore as the sun begins to rise. And shine. Shine.
Spirals of Sounds
If One of us must die- I hope it is I. When I thought my son with leukemia was dead, I screamed at God, “Take me instead!” The wish still stands inside my head. The signs and clues around abound. Reunions, forgivings, Spirals of Sound. Auspicious occurrings feel flashed and hot. The soul, it knows- It is taught, (It is taut.) Reflecting that leukemia has horribly harmed so many is key; Like my choir teacher’s son at 23, (the age of my son presently), she stoically tells me, over French onion soup, quiche, and tea. Asking me about my survivor son, “But you can see him? And hear him? And talk to him?” ‘Yes.’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Yes.’ I say gratefully- -and guilty. She now makes music out of her grief. Holy Alchemy. My son, locked in a chamber two hours a day. A chamber of oxygen with a tv he can play. Thirty days of this, just so his jaw joint won’t break, when the oral surgeon decides his wisdom teeth to take. A chamber of memories also trapped in his mind: The IV machines pumping constantly with might; “Chuka-chuka-whoosh!” “Chuka-chuka-whoosh!” A life-giving mechanical heart. Until a kink in the artery tube cries, “Beep! Beep! Beep! Beep!” Startling, awakening us in the night Tubes, needles, blood, mouth sores, radiation, chemo, vomit, pain. Fear. Fight to survive. Then, the aftermath...Diseases of bones, hormones, heart. The poison that saved him will forever leave its mark..(And Bittersweet memories of a loyal dog’s “Bark!”) I pray, in his mind, body, soul, and heart; A spark. Please, I beg- A searing, strong, survival spark. The graveyard. The church. My Swedish immigrant ancestors whose photos grace the church’s entrance wall. My son with me. Our family tree looking straight through me. How much taller will it grow to be? Reaching for the light it yearns see? I slide. I slip. I fall. I yelp. “Swish!” “Bang!” “Crunch!” “Help!” My bones are crushed. My daughter sobs. My mind is hushed. No blood is gushed. I’m stricken by pain, the ice, the shock; The shock of the love. The need for me, from she. For me, from he. For Me? Can it be? And the doctor wonders aloud, “Where are your agonizing cries?” How do I tell her I now feel free? Jackson, Sexton, Plath, and Woolf - Witches, all, of Darkness and Light. Whispering always to me in the night: “Live. Live .Give. Give.” So. Therefore. I, too, will refuse to leave. I, in fact, will Breathe. Watching; Waiting; Never; Abating. Now my heart solemnly, soulfully, singing the rhythmic song of life: "Chuka-chuka-whoosh! Chuka-chuka-whoosh!"
Garden of the Asylum
After swirling in the starry night I stand gazing at the garden created of paint and madness. Finally permitted to exit the walls of the room in which he was forcefully kept, Shut in with his own mind, thoughts, nightmares. He is offered paints, a brush, a canvas, A voice. My mind’s eye begins to focus in on faces forming in the plants, trees, paths. Faces contorted in agony begging to be released. I comment with astonishment. Yet- No one else around me can see these demon gargoyles protecting Vincent’s Cathedral Visions. Am I mad? How do they not comprehend this secret language he speaks to me? Or is it I also yearn to escape the rooms, walls, relentless voices, that cry out to me in shrieking silence causing painful pounding beats, wailing winds of spiraling, spiraling, spiraling spinning, spinning, spinning out of control whirling dervishes dancing inside my head? His final primal scream. I can only stand silently steadying my feet on the museum floor seeing what I alone can see hearing the garden monsters’ death hums echoing. And close my eyes, my mind searching for the Room of Walls in which to safely be. The humming gradually Quiets, quiets, quiets And I hear my husband’s voice, “Let’s head to the gift shop.” Yes. Goodbye to Vincent’s menacing garden faces. Their hauntingly horrid humming calls to me still.
The lioness leaps through the pen. No longer caged. No longer habitually fed by strangers. She hungers more each day, hour, minute, second To mine the depths of her own electric, pulsating, constant spinning den of Ecstacies, burials, secrets, ghosts, Sins, births, deaths. The pen scratches, claws, digs, and growls. Then Roars. Only then, can the lioness Tear and rip through the Organs, bone, tissue, heart, And skin- The hide- That covers everything. An open, bloody wound Healed only by Ink stains Stitching the letters Into single, salient, subservient, strong sentences. The pangs of hunger She so desperately endured Finally Satiated.
Anxiety of ’83
ERRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR!!!! Alarm jolts me awake from a nightmare. Eyes open wide I stare at the numbers on the digital clock. It is 6:00 am I'm top of my class: Honors Society. National Merit. President of Choir and Theatre Club. Awards, scholarships, accolades keep rushing in. Bright future screaming at me. Screaming like the alarm I turn off clumsily. A test today in trigonometry is all my anxious mind can see. Heart pounding, trying to breathe I leap from my bed hurriedly. "I must ace this test!' My mind taunts me. Hauntings of failure and mediocrity. I get to the bathroom, turn the shower's spigot on, Proceed to strip naked and then sit to pee. Closing the curtain, the shower head's pressure bearing down on mine. The press of liquid needles stinging my brain, as I obsess on formulas, sine and cosine. Repeating them constantly in my whirling dervish brain. A sound yanks me from my studying mind. Is it the bathroom door opening wide? I startle as I hear my mother say, "What are you doing? It's 1:00 in the morning." Then a terse, "Go back to bed!" as she shuts the door on me. But the clock said 6. I know it did. Is it happening again? Did I have visions of imagined time? Disoriented, I dry my trembling body. Embarrassed as I redress, And go to my room The clock says 1:10. Lying on my bed in the darkness I stare at the orange-hued numbers of the clock, So nightmares of failure won't terrify the night. And visions of imagined time can no longer trick me. 37 years later, I now dream in peace. Years of therapists, doctors, treatment, and art have finally, finally convinced me to stop To stop the insistence on perfection. The insidious, impossible quest that was slowly, constantly, eating through me from my insides. I still become anxious and hear the old voices, "You're never enough." "You've squandered your life." But I know that they lie. So I laugh at them and smile with hope, not dread. The clock on my phone now my friend. I sleep, breath relaxed, heart beating calmly, Dreaming of waves gently washing over me. My perfectly imperfect self, Will awaken to a perfect dawn.
Watching Columbo with Dad
A visit with the man who held my small hand, Singing- “School day, school days, Good old golden rule days.” A humble hero to many, And to me. Each sunrise begins praying on his knees. We are talking of life. Of basketball playing. He’s here. I’m here. Now. Over a canal full of mullets leaping out of the water and returning to the dark. Memories. Watching TV. Detective, overcoat, old car, inquisitive mind And always a clever scheme. All gets resolved. Crime is solved. Our form of togetherness A prayer unseen.