Category Archives: Poetry

Poems about Schizophrenic Symptoms: Word Salad and Delusions of Grandeur

Poems can express many ideas and experiences. In my first book of poems, We Mad Climb Shaky Ladders, part of CavanKerry Press’ Laurel Books literature of illness series, I tried to express how I felt both during psychosis and afterwards. I also often tried to put myself into the experience of others who experienced symptoms that I might not, but which I could imagine.

One thing I know, having had this illness for so long, is that misinterpretation is rife. I mean things when I do things, just as anyone else does. But people simply make assumptions about my behavior and forget that they might need to ask why I do what I do. I have often asked others why they did whatever strange or seemingly outrageous thing they did, and lo and behold there has always been an understandable rationale behind it. For instance, when I stripped naked in that freezing seclusion room, I was neither “acting out” nor totally around the bend, no, my reasoning was that if I were naked they would have to give me something to cover myself with, i.e. a blanket, which is what I had been begging for all along. But they never asked me why I had taken off my clothing — a flimsy tee shirt and lightweight jeans. They just assumed — whatever they assumed. Ditto for almost every other interaction I had with them, and the same almost uniformly went for other people when they behaved in a way that was somehow contrary to expectations. The meaning of their actions was reasonable, given the context.

I tell you this because in my poem, Word Salad, even though it appears to be, well, “word salady” and incomprehensible, in truth there is “method” to it, and in fact if you read it with a mind towards understanding the links, you would appreciate them. But you might have to “surrender” to getting it, and let it in without trying to rationally, intellectually understand. Only afterwards could you perhaps try to figure out what precisely is being done and said in the poem. One clue you might need, if you have not been subjected to this directly is that often, at least in the past, “patients” of a certain kind were asked to interpret proverbs. “Can you tell me what, ‘A rolling stone gathers no moss’ means?” or “What does ‘People in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones’ mean?”

As for Grandiose, the same thing holds. Read it aloud and try to get the sense of it, how it reads. Then you may in fact understand what is going on “in one blow,”  so to speak. It is full of double entendres, on purpose. Remember that “live” can be pronounced in two ways. Both of these hold.

WORD SALAD

“Word salad,” a term used for the completely disjointed, incomprehensible language sometimes seen in schizophrenia

Unpinned, words scatter, moths in the night.                                                                      The sense of things loses hold, demurs.                                                                     Everything means. Numbers soldier
with colors and directions, four by four
in a pinwheel: this is the secret wisdom.
I inscribe it on sacred sheets of paper.
The Oxford Dictionary holds not a candle.
The self reduced to a cipher, a scribble,
the Eye is all, with a Freemason’s lash,
and 26 runic hieroglyphs to share
how a stitch in time saved the cat
and if a messy rock gathers no stones,
clams must surely be lifted higher
by the same rising boats. Why, why not throw
glass tomes at grass huts? It is a question
of propriety: grass is too dignified to lie down
before gloss. Whirligig! How to pull the center
back into the world? It would take all
the OED to recapture the moths, all Harcourt’s
English Grammar to pin them again.

GRANDIOSE 

He says:
I was always more important than you though
with your cutting me down to size quarrel
about just who I thought I was. I thought I was
with my long dark hair and beard and rough
working clothes John the Baptist, prophet of God
wild man of the wilderness and would have
to preach the word of a savior I didn’t quite
believe in. I mentioned my conviction to a friend
who told me to make friends with a mirror,
discover which John I really re-incarnated. Lo,
I looked and saw the more famous than Jesus
John staring with his small important eyes
behind his too small eye-glasses at me staring
into the mirror at myself, yes, I wrote the songs
you grew up on: Yesterday, Give Peace A Chance,
Eleanor Rigby— yes, I was the one you swooned
over and screamed for, yet now you only shriek
at me, taking me down from a peg on the wall.
Why do you yell, Get lost, baby? Imagine all the people
who would rejoice to see me live once more.

Video of Poem: “How to Read a Poem” plus Update

I am not sure what to think of this video. I certainly did not give permission for it to be used, nor did I approve of the final product. But I would welcome all opinions, should anyone wish to share. Please do not click on Like or Dislike buttons to give opinions. That only tells me you dislike my posting it, not the video itself…But maybe I am too sensitive.

I see that it will not insert directly here so I am placing the link to it here instead.

HOW TO READ A POEM: BEGINNER’S MANUAL

 

First, forget everything you have learned,

that poetry is difficult,

that it cannot be appreciated by the likes of you,

with your high school equivalency diploma

and steel-tipped boots,

your white collar misunderstandings.

Do not assume meanings hidden from you:

the best poems mean what they say and say it.

To read poetry requires only courage

enough to leap from the edge

and trust.

Treat a poem like dirt,

humus rich and heavy from the garden.

Later on it will become the fat tomatoes

and golden squash piled high upon your kitchen table.

Poetry demands surrender,

language saying what is true

doing holy things to the ordinary.

Read just one poem a day.

Someday a book of poems may open in your hands

like a daffodil offering its cup

to the sun.

When you can name five poets

without including Bob Dylan,

when you exceed your quota

and don’t even notice,

close this manual.

Congratulations.

You can now read poetry.

https://www.facebook.com/video/video.php?v=1759323499617

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As for the update, well, I sent most of the important material from which I derived the last blog post about the restraints episode to the Office of Protection and Advocacy and by the afternoon of that very same day, I got a call from them telling me that they were going to do an investigation! Not maybe, but yes. This was quite a surprise. I did not expect to hear from them so soon, much less so definitively. They do not take every case after all,  but pick and choose from the many complaints that come their way. I have run into so many roadblocks that I was afraid that there too I would be shoved aside for other more important matters. But no, I think they too found this matter outrageous.

So I will keep you posted as to what happens. They want access to my chart, which I will give them, but I will also fax them the pages from my journal too, as I want them to have contradictory accounts to counter what the “official” record says. Though that says enough that is not quite legal by itself.

I have been cleaning my apartment for 2 days and it is still a wreck, but I need to frame all my artwork for a show I will be doing in early November, at OpenStudio Hartford and I cannot do anything until I have space in my apartment. It is getting better, at least there are “paths” to walk through! But there is still a lot to be done, and I am already very tired of cleaning. How on earth do I make such an atomic mess of things so often? So needless to say I cannot write  much today, but I did want to let you know of this latest development.

TTFN or TaTa For Now

Happiness is….

You know what they say, that happiness is not to be found in how much money you have or in the things you own or can buy, nor even in how many friends surround you or how many people love you. The poem about Richard Cory, upon which Simon and Garfunkel (remember them?) based a once well-known song, just about says it all:

RICHARD CORY

By Edwin Arlington Robinson

Whenever Richard Cory went down town,
We people on the pavement looked at him:
He was a gentleman from sole to crown,
Clean-favoured and imperially slim.

And he was always quietly arrayed,
And he was always human when he talked;
But still he fluttered pulses when he said,
“Good Morning!” and he glittered when he walked.

And he was rich, yes, richer than a king,
And admirably schooled in every grace:
In fine — we thought that he was everything
To make us wish that we were in his place.

So on we worked and waited for the light,
And went without the meat and cursed the bread,
And Richard Cory, one calm summer night,
Went home and put a bullet in his head.

We all know it’s true, both the cautionary tale of Richard Cory, and that money doesn’t buy happiness. At least we know it with the left sides of our brains. Alas, this is still the side that does the intellectual calculations of how many friends or about the nice car we’ll need to have before we will finally be happy. And if we didn’t know it before, all we have to do is listen to the news because nearly every week it seems there is yet another story about a celebrity who seemed to have it all – money, beauty, acclaim, adoring fans – who ended up destroying himself on drugs and alcohol or who committed suicide (“no one had any idea she was so depressed…”) at the height of her career.

But if money and things and friends who love you don’t offer a path to happiness, what does? Is there a map, a guide, an instruction manual, a recipe? One look at the number of books on the market purporting to teach you how to be happy tells me there are lots of people making lots of money trying to tell you they have the secret. And given the number of books they sell, an awful lot of people out there are desperate enough to spring for them. If you have bought any of these books and found their secrets to be The Secret, or even to be one effective secret that worked for you, I would love to hear about it. Truly, I am not being sarcastic. I am a writer, and I believe that writers are for the most part sincere. Not all of them, mind you, but most of them. And so when a writer writes a book promising happiness, I believe that he or she probably believes it. I just don’t happen to think most of  it ends up being effective.

But maybe it’s me, I dunno.

Let me explain. I have had many, many struggles with self-acceptance and self-regard over my lifetime (I am 58 years old at this writing, so you can see that I am far from young) and I assure you that I am far from winning the battle. My self-esteem is very low. So low in fact that I hesitate to say more… But at any rate, when I say my self, I mean my inner self, my soul, my – well, whatever it is that one might want to distinguish from the “self-that-produces,” the working self. What I mean is, I know that I write well, and I am learning to become a better artist as the days go on. But those skills have not fundamentally affected my self-esteem, only my level of confidence. And there’s a big difference between the two. I have a lot more confidence in my abilities than I did years ago, partly due to greater skill and long experience – though only in my writing — and partly due to caring less what others think, because there is less at stake at my age. My self-esteem on the other hand remains utterly unconnected to this, and largely unaffected by it. Whether or not I love or utterly despise myself has little or no bearing at all on whether or not I am able to write or paint or draw well. All it might do is affect what I write well or paint or draw about.

And I can be proud of my poem or essay or my drawing, proud of what I produced, without that having the least effect on how much I fundamentally love or hate myself.

But, and here is the thing: I do not believe that hating or loving yourself matters in the search for happiness. Or at any rate, it is not the sine qua non, the primary requirement before you can be happy. In fact, I think in the happiness department, self-regard is over-rated. It is not that I want other people to feel badly about themselves so much as that oddly enough     I think it has little to do with whether or not one can find happiness.

Maybe I should amend the word happiness to contentment. I do not like the first word all that much, as it smacks of little yellow smilie faces and balloons and other inanities. Happiness is decidedly not inane, but our emphasis on the importance of it has made it seem so. Contentment as a word and concept has been all but forgotten in the rush towards the seemingly bigger motherlode of happiness.

So let’s switch gears and say that we are on the search for contentment, which also is not found in money or friends or in being loved by others. So where do I think you can find contentment? (Clearly I write this with my own agenda in mind…why else write it at all?)

I think contentment – indeed, even happiness – does come from within, and it starts with forgiveness.

Forgiveness? Why that of all things, you ask? It seems like so many other emotions and “emotional acts” should be more important – like loving yourself and others and being compassionate etc. But I assure you that without forgiveness, you can have and be and do none of those.

Kindness and generosity were always supreme values to me, even when I was a child. It hurt me inside to see anyone going without something that I had it in my power to give them. But it was many years before I understood that forgiveness was also a crucial value, that it not only partakes of both compassion and generosity but presupposes both. Not only is forgiveness an act of kindness but it is freely given and therefore an act of extreme generosity. You cannot force forgiveness any more than you can force a “sincere apology” despite what our parents might have thought when they made us “say you are sorry and you better sound like you mean it.”

Okay, so forgiveness is critical for contentment, maybe, but forgive what or whom? And why? First of all, everyone is scarred by their pasts, everyone has baggage from childhood. In fact, while some people had more than less happy childhoods, everyone has bad memories that they cannot shake, that have stayed with them and in effect traumatized them.  Second, scars are simply an unavoidable fact of life. You can’t get through life without them, and childhood I’m afraid is a rough and tumble place where you pick up the bulk of them. Three, who “caused” our childhoods, for most of us? Answer: our parents, or whoever took the place of our parents. That is why our first job is to forgive them. I’m serious, and while we are at it, we have to forgive childhood itself, all of it. It doesn’t matter what happened, or how terrible, it really doesn’t. If you do not forgive it, if you do not forgive everything that happened to you, you cannot let your childhood go and get on with the present, which is where happiness, where contentment lies. Contentment is not in the past, that much we know, and no one knows a single thing about the future. But if you cannot forgive the past, and especially the childhood where you got all those scars you carry around now, you will never move beyond it to experience an undefiled present.

Look, I believe that forgiveness comes from inside the brain, but heals a place in the brain we like to call the heart. And I believe that forgiveness is more healing for the person who forgives than the forgiven. So I wish you could forgive all those people who harmed you too. All the people, relatives, friends, lovers, rapists, molesters, thiefs, betrayers and more…because I truly believe it would be good for you and for your heart. But I think it is essential at a minimum if you want to be happy to forgive your childhood, the entire experience of it, not the individuals or the single events, just the fact that you were a child and had to go through it. Once you can forgive it, you see, you can let it go just as it has and be gone.

After you have forgiven your parents or parent-stand-ins, and your childhood, you are well on your way. Many people would say that this is a step towards self-acceptance here, and that is how you reach happiness, but whether it is or not, is not important to me. In some ways, self-acceptance is not what I am after so much as acceptance of the world, both of the past and of the present. And when I say “acceptance” I mean such utter acceptance of it that you can forgive it. Because only when you can forgive, so I believe, can you really accept the world. And when you can accept and forgive the world both past and present, then you can be happy.

( I realize that I have put my poem below on this blog before, but clearly it belongs here, though it is for a second time. And dang, I do not understand why this program will not allow me to get it single spaced!)

TO FORGIVE IS…

to begin

and there is so much to forgive:

for one, your parents, one and two,

out of whose dim haphazard coupling

you sprang forth roaring, indignantly alive.

For this, whatever else followed,

innocent and guilty, forgive them.

If it is day, forgive the sun

its white radiance blinding the eye;

forgive also the moon for dragging the tides,

for her secrets, her half heart of darkness;

whatever the season, forgive it its various

assaults — floods, gales, storms

of ice — and forgive its changing;

for its vanishing act, stealing what you love

and what you hate, indifferent,

forgive time; and likewise forgive

its fickle consort, memory, which fades

the photographs of all you can’t remember;

forgive forgetting, which is chaste

and kinder than you know;

forgive your age and the age you were

when happiness was afire in your blood

and joy sang hymns in the trees;

forgive, too, those trees, which have died;

and forgive death for taking them,

inexorable as God; then forgive God

His terrible grandeur, His unspeakable

Name; forgive, too, the poor devil

for a celestial fall no worse than your own.

When you have forgiven whatever is of earth,

of sky, of water, whatever is named,

whatever remains nameless,

forgive, finally, your own sorry self,

clothed in temporary flesh,

the breath and blood of you

already dying.

Dying, forgiven, now you begin.

New Poems and Update on Joe and also on Pam

 

In truth, of the following poems one is not really new, since it was published some years ago in a volume called “Three Poets” (no longer available) put out by the Tunxis Poetry Review of Tunxis Community College in Connecticut. But I have always liked it. I will be including both in my second poetry collection, so I am putting them here as a kind of enticement, even though neither is about mental illness and/or schizophrenia. (Those I hope to “pre-publish”  before the book is out…maybe…)

 

BTW: A few notes for clarity and in case you are not familiar with a few words, forgive me: “lieder” means Romantic songs, in German,  “Bawds” comes from the same root as “bawdy” and means, essentially, “bawdy women”, “a water strider” is an insect… “la nostalgie de la boue” translates as “a longing to be back in the mud.” Also, I am sorry that I could not space it better, but the cut and paste option did not allow it.

 

CONSIDER THE BULLFROG

 

who

night and day

belches “jug-o-rum”

to a teetotaling

bog; whose noisy

lieder of drink

and bawds last all

summer long;

who nibbles

asterisks

of water striders

dimpling the surface

of the black pond

and ensnares

tangy damselflies

with the quick ribbon

of his tongue;

who after all

is not a Prince

in disguise; who

suffers himself to be

pithed for science;

who sculls

through sweet

mud in la nostalgie

de la boue; who

is Frog among frogs;

who needs no god;

who does not know

he will die.

 

The other poem, which is new but which I do not believe I will publish before I publish the book, is this one, a “nature poem” of a sort. It was written for my writing group “prompt” on the word “song or singing” as I recall…

 

THE SONG OF THE ANT

“For the listener, who listens in the snow...Wallace Stevens

 

In those days I was always cold

as I had been a long time, mindful of winter

even at the solstice of my high summer days

 

 

always, always the crumb and crust of loss

and near-loss of everything held dear

before the saison d’enfers and the ice to come

 

 

There was always the wind

There was the wind making music,

and I, at one with the quirky stir of air

 

 

bowing the suppliant trees

bowing the branches of those trees for the sound

of songs long held in their wood

 

 

Changes change us: rings of birth, death, another season

and we hold on for nothing and no reason

but to sing.

 

 

Joe has rallied some, yes! yet again, though he is clearly in a terminal decline. Last Thursday, a week ago, we thought he might survive only a day or two,  as he was in and out of consciousness and looked frankly terrible. But the following Saturday he was surprisingly alert again, and so it goes.

 

I was unable to visit him until yesterday, due to sheer exhaustion, and an inability to get a ride there  so that I didn’t have to drive myself in an unsafe state. But when I saw him — that is, Friday —  he was actually able to manage a bit of a smile, and appeared happy to see me. His first words in fact, spelled out on the letter board, were not about him but instead were, “You are beautiful” — what a sweetheart! When I asked him how he was, he spelled only that he was tired. He did tell me that he had trouble hearing, and when I offered to get the nurse to clean out his ear and fix the towel that blocked his other ear, he was grateful. But we couldn’t talk long as he grew weary after a scant twenty minutes. I offered to cut my visit short and return on Monday. That turns out to be easier on both of us anyhow as the letterboard is difficult for each of us in different ways.

 

joe’s level of consciousness remains variable. The irreparable and growing leak in his stoma (a “stoma” literally means a hole, which in this case is the hole in his throat and trachea that holds the tube through which air flows from the machine into his lungs) means that his O2 — oxygen — levels vary tremendously. The fact that he is also very “tired” is also an indication of lowered O2 concentration, though he may not understand this.

 

He did as I reported last time  agree to the DNR designation (Dr O, with whom I have been in touch, because she was so helpful with Joe early in his illness, told me that this is now called AND — Allow Natural Death). I do not think he completely understood its meaning, though, as he asked me two days later. I had to tell him it meant no heroic measures “like cracking his chest and massaging his heart” to make it truly clear to him, even though, if true, it also sounds a little extreme…After all, artificial ventilation is already a heroic measure!

 

As it is, unless the fistula forms (in his case a pathological kind of tube or passageway) forms between an artery that branches off of his aorta, and his weakened tracheal walls, which would cause nearly immediate death (with hopefully immediate unconsciousness without suffocation or any “drowning in his own blood” sensation), it looks like he will die of slow oxygen depletion and carbon dioxide build up. This would probably be the best way…Although his cousin tells  horror stories about “hypercapnia” I think he has been researching traumatic and acute cases of such carbon dioxide excess and not the slowly developing kind that Joe is experiencing. From all I muyself have read about ALS and respiratory failure, Joe’s dying should be painless and “easy.”. Especially if he only gets more and more tired and simply falls asleep…

I have been very weepy about this, esp when Joe has not been able to be very alert and it looked like death was near. But on Friday though he was “tired” he actually spent more time asking me how I was doing than  talking about himself…He “talks” mind you, by spelling via the letterboard. Which means that he looks at me to say yes, and away to say no, while I go down the board by row, and then across the letters, saying them by name…It is very laborious, less so for me because I have memorized the board, than for him because it is clearly tiring. I no longer stay more than a half hour, and try to keep it to 15 minutes. I try also to visit more often than once a week, and if I can, I go every two days or so. Still, as you can imagine, it can get exhausting.

 

I hope I haven’t repeated myself several times in the above, but if I have, forgive me.  I too am tired, though hardly as tired as Joe and not for anything near the same reasons. It is only the stress of having two dear friends “in extremis” so to speak, Joe near death, and Cy seemingly  having surrendered to “fading away.” I know that Cy is 92 and lost his beloved wife three years ago, and it is, I suppose, his right to want to “fade away” but goddam it, his physical health is pretty damn good, but for his own deliberate neglect of it. And it pains me to see that, if nothing else, he is just allowing himself to abdicate living and not even trying to accept treatment, either for his physical ailments nor for any depression.

 

Anyhow, I myself am not depressed at all, sad, yes, weepy as I said, yes, but in general just tired, sometimes headachey, but well enough. I just need to carve out enough time for myself to recuperate each week and NOT visit so much that I cannot do so. I know I need to find enough time to write and do art, as both replenish me in ways that spending time talking with others does not always do, much as I love my many friends. Hey, just writing here has done something towards that end. So thanks for listening, all you, and I’ll be Bach if you’ll be Beethoven for me…(okay that’s a stretch but I hope you’ll be waiting for me, nonetheless.)

 

 

Brad P. Olson’s New Poem: a Must-Read

I loved this small gem of a poem, which I hope Brad doesn’t mind my stealing off his site and posting here. It can also be found at Brad’s site:  http://bradolsonwriting.wordpress.com/

The Day You Were Born

For Grace

The day you were born

I held you swaddled
in the crook of my arm.

Now, 10 months later,

you turn your head
as I try to wipe your nose.

I could hold your head still,

but, to do that,
I’d have to put you down . . .

I don’t look forward to the day
when you’re too grown up

to carry from one place to another.

© 2011 by Brad P. Olson. All Rights Reserved.

African American Woman — FInished Drawing

Sophronsie in white hat

This is how the final version of the unfinished sketch that I posted below finally turned out. I managed to print out the photo of the sketch using a photosmart inkjet printer and watercolor paper, spray that with fixative so the ink wouldn’t smudge under erasures, then draw on top of it as if it were indeed my original sketch. In such a fashion, I was able to re-complete it “better” as it were than the original “wrecked” version. And indeed, I believe it is a great deal better than the version as shown below, for all that it is a complicated combination of photographic print-out of the original sketch, combined with an overlaid color pencil drawing. The strange thing is that in the end, because of the rather poor quality of the original sketch-photograph, the background came out this dull, slightly  green color (due to the lighting, not the paper it was on, which was actually white. Nevertheless, it turned out to be a perfect background for the finished drawing, and so I did nothing in the end but finish the portrait against that greenish background.

A technique I am learning/teaching myself is  one I thought I would never understand, let alone be able to do and that is how to do a kind of underpainting of whites or light colors, the highlights, before adding the darker tones.  I do not know, of course, if one is actually supposed to do that with colored pencils, but I did so anyway, figuring it might be time to try it. So given the original sketch to work with, I then heavily applied light peach and white tones where you can now see the lighter areas on the face, and only much later softened them with the darker chestnut browns and darker umbers, though clearly much peach shows through where the light is meant to strike the face on the left.

A  “real artist” would know how to do this beforehand, I expect, but I had to learn as I went, so it was all a process of delightful discovery, which is why I hope you will forgive me the foregoing description. It always amazes me to find out how many colors there really are in what seems to be a solid colored expanse, when you really look at it. I used blues and greens in Sophronsie’s skin tones as well as the peach-tones and whites. There are also some yellows and reds. And in some places I even used a silver pencil. It took me a while before I could even understand that the whites of the eyes are not white at all, not even slightly blue all over, but all sorts of colors, and that only if you painted them in a kind of pale multi-color would they begin to seem realistic. What is also interesting is that comparing the “white” skin on the child that I did in the earlier picture, or any of the other “white” portraits compared to the African American portraits, there is really not a great deal of difference in the colors I used. In fact, I start out with the very same peach and white for both skin colors, and only towards the end does this change, when I add darker tones for the darker skin, but it really only takes a little, and then not a great deal. This is so striking because it seems to say, in some profound way, that when you really look at all of us, “under the skin” (which skin people take for being so different) we really are all the same.  Of course in every real sense we are the same, despite our differences as individual human beings: genetically this is true, and philosophically, and morally and spiritually and in every other sense that matters, at least to me. We are all human and of the same “stuff” and nothing else matters. Nothing.

__________________________________

(There are not supposed to be any gaps in the following poem but for some reason it doesn’t cut and paste as it should and so it appears with the spaces…ignore them..)

HOW CAN YOU EVEN THINK SUCH A THING?

There’s no excuse for it, I know, there’s none at all, but reading

about the death of the famous poet’s poet wife from cancer,
so cachectic and etiolated her limbs are thinner than a Giacometti
I find myself disgustingly hungry and envious, both.

It is not that I want to die, not even slowly, not even

an after-the-fact-romantic death recalled for years

by other poets. No, I like life, I even like living.
But I want this house, yes, I want this small empty apartment
filled with food rich and fattening as truffles, dark, creamy truffles
made of French chocolate and wrapped in tissue-thin edible gold
so expensive it’s a mortal sin to eat even one as long
as Africa starves and cholera saps the strength of flood victims
in Pakistan. Except that leaving them to melt and flow molten

on the August windowsill feeds no one while I, longing,

linger over my dish of celery and one small onion, lusting
to taste a life I can never enjoy, to taste a lust not for chocolate
exactly, but for the life that rich chocolate represents,
appetite throwing wide its arms and crying, Yes, yes, yes!

GREETINGS FROM WISDOM HOUSE! (Plus an unrelated word or two about PARANOIA)

Photo by Sr Jo-Ann Iannotti OP

I hope I am not encroaching on Sr Jo-Ann Iannotti’s copyright, by sharing this photo, but if I am I trust she will let me know. In any event, this is one of hers  and it is everywhere at Wisdom House. I believe it is a beautiful example (if that is the proper word for it) of the spirit of Wisdom House. Of course, the physical labyrinth, is stunning by itself, but somehow this photo captures the experience of walking it  and the process of meditating and “being there” in a way that mere words describing likely could not. Surely, if nothing else,  this photo alone is a wonderful way to “advertise” Wisdom House, if it ever needed such a thing.  If you can, visit http://www.wisdomhouse.org and look at the virtual tour photo gallery. That way, you will get a good idea of what the place looks like, and perhaps get something of the flavor of people’s first impression. I know that even the first time I came here, despite my misery concerning all that silence, I knew it was a special place…

Jo-Ann says she has no idea who the woman in the labyrinth center is, that it was a fortuitous shot and nothing more. Frankly, though, I suspect getting the photo took more than mere luck, even just to have been there to capture it!  It exquisitely represents both the spirituality of this place as well as peace and peacefulness.

Clearly, you can tell where I am: at Wisdom House again, having a good time this time. I only wish I did not have to depart tomorrow.Even though I spend most of my time alone, the mere presence of other people, laughing and talking and obviously having a great time, buoys my own spirits and makes me laugh aloud myself. I think it is great that they are laughing so uproariously, and it is great to see everyone with their doors wide open, people, women my age, sitting on each other’s beds, gabbing like college girls. The lovely thing too, about Wisdom House in general is the absolute faith in people’s basic trustworthiness: NO one has a key to their rooms, and no one seems to feel worried about anyone entering or stealing a thing. I frequently leave my computer and writing equipment right out in the open on the sun porch, without the least qualm, feeling secure in the knowledge that everything will be just as I left it when I return. Indeed, the sense of trust that I know Jo-Ann has in people is infectious, and I somehow know that everyone who comes here is trustworthy at least for as long as they are here, even if they might not be all the time when they are not.

Now, I may be naive, but I too have been known to be overly trusting, and I think that is a better option than not trusting people. At the same time, though, I can be extremely paranoid as you know, and I do mean “at the same time…” I suppose that is difficult to comprehend: I will simultaneously give away whatever I can, if I feel I own too much and yet also feel as if people are secretly stealing from me, taking things I need out from under me, without even asking or telling me, which makes me angry, because I am already generous, and never ask for a single thing in return, but I’m sorry and feel bad to admit it, but somethings I am not ready to simply have things taken from me without my say so! I feel guilty about this, though, as if I am so attached to material things that I cannot part with something that someone else needs more than I do (for why else would someone resort to stealing it???). Why do I need to be so attached to anything, that is, to any mere object? It will never save your life or your soul!

I am drifting though…forgive me.

One great thing about this weekend here is that despite my having slept till noon today (after spending several days before last night with very little sleep, and even last night beginning to fear for my brain and my sanity due to sleeplessness as I was up till 4am involuntarily) I have pretty much gotten the book organized and put together. Now, that means only that I have made the organizational decisions, which is the major part of the problem. But I needs must (!) still go through the actual computer manuscript and change it, to make it conform to these editorial decisions. Not extremely difficult, just time consuming. At the same time, certain poems need editing and some rewriting/fixing. This I enjoy, the perfecting of the lines I don’t feel are quite right yet, but it takes time and energy. (I even have a two relatively new poems to add!) Alas, I will not be able to come up here to take the time for myself to do nothing else. Too bad, as it has been very convenient and much more than that. It has been, well, useful in the sense that I have been productive “to the max,” able to say NO to email and phone calls, not even walking with Diane L or doing laundry or cleaning or shopping, just writing all day. I suppose taking my usual 2 miles walk would be a good thing, but for just a weekend here, I would rather not…And although I brought art supplies just in case, I haven’t even taken out my sketch book, that is how good the writing, and the editing, have been going!

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Speaking of the labyrinth at Wisdom House as I did at the top of the post, let me segue into a few words about paranoia: I have not walked the labyrinth, nor even approached it. The closest I have come is to sit at the top of the stairs looking down at it relatively from afar. The very idea of “doing it” makes me feel both rather shy and then scared to do so. I am in fact scare that God might strike me down, should I have such temerity as to try it.  I am also squeamish, not sure I could relax and not feel paranoid, not feel so much on display  that I could not concentrate or let myself be “unaware of being observed” — whether I am in fact under observation or not.

That of course is the essence of paranoia: it matters not a fig whether something is really happening, it matters not another fig if someone’s really after you or really against you: if you feel it, if your amygdala is working overtime to generate that feeling, the intense feeling of fear that it is meant to generate, well, that’s it. That is how you are going to feel. And “the feeling is primary.” That’s what Dr O told me time and time again. You feel the fear first, and primarily, and then the story or reason for feeling it attaches to it. But if the fear  gets entrenched or doesn’t go away, the story,, that is, the brain’s explanation for the feelings of fear only gets more entrenched, because how else can you deal with fear? It is extremely difficult to feel fear unmitigated without somehow understanding it as coming from somewhere, or being stimulated by something, having a cause or reason. The brain always wants to make sense of things, and it does this whether one “wants to” or not.

So even though I am aware of what paranoia is, I have never been able to control my thoughts when it is happening. It is only after the fact that I can, now, sometimes, look back on a difficult situation and with a clearer head understand how I might in fact have been paranoid in my behavior due to my fear- induced understanding of what was going on. It is very very difficult to override such feelings, esp on such  a fundamental level.

I wish I could write more now, but I’d better to get back to my writing before I have to get back to sleep. As it is, it is 1:50 A.M. and we — Ann W drove here with me — the other fellowship person — have to drive home tomorrow around noon. I wish dearly it were not so, but there you have it. For now, I will leave you with a poem that will go into the manuscript of my second book of poems, which I call at least for now (several people have been enthusiastic about the title, except my father), LEARNING TO SEE IN THREE DIMENSIONS. I share it with you now, because while still unpublished, I do not think I will seek publication for it elsewhere, separately…The first one, for my old (and former, but possibly dead now) friend Roland, was previously published, but in a much different version. I apologize if the lines come out with large spaces between them, but the cut and pasting function never seems to allow single spaces… OR stanzas for that matter, as this poem was originally broken up inot five different stanzas but now appears to be in only one long one… The second poem is about Joe, and describes my own encounter with fear of botulism, which has similar symptoms to ALS — so I feared — and my nostalgia for his voice, which I will never hear again, except on his answering machine, and on one or two micro-cassette tapes we made some years ago…

FOR A FRIEND SUCCUMBING TO AIDS, 1980s

For Roland

This could be your whole life,

thumbing a ride to wherever the cars are going,

the casual, tossed out hellos and good-byes

that turn around the axle of your quick life —

that far, just that far, and then you will stay,

forcing a stranger’s town into the shape of home.

Yet you’ve lived a dozen lives — in the Keys

with the one you finally loved, in western Portugal,

Nova Scotia. Last year, already marked, you spent

the winter in your bed,which just fit in a backyard shed

in Vernon, Connecticut. And there was a life

to accommodate each place, its sweetness and pain.

When we met, you taught me the local architecture,

the difference between Georgian and Greek Revival,

and you thanked me for the poems you gave me.

Then you called late one night, drunk enough to over-

dose. Thoughtlessly, I rescued you, a dying man…

You never forgave nor spoke to me again.

Now once in a while a car slows, pondering

your beard, your emaciation, the known and unknown

risks, sees you finally, and explodes away from the shoulder

where you stand, all its doors locked simultaneously

against those Kaposi’s inflorescences that stain

your dying…Roland, Roland, don’t you know

we all die in shame and alone? We die, perhaps,

not far from home, or perhaps, like you, wandering,

waiting for the one car to cross the bridge

whose toll is so high we all pay with our lives.

WORRYWART

Tonight I’m up late worrying

about a badly canned chestnut puree

and botulism, which is useless

since I’ll know soon enough from

what the Merck Manual describes as

“difficulty speaking or swallowing,

drooping eyelids, double vision,

lassitude and weakness progressing

to paralysis” that I have it

or not. Not very likely with only

130 cases in the U.S. in a year,

but as I said, I worry, and worry attaches

to anything: leprosy, asteroids falling

from the sky, dirt on your hands.

Most people worry too much

about things that won’t matter

after six months. My friend doesn’t

have to worry about those. He is

losing his speech to Lou Gehrig’s. In six

months who knows what won’t work

any longer or which will matter

most. His assistive device says

the words he types, but how I miss

the sound of his voice, which I’ve forgotten

except when I call and the old

machine picks up: Joe speaking.

I can’t answer the phone right now

but I’ll call you back as soon as I can.

“NEW” POEMS FOR WAGBLOG

These are admittedly older poems once-published, but they are the best I can offer at the moment for the reasons I explained, that contests and publications insist that any poem one sends to them never have appeared anywhere else before, including on the internet. Needless to say this is a major bummer, since my blog can hardly count as publication nor pose as wide distribution, seeing as how I get maybe 100 hits max a day (mark you, all, including you, my loyal lurkers, are oh so valuable to me, and if you remain my site’s only visitors, so be it. At least you are there and if so, that will be enough for me.)

The first poem describes a real, which is to say, factual incident that happened to me some years ago, while the second concerns, as may be obvious, a complete fantasy, but one embedded in the real  exercise of learning CPR. I describe it literally, as it was taught back in the 80s without so much as a dummy to practice on. I will continue to add others, either at the end or later, if I can find others that have already been published, or that I am certain I will not try for. For now, I hope these have some merit, despite their age.

POEM FOR REGINALD

It is winter, four o’clock in the afternoon.

A drunk, not yet dead on his feet,

accosts me, says,

“Hey, are you a college girl?”

I am not a student anymore—

It has been years since I went by bells

from room to room,

scribbled frantic exams

in booklets bound in blue.

I look young, I know that. My hair is not

yet gray, and perhaps that is why

he asks the question.

“I read books, too,” he tells me,

falling into step beside me

though he had met me coming the opposite way

and I am hurrying to be out of Dutch Point by nightfall.

He walks me all the way up to Main Street.

accompanying me through the backyards of tenements

past lounging men who might have wished me

less than well.

Though he insists on staying on my right side

like a gentleman, some primitive fear

urges me to shift my purse

to my left shoulder.

He is a genius he tells me, and I believe him

But he is an alcoholic and his breath smells

as if he has been drinking.

Still, I am not afraid of him

and when he asks, I tell him my name.

There is something sad about him.

He says he thinks I can cure him,

could marry him.

His name is Reginald.

He speaks like an old friend

and suddenly I am lonely too.

That is all. There is no moral to this tale.

I am thirty-five, single, childless, and lonely as a drunk

offering me company at Christmastide.

We come to my building. He leans closer.

When he hugs me

I hold on tight.

ON LEARNING CPR, 1986

So many things can go wrong

and it is surely a wonder

we live at all.

Playing dead, my partner, my spouse

does not answer when I

jostle him at the shoulder

speak his name

and I in more terror

than my own body needs

this being a dry run

and he healthy as apples.

But he has taken on

the “death-like appearance”

necessary for this role

and I must act,

pretending dexterity and expertise

when my own heart

threatens to shudder and fail

if I can’t get it right.

According to the booklet

the Red Cross has given us,

brain damage occurs

after four minutes without

oxygen. It is up to me.

And so I do as I must,

feigning compressions of his chest

making his heart beat for me

at the rhythm I choose.

I scarcely brush his lips

with my own in pretended ventilation,

but breathe on his cheek

and scout his chest

for  signs of life returning

So much I have taken for granted—

I am scared by the awful fragility

in the balance of one life before me.

Then miraculously, he revives.

I can see his chest rise and fall.

I feel a pulse in his neck

and moist air on my cheek and ear.

“Thanks, love,” he whispers,

with a smile no one else sees

and sits up.

It is over.

But tonight while he sleeps

I will count his breaths.

I will touch the pulse in his neck

gently, gently. I will know

the miracle when I see it.

Trip to Wisdom House

I have decided, with Sr Jo-Ann’s help, to arrive at the Writer’s Fellowship on Sunday morning, rather than Saturday evening, so that she can meet me, rather than have me face a crowd of fifty (silent) people alone. It was in fact her idea, but she offered to take me individually on a tour, and show me where to go and so forth, introduce me, which she thought she would have more time for on Sunday morning than on Saturday when everyone else was arriving. This also was a relief for the simple fact that I am so frantic with things I have to get done that it helps to know I have all of Saturday simply to relax and if I haven’t done so before, to pack. It isn’t as if I am bringing a great deal, not many clothes or “stuff”– after all, I am mainly going there to write. But that in itself entails bringing such things as my computer, a printer and a ream of paper at a minimum, and I want to bring a small hot pot and cup and coffee as well, since I cannot rely simply on sheer excitement to keep me awake, no more than I ever can. Not even Ritalin, which as you may know I have taken for decades to combat the nearly constant and excessive daytime sleepiness of narcolepsy, really keeps me alert. In fact, often coffee does a better job…On the other hand, I intend to take Zyprexa every day I am there too, which is sedating. This is just so that I know I will be able to read and stay as unafraid of things as possible. Once I get home, I’ll stop taking it, but why not keep on top of things as long as I am there?

I have written several poems in just the last week, but alas, I am unable to share them here.  I have learned that many contests and publications do not allow the appearance on the web of poems you want to submit to them or enter there, or else they will be disqualified. Thus I can only post ones that I am certain I will not try to publish or else that have already appeared in my book or previously in another journal, review or magazine. I wish that were not so, as I am thrilled with some of these poems. I also wish that I had not been so quick to enter a few of them into a certain contest, as with a little more rewriting, say, the 110th version rather than the 100th, I might have felt even better about them. Ah well, too late for recriminations. If a given poem is not accepted where I sent it, there are a thousand other venues that might take it when I submit it again.

Enough for now, it is already late and I needs must (how’s that for an archaic expression?) get to work finishing up the dishes and printing out poems. I will need at least 60 for my second book and I have to have copies I can work on at Wisdom House. There are a dozen other things to do before I go to bed tonight…zo I will bid you adieu, au revoir…

I hope I can post something from Wisdom House next week, but if not, I will do so when I get back. Hasta la vista!

Jane Crown Poetry Radio

Okay, all you poetry fans of mine, and anyone out there who reads this in general! This is a rather late announcement, but this Sunday at 5pm Eastern time (you will have to make the proper adjustments if you live in other time zones) Jane Crown, at http://www.janecrown.com will be doing a 90 minute interview with me http://www.janecrown.com/archive_radio/Pamela_Sprio_Wagner.mp3 that will be part personal interview and part poetry reading  both from WE MAD CLIMB SHAKY LADDERS as well as new poems, and she may possibly include some reading and/or discussion about my memoir DIVIDED MINDS: Twin Sisters and their Journey Through Schizophrenia. I hope as many of you as possible will listen, and if you are not interested in poetry will listen out of interest in schizophrenia, as we certainly will speak of that.

By the way, Jane tells me that the show will be archived and “available forever” so if you cannot sit and listen for 90 minutes this Sunday, do not worry as you can do so at any time and for any length of time. Just follow the link or do a search for Jane Crown and radio or poetry and you should find it without trouble.

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Now for an update: Well, first of all, let me say that I want to write an update but first I need to start my review of the poems I am going to read on Sunday, and read a little of DIVIDED MINDS, so I can recall what got into the book out of my 400pp original manuscript and what was cut. So forgive me if I put the update and rest of this post off for a few hours and get back to it maybe after 11 pm tonight. Or if not then, as I must get up early tomorrow, then I will write a new post tomorrow. For now, suffice it to say that I feel extraordinarily HAPPY!

Book of the Year Finalist

Hi All,

Apparently We Mad Climb Shaky Ladders (CavanKerry Press, Feb 2009) my book of poems about living with schizophrenia, has been nominated a finalist for ForeWord Magazine’s 2009 Book of the Year (in the Poetry category). I dunno what this means, and I doubt highly that it will win, but I am very happy and grateful to have been made a finalist at all. The results will be announced on May 25th  at the BookExpo American, wherever and whatever that is. I’ll keep you posted, or perhaps you can keep me posted…

Here’s the cover of the book just in case you don’t know what it looks like:

Poem: Life without Hope of Parole…

STATE PROPERTY

The Walls: what prisoners call the Washington State Penitentiary at Walla Walla

Freeworld: everything beyond the Walls

For A.

You’ve been owned by the State

since you can’t remember when,

body, mind and what’s left of your spirit

shackled to a prison more shattering

than the Walls, where at 18 you ended your life

in the freeworld. Hadn’t the big house

always beckoned, ever since the first time

you entered a home and found it

no refuge but a place of pain

and abuse, of neglect so battering

you ran straight into the arms

of a detention center

where at least no one pretended to care?

Who cared anyway about just another

juvenile delinquent with a mouth

to feed? It was hard to say

when mere delinquency — a word

that meant only that you’d left,

that you’d “left completely”

but left what was left to the imagination,

left home, left hope behind, left off caring —

turned from trying to survive to the criminal.

Homeless, hungry, no better educated

than an arrested ten-year-old,  you

stole bread, stole something middle class

and valuable and we, a nation

of Javerts, were too righteous to split hairs

and see you. But somehow an innocent

was killed and now you are up against the wall

in Walla Walla, amidst the teem

and clangor of that crazy

noise-filled space, with no hope, no hope

of freedom and even if it kills you

this time you swear you will redeem yourself,

reclaim and save yourself from the death

of that which still remains humane

in you. One aching brick at a time,

some walls are built, others torn down.

Outside the canteen window,

snowy egrets build their nests,

a beaver slaps the water with its tail.

I don’t remember exactly what happened to place Andy (not his real name)  and his sister in the care of the State, but I know that certain authorities found them huddled in the bathroom of their house or apartment, hungry and dirty and frightened, and from then on nothing was the same. They were separated, for one thing, and Andy lost track of his sister for years. Foster care was a travesty. Though there are, I know, many good foster families and truly giving and loving people who do fostering out of the goodness of their hearts,  Andy did not meet those. Most of the time his  foster parents only wanted the extra cash and he was lucky if he was fed adequately and had a bed of his own. He was often beaten and had to work for his food. Desperate, he made the first mistake, but one that probably set him on the road towards the situation he is in today. He ran away. But for a foster child, a ward of the State, running away is truancy, a juvenile offense and several such episodes, he was considered incorrigible and sent to reform school, where he learned only more survival tactics and more violence.

You see where I am going with this? It may be true that some boys rise above this, some boys find it within themselves to turn their lives around and make something of themselves…But I do not believe that they do it themselves. I believe that some caring adult, someone, anyone, steps in and makes them believe in themselves. Andy never had that. He knew only abuse and more abuse, in the many homes he resided in and later in the various juvenile  centers to which he was sent.

Finally, in a home as a teenager, he turned 16 and , he was an adult in the eyes of the state, no longer their problem, and he was turned out onto the street, unceremoniously, with no skills, no money, voila, no — nothing, but the clothes on his back and was told to get a job and make a life…This is crazy of course. Totally and completely crazy. But that is what happens, at least in Andy’s state, and I suspect in more states than I want to know about. Where do you go when, on your 16th birthday, your foster family wakes you early in the morning, and instead of presenting you with a special birthday breakfast and a birthday present, tells you to dress and get lost, get going, you’re an adult now and not worth anything to them anymore? I cannot imagine what on earth I would do.

Andy fell back on the skills he learned in reform school, like petty thievery (how else was he to get food?) and lying. And he ran with a crowd doing much the same thing. I do not know where or how he coped otherwise, nor where he slept, whether it was indoors or out of doors, nor for how long. I only know that at one point things escalated, and there was a gun involved, or perhaps it was a knife, but in any event, an innocent person was stabbed, or shot, and of the entire group only Andy was apprehended. But Andy was no snitch, and so he said nothing when pressed to tell who his “accomplices” had been, not even when threatened with a life sentence. which is what, in the end he received: Life without HOPE of parole. At age 18. Life without HOPE…

What does that sort of sentence mean, precisely? Well, for one, it means Maximum Security, because all long sentences are put into Max, esp lifers. It also means that at least in Andy’s prison, they wouldn’t bother to educate him or allow him to study for his GED, let alone a college degree. Why waste the money or the time on someone who was never getting out, never returning to the freeworld? It meant a lot of things, but mostly it meant hopelessness. And that was the hardest thing to deal with. That and the fact that you owned nothing, that you could count on keeping nothing, that nothing was yours. At any moment, everything you had in your possession could be confiscated, trashed during a cell search or simply ruined by flooding of the tier by prisoners protesting various atrocious conditions of their incarceration.

Andy knew that if he was to survive, he had to give up all attachment to things, to  everything outside himself, and to know that he was himself, a person, and that no one could take that away from him. He had to know that he could rely on himself alone, and to trust that, no matter what they did to him. And they did plenty. You can read about the Hole, but what really happens there, and even beforehand is truly an abomination. During a cell extraction for instance,  the squad, preparing to overpower the resistant convict, terrifies by virtue of their appearance and their “firepower.” To say that pepper spray is used is to deliberately mislead the public into thinking that the procedures are relatively harmless. A huge blast in the face of a chemical that makes one feel as if one is suffocating and cannot see is applied through the door window, until the convict is gasping and on his knees. Then the real extraction occurs, with an entire team subduing the prisoner, hogtying him in some instances, and removing him from the cell, which will later be trashed during a search.

People are disappeared, people are beat up, people die during a cell extraction, or simply when the guards are angry or sick of someone they can’t easily control and the death is hushed up. People die and nothing is said when a new prisoner is shown to the bunk they once occupied…

Andy has written a book length manuscript about his experience in the worst prison in his state, and  the entire book follows a prisoner through one day in the life of the main character. I think it is magnificent. Andy went from a 7th grade education to writing like a college grad, teaching Spanish, and many other accomplishments, including authoring two book-length manuscripts and a full-length play. I am hoping to find a publisher to take a look at his novel/ memoir. If you know of anyone who might be interested, would you please get in touch with me?

Wonderful Poem at the Merton Institute

Check out the  http://mertoninstitute.org for the source of this, but in the meantime, I think it is not illegal to reprint it here, a marvelous poem, chosen by our friend and hero, Billy Collins, for the 2008 Merton Prize for the Poetry of the Sacred. As I wrote in a letter to a friend about it: I have this secret fondness for formal poems that hide their form beneath enjambments and nonchalance and (perhaps this may sound weird) humility, as I sense this poem does…I really liked it, found it sort of Frost-like, without its insisting on the likeness. Could not find out anything more about the poet, nor any more of his works, except the single sentence that he has indeed published before…Wonder where and what.

The Orb Web
by David Culwell of Columbus, Ohio

One night I stood inside
And, through the fan-shaped window in
The front door, watched a spider spin
A web to snare, in its tried

Way, some of the mesmerized
Moths fluttering in the porch light’s glow
Like bits of paper people throw
At parties or pint-sized

Satellites. The wheel
Of a web hung beneath the right
Corner of the frame, not quite
But nearly setting a seal

Against my going out
Or someone’s coming in. Indeed
A friend was coming soon to read
My hard-spun lines about

Beauty’s fading bloom.
I need to get the broom, I thought.
But I just stood there gazing, caught
By the eight-legged loom:

An inch or so, with gray-
Brown hairs and legs with bands of brown
and yellow, it hung upside down
Laying a sticky ray.

Like a second hand
It circled, moving inward; soon
the web, which seemed a gauzy moon,
Was done, with every strand

Laid necessarily.
The web itself was like designs
On Persian rugs; I read its lines
As living poetry.

A moth flew into it
At three. It fought, wings flickering,
To free itself, but couldn’t spring
Away from the gripping knit.

The spider scuttled there
And nimbly spun the moth in silk
While another of its ilk
Flew into the snare.

The spider hardly knew,
Of course, that something like a gust
Would sweep away its work like dust
And leave no strand in view.

I looked at my watch: the time
Was near. I didn’t lift my gaze,
But walked away, trying to raise
The mettle for the crime.

Poems by Pamela Spiro Wagner

Here are a few sample poems from my new book WE MAD CLIMB SHAKY LADDERS, (which, despite what many have been told IS available from Amazon and B & N and upne.com so keep trying if you have been told it is not…I know as I just got some extra copies from amazon). Here is just a teaser to get people interested:

These first two are from the first section, which concerns my childhood and the first intimations of illness. Here are the first indications that touch is difficult, even threatening to me. In the second poem, I describe my twin sister’s wholly different attitude towards her body, how in a more innocent time, wolf whistles by teen age boys were considered harmless, complimentary even, and wearing tight jeans was not an invitation to anything but, as in this poem, pleasure on the part of both young men and the young woman described…

AMBIVALENCE

Touch me. No, no, do not touch.

I mean: be careful —

if I break into a hundred pieces

like a Ming vase falling from the mantle

it will be your fault.

JUNIOR MISS

Cool as Christmas

plump as a wish

and simonpure as cotton

You stroll the avenue

mean in your jeans

and the boys applaud.

You toss off a shrug

like a compliment

with a flicker of disdain

Catching the whistle

in mid-air and

pitching it back again.

“Eating the Earth” is more or less a true story insofar  the little boy in a nearby neighborhood did rub a certain little girl’s face in dirt for telling him where babies came from  and she did dream the dream descrbed. What this all means is up to the reader to decide, however.

EATING THE EARTH

After Tyrone, the little boy next door,

makes her eat a handful of dirt

for telling lies

about where babies come from

her father says it will do her no harm.

You have to eat a peck of dirt

before you die, her father says.

He also says she hadn’t lied:

babies do come that way.

She cries after her father

leaves the room and she sleeps

all night with the lights on.

Her father tells her other things,

that earthworms eat their own weight in dirt

every day and that their do-do

(he says “excrement”)

fertilizes our food.

She makes a face over that

and doesn’t believe him.

Besides, she says, we’re people

not worms.

And we’re so great, huh? he says.

Well, I’d rather be a girl than a worm.

He says nothing.

He is grown up and a doctor,

he doesn’t have to worry about

being a worm.

But she does.

That night she dreams that Tyrone

dumps a jar of worms down her shirt

and that their dreadful undulations

become hers and she begins

eating dirt

and liking it,

the cool coarse grains of sand,

the spicy chips of mica,

the sweet-sour loam become her body

as she lives and breathes,

eating the darkness.


FUSION

It was a frying pan summer.

I was playing croquet by myself,

missing the wickets on purpose,

rummaging my pockets for dime-sized diversions.

It was a summer of solitaire.

I laid the cards out like soldiers.

I was in command.

Then you came out

with a mallet and a stolen voice

that seemed to rise disembodied

from the gorge of your black throat

and you challenged me to a game.

You ate me with your mosquito demands

though I, I didn’t want to play with anyone!

I hid my trembling in my sleeves

refusing to shake your hand.

I thought: this is how the Black Death was

transmitted, palm to palm, hand to hand,

a contagion like money.

You smiled the glassy grimace

practiced for boys all summer in front of a mirror.

If I looked you in the eye I would die.

I knew then all the sharp vowels of fear.

It was late in the afternoon

and I was frightened

when our shadows merged.


OUR MOTHER’S DAUGHTERS

I dreamed my mother cut off

my baby toes, the suturing so perfect

she left no gangrene, no scars, just a fine line

of invisible thread and four toes on each foot

instead of five. The job done, she left me

at the “crutches store” on Whitney Avenue

where I could find no crutches to fit

and so hobbled back toward home

alone and lopsided.

This is true, and she was a good mother

most of the time, which meant

that I never lacked for anything

she could buy, yet still I grew up lame,

disfigured (though not in any

noticeable way) and always with the sense

I had been abandoned before my time.

This has all been said before: our mothers

leave us, then or now, later or sooner,

and we hobble like cripples

toward the women in our lives

who can save us. Or else we limp homeward

knowing we will never make it back

before we wake up. And when we do wake up

we find we, too, are mothers, trying desperately

to save our daughters’ legs

by amputating their smallest least necessary

toes, taking the toes to save the feet

to save the legs they stand on

in a world where we ourselves

are not yet grounded.


PARANOIA

You know something is going on.

It is taking place just beyond the range

of your hearing, inside that house

on the corner needing paint and shutters,

the one with the cluttered yard

you always suspected sheltered friends

in name only. It may be in the cellar

where the radio transmitter is being built

or the satellite. A cabal of intelligence

is involved, CIA, MI-6, Mossad.

It is obvious plans are being made;

didn’t your boss arch his eyebrows

while passing your desk this morning,

grunt hello, rather than his usual

“Howahya?” There are veiled threats

to your life and livelihood. Someone

is always watching you watching

and waiting for whatever is going

to happen to happen.


THE CATATONIC SPEAKS

At first it seemed a good idea not to

move a muscle, to resist without

resistance. I stood still and stiller. Soon

I was the stillest object in that room.

I neither moved nor ate nor spoke.

But I was in there all the time,

I heard every word said,

saw what was done and not done.

Indifferent to making the first move,

I let them arrange my limbs, infuse

IVs, even toilet me like a doll.

Oh, their concern was so touching!

And so unnecessary. As if I needed anything

but the viscosity of air that held me up.

I was sorry when they cured

me, when I had to depart that warm box,

the thick closed-in place of not-caring,

and return to the world. I would

never go back, not now. But

the Butterfly Effect says sometimes

the smallest step leads nowhere,

sometimes to global disaster. I tell you

it is enough to scare a person stiff.

New Book Is Out: Poems on Schizophrenia

Yes, I finally hold it in my hands, We Mad Climb Shaky Ladders, published by CavanKerry Press. Below is the cover illustration (minus the Spiro, which is on the final version) and the press release:

We Mad Climb Shaky Ladders: Poems by Pamela Spiro Wagner
We Mad Climb Shaky Ladders: Poems by Pamela Spiro Wagner

NEWS from CavanKerry Press
6 Horizon Road No. 2901 • Fort Lee, New Jersey 07024 • phone/fax 201.670.9065 • cavankerry@optonline.net

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact: Florenz Eisman — 201.670.9065

WE MAD CLIMB SHAKY LADDERS

Poems

Pamela Spiro Wagner
With Introduction and Commentary by Mary B. O’Malley, MD, PhD

Foreword by Baron Wormser

For forty years – longer than her entire adult life – Pamela Spiro Wagner has been affected by paranoid schizophrenia, a plight she eloquently explored in her award-winning book, Divided Minds: Twin Sisters and their Journey Through Schizophrenia, co-written with her twin sister, psychiatrist Carolyn S. Spiro, MD. Also an accomplished poet, Wagner has long utilized the language and emotion of poetry to express the individuality of her mental illness, capturing with vivid candor her singular inner world. In WE MAD CLIMB SHAKY LADDERS, the latest volume from LaurelBooks, CavanKerry’s Literature of Illness imprint, Wagner for the first time collects her poems, presented with commentary by her psychiatrist, Mary B. O’Malley, MD, PhD, that elucidates the clinical roots of the poet’s art.

WE MAD CLIMB SHAKY LADDERS “is much more than a testimony to a diagnosis or pathology or terminology,” writes Baron Wormser in his foreword. “The poems emanate from the place of the poet’s illness but they are resolutely poems—well-written, sensually alert, quick to turn and notice and startlingly honest. They dwell on both sides of the equation of life and art: testifying to the powerful and tenuous links between the two and demonstrating that art is capable of holding its own regardless of circumstances. Some of those circumstances have been shattering. The sheer tenacity that it can take to write poems makes itself felt here in ways that are both uncomfortable and reassuring.”

Wagner’s often harrowing struggle with life, as reflected in these poems, has been marked by psychological turmoil – periods of total debilitation, as well as intervals of recovery and hope. Her battle with paranoia hovers over the work, such as in “Poem in which Paranoia Strikes at the Grocery Store” where the simple act of shopping becomes a waking nightmare: “Who/gave you permission to enter? No one/wants you here. They are all watching….You are being followed./You are on your own.” Wagner captures the voices in her head with terrifying urgency. In “Offering,” Wagner’s very first poem, written in 1984, she writes of her compulsion to burn herself with cigarettes with a haunting remove:

The tip of the cigarette glows and grins
as I lower it to you,
Unlover,
alien body.

At Dr. O’Malley’s urging, Wagner has also included three poems she wrote during the heights of psychosis, and these are filled with scrambled ideas and garish imagery that are shocking in their raw, unguarded unveiling of the poet’s troubled mind.

Divided into five sections, Wagner’s book covers childhood and the earliest indications of illness, the years of illness, recovery, coping, and new beginnings. As with most poetry grounded in autobiography, there are important familial relationships that seep into the poems – father, mother, sister, friends. Here, these relationships are filtered through the poet’s psychosis, colored by hallucinations and delusions, yet grounded in the emotional truths that any complicated relationship engenders. In her most widely known poem, “The Prayers of the Mathematician,” which won First Place in the BBC World Service international poetry competition judged by Wole Soyinke, Wagner moves beyond the personal with an eloquent poem about John Nash, the schizophrenic Nobel Prize winner who was later immortalized in the movie, A Beautiful Mind.

“These poems are the work of a first-rate writer” says surgeon and best-selling writer Richard Selzer of WE MAD CLIMB SHAKY LADDERS, “one who has sounded the well of her own suffering to retrieve the wherewithal to transform pain into the most powerful and moving literature.”

~~~

About Pamela Spiro Wagner

Pam coral and green
Photo of the author in May, 2009

A prize-winning writer and poet who suffers from schizophrenia, Pamela Spiro Wagner attended Brown University and went to medical school for one and a half years before being hospitalized for psychiatric care. She won First Place in the international BBC World Service Poetry Competition in 2002, and co-authored, with her twin sister, Divided Minds: Twin Sisters and their Journey Through Schizophrenia, which won the national NAMI Outstanding Literature Award and was a finalist for the Connecticut Book Award. Currently she writes at http://WAGblog.wordpress.com. She has lived in the Hartford, Connecticut area for 33 years.

CavanKerry Press would appreciate two tearsheets
of any review or feature you publish about this book.

WE MAD CLIMB SHAKY LADDERS by Pamela Spiro Wagner
Publication Date: 2009
Price: $16.00; ISBN: 978-1-933880-10-5
Distributed by: University Press of New England (UPNE), 1-800-421-1561 or 603-448-1533, Ext. 255

Author is available for speaking, readings, and workshops.
Contact: pamwagg@cox.net or pamwagg@yahoo.com
Tel: 860-257-9188

Two Poems: The Middle of Nowhere

Although this poem, under  a slightly shortened title, will be in my soon to be released book, WE MAD CLIMB SHAKY LADDERS, I showed the rewritten version to my writers group tonight . It is basically a true story, about the friend whose recitation of a Gerard Manley Hopkins poem instantaneously converted me from a poetry skeptic to a poetry lover…but read on and you will see what happened.

 

The second poem was sparked by my recent hospital stay but not based on it, rather it is based on the misinformation purveyed by movies such as the ones mentioned in the beginning of the poem, and also in the books from which the movies were made.


YOU WERE A POET ONCE (NOW YOU ARE

LOST IN THE MIDDLE OF NOWHERE…)

 

You were a poet once. You touched my soul

with the gift of poems, teaching me to read and write–

oh, inevitably to write them, for writing made me whole

and I could never not write. I had no special goal,

only to “pour out a poem” and work it right.

 

That took me years. I was such a fool —

dreamy cups of poems, quote unquote, only wasted good ink…

But I was speaking of you. You gave me the tools

to teach myself; you should have returned to school.

You found vodka: you could not, after one drink,

 

stop. And though it seemed deliberate, a choice,

I suppose you couldn’t help it. On conversion day

you recited Hopkins’ “Spring and Fall,” your voice

for once not blurred by Popov. (Still, I didn’t dare rejoice.).

You were so sure, so caught up in what you had to say.

 

It changed me utterly. Few experiences work such magic.

Why you quit poetry for drink I’ll never understand.

Life made you querulously unhappy, so there’s a logic

in your refusal to live. But I’ll never not think it tragic

how your gift to me soured in your own hands.

 

 

 

REALITY CHECK

 

First, you have an address, a 9-digit zip code

and two free patient telephones, so you’re not lost

in the middle of nowhere, this is not the movies.

Not Cuckoo’s Nest at any rate, nor the I-Never-

Promised-You-a-Rose-Garden rose garden.

And that Girl, Interrupted? No, it is definitely not

her giant sleepover with hair rollers, gossip

and steaming hot chocolate. For one thing,

hospital tap water isn’t hot enough for cocoa

and unless your roommate, the anorexic

with fruity breath and ironed tee shirts

becomes your best pal, that’s it for the party,

no one else gets in your room. Even in a single,

the checker disturbs you every 15 minutes.

Now, I know that keys play a big role in film:

someone always swipes a set for the night

to go AWOL or wreak havoc. In reality,

“insurance cured,” most want to stay longer

than leave shorter. Going AWOL is more

the impulsive leap through briefly opened doors

than planned absconding at midnight

with a stolen keycard everyone is watching for.

Too bad paranoids still suffer, unable to trust

the good of best intentions. As for having

enough free time for the ward sociopath

to “wrap the catatonics in toilet tissue,”

there are too many groups and too many aides

with a job to do and you are it, so get moving.

Besides, catatonics are not allowed to stay

catatonic, what with medication and better care, 

so very quickly slowly they move too.

 

Schizophrenia: “Divided Minds” and Recovery

The day our book, “DIVIDED MINDS: Twin Sisters and Their Journey Through Schizophrenia” came out, in mid-August 2005, Carolyn/Lynnie, my twin sister, and I had three engagements scheduled, including a radio interview, a TV appearance, and, that evening, our first public  speaking/reading engagement at a local library. Due to advance publicity and widespread interest, it turned out that the venue had had to be changed to accommodate all the people who had called ahead indicating they planned to attend: instead the usual small room at the library, we were to speak in the auditorium at the Town Hall.

 

I made it through the day all right, but by evening, I was beginning to become symptomatic, hearing people unseen whispering over my shoulder and seeing familiar dancing red particles I called the “red strychnines.” Nevertheless, I was determined to make it through the final “gig” of the day in one piece. I was, however, getting more and more nervous, despite taking my evening medications early. Finally, Lynnie suggested I take a tiny chip of Ativan, not enough to make me sleepy but enough to calm my anxiety. I resisted up until the last minute, when, finding the stress unbearable, I agreed to it. She ran to get me some water, and came back with two cold bottles that had been set aside for us all along.

 

Then, we were on. Lynnie had done some speaking before, and seemed to me to be amazingly relaxed in front of the 340 people who overflowed from the first floor onto the balcony above. When she introduced me to read a section of a chapter I had rehearsed over and over until I could do so with the proper ease and feeling, I got up, trembling, and walked to the podium, wondering if my voice would tremble also.

 

In the book’s margins I had everything written out, from my introduction to the passage to instructions to myself on where to slow down, where to raise my voice, where to pause and so forth. I raised my head and looked at the audience, then looked down at the text and taking a breath, began.

 

I was surprised to hear my voice sound as strong as it did and wondered how long I could keep it up, knowing how fatigue and awareness of the audience could make it weaken and go tight on me. Indeed, after a particular spot in the book brought painful laughter from some in the audience, I could barely speak. I had coached myself for this eventuality: Breathe, I told myself silently. Breathe through it, keep reading but breathe slowly and calmly as you read and your voice will relax and stay loose. To my intense surprise and relief, it worked. I made it through the entire segment. “Thank you,” I murmured, indicating that I was through,” though it was obvious from the text that the piece had come to its natural end.

 

The audience burst into applause. People stood up, all of the audience stood and clapped. I didn’t know what to do. They were applauding me? What had I done to deserve this? Even Lynnie was on her feet and smiling. She nodded at me, telling me it was okay. Her eyes seemed to sparkle, as if they were full of tears. My own eyes were wet and I was too embarrassed to wipe them…

 

Lynnie then gave a speech of her own, a wonderful speech, ending with her asking me to stand up. and this too received a standing ovation. We looked at one another.. Who’da thunk? our eyes asked in pleased but puzzled amazement. Then it was over. But not quite. There was still a long line of well wishers with books to be signed and many people who wanted to talk to us. I was so tired that I let Lynnie field most questions, and   hid behind her or busied myself signing and pretending to pay attention to her, so I didn’t have to talk myself. In truth, I was exhausted, and though elated the evening had gone so well, on the verge of tears from sheer relief…

 

When we left, there were only a few people remaining in the hall. The library employee who had given us the opportunity to speak, told us it was one of the best attended events he had ever scheduled. We thanked him or Lynnie and Sal, her new boyfriend, did, I mostly lagged behind, and  followed  as if in a trance. Then we headed out into the warmth of the August night.

 

After the success of that night, the book tour, and later our paid (Lynnie was paid, I was not, as she had to take time off from her practice to do so) engagements became easier and easier, especially after we worked up speeches of our own and developed a rhythm and interaction with one another that seemed to work well. But it was wearying, and I wasn’t always taking my medication as I was supposed to. I still hated Zyprexa, which we had cut to 2.5mg plus Haldol and Geodon, and so I skimped on  it as often as I could, as well as the deadening Haldol. Geodon was the only antipsychotic I was on that seemed to have no objectionable side effects, but it clearly was not effective by itself. So even as we made our way out to Tucson, AZ I was skating on the edge.

 

2006, fall. I had made it 18 months since my last hospitalization but fatigue and exhaustion and it may be (I do not now recall for certain) not taking all my medications as prescribed conspired to allow in the same hallucinations that had such devastating consequences back in 2003/4. I was to set my whole body on fire, they told me, not to kill myself but to scar myself so badly that all would shun me, leave me alone, which was what I deserved, and what they ought to do in order to be safe. Because I could not promise not to act on these commands, I was hospitalized not far from where Lynnie lived at the time. I spent a month there, a very difficult and painful disruption in my life about which I have written earlier (see the entry about “trust”).

 

I was hospitalized it seemed every five months after that, until 2008, when I managed another 18 months. But life in between those stays was improving. Although we still did occasional speaking “gigs” we slowed down on those a great deal, so my time was more my own. I had made a papier mache llama once in 2004 when I was hypomanic, and it had taken all year to paint it, after I’d come home from the hospital no longer high. But the fun of it had stuck with me and in 2007 I made a turtle, a huge tortoise and took a couple of months painting it. In between I created some small objects. Then over December 2007 and January 2008 I built and painted my first large human, the Decorated Betsy. I was off and running, with Dr John Jumoke coming in April, May, and June of 2008 and the Shiny Child Ermentrude started in October of 2008 and finished in early January 2009.

 

Also in this period of time — between 2005-2009 — I put together my first manuscript of poems written over a 20 year period about living with schizophrenia, and another manusript of more recent poems, not about schizophrenia, and sent the first one off to the press which is publishing it, in their series on chronic illness. Once it comes out, probably in March, I will be free to finish work on the second. I will send that one out  and hope it too gets published as I prefer those poems to the ones in the first, though I have had rave reviews on that one, at least from the people who have seen it so far. I, of course, as the author, can only view it through the jaundiced lens of self-criticism and self-hatred…

 

Plus ça change, plus la meme chose. (and some things never change…)For all the seeming success I have had in these past three years of recovery, I still struggle with abysmal lack of self-regard, and chronic paranoia. If and when I find myself a new therapist (I must soon leave Dr O, as the travel time 1.5 hours there and 1 hour home  has become too much for me, and too it may be that she will no longer be continuing her practice, though I do not know that for certain…But in this economy, I can no longer afford the ride there as well as her fee. And I think too it is time to move on…both for her sake as for mine.) ..if and when I find a new therapist, it is those two things, self-esteem and the very right to have it, and paranoia — how to either end it, or live with it, are my two major goals I want to deal with, head on.

 

But then, maybe that’s all we have ever done, Dr O and I, dwelt forever on my lack of self-esteem and my paranoia, getting nowhere for all that. Perhaps she had the wrong tactics, the wrong methods, or else perhaps I am hopelessly mired in  my own worthlessness and suspiciousness — for lack of a better word, though paranoia means so much more than that…

 

In any event, I have tried here to describe in one entry a little of what has gone on for me since the book came out, since the beginning of my recovery. But my recovery truly began when I’d started Xyrem some months before. That is the drug that caused Lynnie to exclaim upon seeing me, two months after I’d started it, “Pammy, you’ve changed. You look wonderful, you’re back.” Xyrem, book, papier mache, poetry…all together gave me parts of a life that became somehow worth living, and it is worth living, even if at times of dark forgetting, as in February, I lose track of the one fact I need most to remember.

On Vision Therapy and Stereopsis, and an Honorable Mention to Boot!

I just received word that a third poem won an honorable mention at New Millennium Writings. The first two will be in the volume just now to arrive in my mail box this week. The latest one will be published sometime next spring. Old readers may be familiar with all three, but since they will be in my book, We Mad Climb Shaky Ladders, and have all been published on-line before, I will showcase only one here for now. (One was the “How to Read a Poem: Beginner’s Manual” that I already posted and the other was “The Prayers of the Mathematician” which also won the 2001/2 BBC World Service Radio International Poetry Contest.) Here is the poem that just won the HM — it is not a new one, by any means, but it is one of my longtime favorites. It concerns a friend from high school who committed suicide while in college and I was left to wonder why (along with her sister and her parents).

THREE, FOR THOSE LEFT BEHIND

1. Grieving and Staying

The dead do not need us
to grieve or tear our hair
or keen extravagantly.
Stepping free of flesh
a double exposure (one ghost
rising from bed, another napping
at mid-day), their spirits follow
the curves of their late bodies,
rehearsing again and again
what we’re always too late for.
Just so, my friend Susie,
scrubbed clean of life’s debris,
twenty years later returning
in my dream of the dead
returning and I can’t let go
my guilty retrospection,
the arrogant suspicion
I could have saved her.
Now, though I know no dream
will return her utterly, I cling
to this one: Susie and I at twenty-one
standing before two doors,
how she points me towards the one
where a celebration is taking place
then disappears through the other
marked No Exit, as if it has to be,
as if it’s fair, as if either
of us in this world
has ever had a choice.

2. At the Lake, Under the Moon

In memory, the moon’s always a new dime,
glinting off the dark chop, ticking the night away

ruthless and indifferent as a parking meter.
As always, the lake shimmers, ebony splashed

with silver and we’re sitting there at the end
of the dock, thirteen, dangling our bare feet

above the water’s coruscating skin. We barely
ruffle the surface but it’s enough

to shatter the still shaft of moonglow,
potsherds of mercury, dancing tesserae, a mosaic

of light illuminating the water.
Is it possible we don’t yet suspect

how things must turn out? We shed our clothes
to swim shy and bare-skinned, silvered bubbles

rising to the surface like stars
of the wayward constellations

by which we’ll navigate our separate lives.
What we know is this: the sleek water

rolling off our skin, the frangible sand, schools of
glowing nightfish nosing amid algae.

We can’t guess how fate will interpose
its coups and tragedies, how far in ten years

we will have traveled from that night.
I never got to say good-bye.

I scatter your white ashes,
moonlight over dark water.

3. In My Dreams You Are Not Silent

Time heals nothing
but the space left behind
is filled, little by little,
with the critical minutiae
that make a life: shirts
at the cleaners, supper
in its pots, a half-read book
overdue at the library,
lying open, face down,
on the table.

____________________________________________________________

I went to vision therapy today, something I have undertaken in an effort to learn to experience stereo vision, which is to say depth perception. Once my double vision was resolved, thanks to my optometrist friend, Leora, (and not the ophthalmologist, who basically threw up his hands in frustration and gave up) who found the source of the problem in “convergence insufficiency” and exotropia, or a tendency of my eyes to go outward rather than to converge on an image or object…once that was resolved, I was determined to find a way to learn to perceive depth, something I had not known I lacked until Leora so informed me.

I looked it up on the internet, and spent a long time at sites on “stereoscopy” and 3-D images, which I was unable to see, largely because they required two colored glasses, though I would not at that time have been able to see the images anyway. But it was not until I found the site on Vision Therapy that I learned that children regularly learned to “see 3D” by dint of such methods. But what about adults? What about someone who hadn’t seen depth in who knew how long? Could I learn stereo vision, would vision therapy work for me?

It turned out that Oliver Sacks had written an article just two years ago on the very subject of stereopsis, or the ability to see and perceive depth via binocular vision. Not only that but the article featured a woman dubbed “Stereo Sue” who, in her late 40s started vision therapy after apparently having not had depth perception since infancy, if then, and within two sessions had a breakthrough.

Suddenly,”doorknobs popped out” at her…astonishingly, she began to have stereo vision and depth perception in almost no time at all, even though doctors had always told her it was hopeless. Once a critical period in childhood had passed, they said, it was too late. The brain was fixed and stereopsis could not be learned. Well, she proved them wrong and soon she was standing inside of snowfall, rather than watching it fall on a plane in front of her, swimming with light-giving marine organisms and perceiving them swimming around her.

Reading this made me even more determined to try to find a way to learn stereo vision for myself and I was thrilled to learn that a certified practitioner of Vision Therapy worked in a town just across the bridge from me, an easy drive away, one even I could accomplish with a little practice. So, with Leora’s encouragement, I wrote Dr D an email and eventually gave her a call…and soon I too started this therapy for my eyes…It consisted of eye exercises mostly, various ways of learning to converge my eyes properly on an object or image, to improve my eyes’ tendency to go outward. Dr D taught me how to make them go inward – to converge – so I could keep them under my control even if on their own they would wander outward. That way I could control whether I saw with stereo vision or not.

_____________________________________________

I neglected to write about the experiences that in particular made me most desperate to learn to perceive depth, and that was what happened quite spontaneously while taking a walk one day. WIth my new prisms in my glasses, I happened to be striding around the Green, which is exactly a mile in length and so a good lap for walking, and identifying trees as I walked, when I happened to notice the bark on a particularly old and enormous maple. The bark just glowed, its furrows like brain sulci carved deep, chestnut with a reddish undertone, and the ridges a greyish brown, warty from the effects of weathering. These stood out in such brilliant relief that I was dumbstruck and mesmerized. For the longest time I could not move from where I stood, gazing in wonder. That bark was simply the most beautiful thing I had ever seen in my life. The way space curved around each splinter of exposed cortex and every nubble of weathered bark literally made me shiver with delight. The whole expanse of it shimmered. I could not drag my eyes away. Finally I realized that passers by were staring, wondering why I stood stock still, gazing at the trunk of a tree (probably no one noticed at all, but such is my self-consciousness even at times like that). Fearful of being questioned, I made myself walk away, and the loveliness before my eyes vanished…until I reached the next tree, which likewise grabbed me by the heartstrings and held me tight. What was going on? Why was tree bark suddenly so incredibly attractive, so astonishingly beautiful to me? Then I understood: It was space, I was seeing depth, and space was defining the bark. The loveliness of space gave to bark a brilliant beauty that I think I alone could perceive because I could see space as no one else seemed to.

Indeed, as I described the experience to others later that day and that week, and as I re-experienced it, always with trees and bark (to see each leaf hanging from a tree in its own pocket of air stunned me into laughing with joy, it was that overwhelming and disarming…) I wanted so much for someone to share this with me, but no one seemed to care or understand. Instead, they only got impatient when I stopped to “see” more closely, to look and experience the space around a tree or the grass. I was devastated. I wanted to take a week away from everyone and every obligation, to do nothing but look, and feast my eyes on whatever they beheld. The experience was breath-taking and unlike anything I had ever undergone before in my life. It was also lonely. Only Stereo Sue seemed to have understood and might have appreciated where I was at, so to speak, and she was not anywhere nearby.Not that she was or is far. I believe she is only a state away, within driving distance in fact. But that doesn’t make much difference when you don’t know someone!

Anyhow, it was with that partial ability, and fleeting and unstable experience under my belt, that I went to Dr D as I’ll call her, to see what vision therapy could do for me.

(To be continued tomorrow as I just lost a good part of this and it is now too late for me to continue)

This is just to say…

No, I haven’t eaten the sweet cold plums that were in the icebox…That was another poet. But I would like to share two of my own with readers, first of all with new readers, and also with any readers returning from schizophrenia.com who happened to be searching for WAGblog and found me here. These poems will be in my upcoming book, We Mad Climb Shaky Ladders: Poems (CavanKerry Pres, Fort Lee, NJ) to be published in February 2009. Short, but I hope effective and not too familiar to people (I don’t recall if I posted both at my old website or not…), the first one is called simply

Poem

You ask me in anger
to write about anger,
the hot flare of it, the cold steel
as we almost come to blows
and each word blisters my fingers
as I take out my wrath
at the typewriter.

Later you are calmer
and in silence do not so much
ask for forgiveness — we both were wrong —
as ask for a poem.

Here it is, love.
Here it is.

The second poem is the one I will open with at any reading, just as it opens my book. I think it is obvious why…

HOW TO READ A POEM: BEGINNER’S MANUAL

First, forget everything you have learned,
that poetry is difficult,
that it cannot be appreciated by the likes of you,
with your high school equivalency diploma,
your steel-tipped boots,
or your white-collar misunderstandings.

Do not assume meanings hidden from you:
the best poems mean what they say and say it.

To read poetry requires only courage
enough to leap from the edge
and trust.

Treat a poem like dirt,
humus rich and heavy from the garden.
Later it will become the fat tomatoes
and golden squash piled high upon your kitchen table.

Poetry demands surrender,
language saying what is true,
doing holy things to the ordinary.

Read just one poem a day.
Someday a book of poems may open in your hands
like a daffodil offering its cup
to the sun.

When you can name five poets
without including Bob Dylan,
when you exceed your quota
and don’t even notice,
close this manual.

Congratulations.
You can now read poetry.

Now, I wrote this blog entry late at night in order to get WAGblog started, but I haven’t done any real designing for it, or even chosen the theme I want. So this will have to do for now. I hope if you are reading this, you have enjoyed my poetry and will want to return. Or that if you are a friend from the old schizophrenia.com Wagblog that you will find the new and to-be-improved Wagblog just as interesting to you and will visit often.

Take care and come back in a few days or maybe a week or so, after I’ve gotten more work done. TTFN BD