There is not a story behind every poem. Every poem is not "true." Not all writing is autobiographical.
Because of my "success" in typing through the minefield of the ACA online Federal Marketplace, actually succeeding in finding very good and very affordable health insurance that will maintain my near poverty very well, my name has been given to several media outlets. Among them, CNN.
The reporter who interviewed me, twice I think, if we don't include today, does not listen. He wants a certain response, of course, and steers his interviewee in that direction. You can tell he is not listening because he often begins his "next" question while you have not finished, adequately, the answer to the current one. And by the tone of voice, and by the fact that he does not seem to retain the information you have given. But, who cares? It's his métier, let him be good or bad at it, and let that be his choice.
So I did my part. Never was there a mention of actually being recorded for televised broadcast -- nothing beyond audio, I presumed, since it never came up. I assumed that I sucked so much as a subject that it just wasn't even a viable issue.
And besides, life has gone on in the interim. Damn it.
I had a bad night last night. You know. Screaming, which oddly enough assumes more and more dreamlike status, whereas gentler moans will actually wake me from real sleep. Lots of pain, lots of infection symptoms in the shoulders and hips, and so on and so on, ad nauseum. You know the Punch Line: the screaming ninnies of spasticity. I didn't even bother with meds, just put in the earbuds, sang my heart out between yelps and sometimes must have slept... if those moans really did bring me back to consciousness.
Concern for Fred. Concern for me and Fred. Regrets. Wishing I would die before sun up, so that my room might be redolent with the odor of roses. That's right, you reprobates, I fully intend to die a sainted death. I like this new pope and have already put in the paperwork for sanctification. You laugh now, but one day you won't.
So I finally get the screaming meany ninnies to stop, close my eyes, rest, and the phone rings. As I am waiting for several important calls -- maybe even El Papa, himself -- I pick up, something I never used to do before the crisis with the Mother-Unit. Now I am a true adult, ready to speak to anyone, medical bill collector, Mother-Units, veterinarians, friends (ha!), insurance company, or rambling, ambling CNN reporters.
My "Hello" might have been deceptively bright -- the sure way to know if you have awakened some poor soul at the other end of technology.
Anyway, he yadda-yadda-ed and then asked about bringing a crew over for a quick recorded interview.
Now I had given this journalist person full access to this enlightening blog -- such a simple document -- and even suggested a few of my pristine video selections on YouTube (channel "profderien"), not so much because I was whoring myself, but because I figured he needed to understand that between being butchered half to death these last few wonder years, and having CRPS in all limbs, including my frigging face, that I would not be given to appearing on television.
I cry when I see myself. I can handle the CRPS update videos, done mostly for the CRPSers in my small but dedicated audience, because it is piecemeal, it is abstracted, somehow, and I can include touches of minute humor. But... take the elevators in my go-to-guy doctor's building. The doors are mirrored. So there I am, in my wheelchair, surrounded by normal looking folk, looking... grotesque. Seen as a whole, I do not recognize myself. Not just from the CRPS, not just the wheelchair, the legs, the hands, the face, but also the impact of over 15 years on steroids and clothing that was designed for gimps.
You'd have to be an idiot to read this blog and not know that every mention of high-powered italian leather shoes reflects my love of shoes. I haven't been able to wear shoes for over a decade.
I mean... I thought a reporter would GET IT. But then, I made an assumption based on narcissism (a decent definition of "hubris," really). His story is not about me. It is about "Obamacare," something I desperately want to support, and had been handed a mighty vehicle with which to do my small part.
I love my step-mother with a full and aching heart. But I would never let her see me. Not now. I love TW with a heart more than full, more than aching... and never will he cross the threshold of The Manor's Bronze doors. I will let Grader Boob (the other Brother-Unit) in... but only because he was wily enough to stop by once already. And because he's been here, or there, through it all, anyway. Because I don't think there is much left that can shock him -- more is the pity.
So something led me back to that freaking file of writing that I did earlier this year, and to this poem written kind of for Fred and kind of for the new friends I was making, who were wearing me out with suggestions for cures.
People don't GET IT.
This is the poem I wrote, for people who don't GET IT. There is no imperative that they should, but there'd be a deep water well full of gratitude if they did. So, in this unimportant instance, "A Shower and Chicken Soup" is dedicated to John Bonifield and Elizabeth Cohen, with all due respect.
A Shower and Chicken Soup
"Have fun," she called, and waited
for the sound of the key in the lock
to ready herself for a walk.
"Just do it. Just do it. Just do it,"
she said, eyeing the clock.
Not exactly scared -- more properly
put -- she was reticent.
"Don't dare mock me,
cats, and don't dare
Transfer from bed to chair using
one step with the right leg,
which leg is the right leg?
(they are easily mistook
these dread and crafty limbs,
one for the other, just look
at 'em) add a table grab-'n-push
with the right arm,
find the cane! find the cane!
then pivot, pray, and sit,
stare straight ahead,
it will ease, it will away,
will it away. where is that
leg now, cagey bastard?
It can stray, did it stray?
Reach to retrieve three towels from the half-bath,
folded earlier today, towels in waiting,
attendants all. Remove the Fentanyl pain patch,
dispose of it carefully, lest you kill a small animal.
Take off the pink metal-studded hairband,
that wonderful confusing message!
You stall as you recall, you stall as you recall.
Gather the grabber designed for water,
aquamarine with finely molded tips, the three towels,
a clean pair of scrubs and the veterinary formula
of skin cleanser prescribed by the infectious disease specialist --
because you cannot afford the stuff made for people
and, it would appear, there is no difference.
This is labeled: For Horses.
It lacks in fragrance. It's not honeysuckle, trenchant lemon,
clement cucumber, or any of the serene green teas.
Poured in an old spray bottle accorded precisely
scored markings of perfectly proper proportions,
add the fragrance of the week,
something he deplores but you love:
(I picture fields of flickering blues;
I don't like the smell, either.
It smells too much.)
I shower in his bathroom.
The chair won't fit the door.
All these fine parameters, tincture of this,
precious local provender,
And the chair won't fit the door.
Grabbing on to sink and towel holders,
using my peony-decorated cane,
I lean on the tile at the shower-and-bath
combination corner, keening, keening,
so afraid, leaning, keening.
Toss the towels, the grabber, the cane,
the clothes, all, all of it goes, flying and clanging
into the bathtub, as you inhale
and search for sane,
focus on the pretty pretty cane.
Lift in the right leg, drop it, scream,
and grab for the stabilizing bar
on the opposite side, my guard, above
the soap dish, with my right hand,
half pull, half fall inside,
the abattoir, hips on the shower
chair that stays in there,
that stays in there.
There is a screw poking through
the plastic, you said it did not match
the pre-drilled hole, and I always land on it,
ripping my clothes, scratching my right thigh.
I never tell him because this piercing keeps me focused
I cannot reach the mat that keeps me
from slipping; it's now on the left,
If what I need is not within
the right's realm,
it cannot be mine.
She sighs, she cries,
she stops, she stops.
thinks of the clock
and how there is no time
for this sighing, this crying.
Now for the undressing, the easiest part:
The few moments of liberation,
nothing touching the skin,
and I would sit there naked all day
except that he'd come home
and I'd still be unclean,
my hair a fated mess, and my legs... my legs.
My hated fenestrated legs.
Right arm tosses the dirty clothes
just to the right of the sink,
but not too far, not to block the way
out, not so the door won't open.
I'd be trapped in here,
and that would defeat
Use the grabber to put the clean clothes over the shower rod:
This will take time and patience.
Put one towel on the tub floor
in lieu of the non-skid plastic mat
that is too heavy to lift.
Put the veterinary antibiotic spray poisoned
with lavender on the tub floor
between the feet.
Use the grabber to retrieve
the shampoo and conditioner,
the purple "pouf"
from the shower caddy.
Pick up the pumice stone and loofah
that you knock
off by mistake,
Brace yourself and slow your breathing.
Turn on the hot water first; it takes 20 seconds to warm up,
then adjust the cold so that the water becomes lukewarm
to your body, to your chest;
do not trust the readings of your legs or hands,
Hold the shampoo bottle in your left hand, and be glad that it naturally
tilts downward so your right hand can catch the coconut (for extra body) white
pool, slap it on your head, one more time as fast as you can, and catch the shampoo bottle before it falls on your feet -- your foot,
because that right foot is like a magnet.
Lather, being as attentive to each side of the head as possible,
grab the grab bar, lean forward into the spray, get all the shampoo out.
Apply the conditioner in the same manner. Start your mental clock.
While it's making your hair luxurious and smooth,
spray your body with the antibiotic cleanser meant for horses.
Don't rub or scrub it in, just let it sit, keep spraying until time to rinse
that lovely head of curly hair, about three minutes
(an extra minute for luck).
Rinse the conditioner from your head, try to stop crying,
because looking down you see red streaks in the froth
of the foam
and feel your skin splitting,
small tears in both shoulders, the thighs,
the right shin, the feet,
and maybe that spot on your butt
from the poked-through screw,
but probably not,
there's actually a callus there now.
Bend and twist and let the water rinse away the spray
then lather the purple pouf with soap
and gently gently wash every place that you can reach
from head and bloody ears to bloody toes.
Gasping now, wanting so to take the memory of a lovely warm shower
coursing down skin so silky, relaxing muscles tight from a day in the sun
playing pick-up tennis at the park courts downtown,
pausing to cool down with wall ball now and then,
cramming the car full of kids to drive to the last surviving
pharmacy with a fountain to get real lemonades, limeades.
Holding my face right up into the spray, hands over my head,
running through my hair, short then,
the idea of standing through a shower
now as foreign as saffron.
Rinsing, she has learned, is crucial, as she's never
terribly dirty, just a mass of dead skin and sweat that her twice
sometimes thrice cleansings per day obliterate, but the lotioned,
medicated cleansers so recommended leave traces, traces,
bits, hints, lint, evidence, of themselves
and her inabilities.
Her stepmom used to comfort her when the flu would hit,
bustling about efficiently, able to do a sickbed mise en place
but lost before the recipe ingredients in her huge kitchen.
equipped with culinary's finest stainless. She bears bedside
basins and washcloths, clean gown and sheets, and as she talks to you
about the plans for redecorating the breakfast nook, she
untucks the top sheet, helps you off with your gown,
and, keeping you covered and warm,
she washes and rinses clean your face, your arms,
your arm pits, wipes down your legs, but really scrubs your feet.
A matter of fact, she hands, at the last, two wash cloths,
one soapy, one rinsed, to clean between your legs
while she gathers up all the dirties, holds out the basin
to collect those last two cloths, and takes it all away --
but is back in a flash, saying, "That takes care
of the hot spots, you see. Always wash the hot spots,
and always wash your feet, you will feel so much better.
Now don't you feel better?"
All in her sweet southern lilt that belies
the swift efficiency
of a born nurse,
if not a mother.
She slips the clean gown, your favorite, blue with blue ribbons,
over your head, helping with the confusion of arms, laughing,
and simultaneouly removes the dirty, now damp, top sheet.
She pulls the wing chair she says is for "reading" close and
before you know it, you're ensconced in it, and on the bedside table
is her famous Campbell's Tomato Soup and whole
wheat toast, for dipping.
You can't eat it all, that's fine, and look, the bed's all made,
amplified with extra pillows, the sturdy kind, the kind
that have you sitting up and doing crosswords, or reading
(outside the reading "chair"), and looking out the windows --
(when did she open the drapes?) and looking out
to see the woods.
You notice that she's gone. You cannot remember if you thanked her.
The house is huge but even in huge houses, you know every sound and
you detect the tiny click of the other wing's separating door
and laugh, hearing the advancing, slowly speeding click-click-click
of the small thing they call a dog, coming to amuse you.
Oliver, half cocker spaniel, half poodle, sweet and small
and not ingenious.
There is nothing for it but to do the feet,
let the tub fill up six or nine inches, try to move
them around a bit, take the pouf by the grabber --
now that is a saying wanting wide adoption:
take the pouf by the grabber, lads --
and gently scrub unless too much skin
slides off and pinkens the six or nine inches.
When the water drains, give the feet a good spritz of Magic
Lavender Lavage and do what you can to make it seem
you'd never been there. Grab the grabber, lads,
and take up the sodden towel, wipe and spray,
wipe and spray, leave no microbes
alive. Die, pathogens, die. Disappear,
O Flakes of Me, down the drain.
And now you fold up, you ball up like tissue paper, lose
form, lose patience with yourself and this, your accomplishment.
Dizzy, naked, and still clothes to wear and hair to do,
and my, you are aromatic.
It takes two towels and a method:
Dry the hair, gently, and toss the towel in a slap
to the back as many times as you can, then
rest. Without giving it much thought, pull
up on the steadying bar, and stand.
Put the towel on the seat and sit back on it
as that is how one dries the derrière when
exhausted and the right arm ready
to give out.
Take the second towel, toss it over your legs,
gently, gently, stop, stop, stop.
Grab the grabber, lads! Grab the grabber, boys!
The clean top pulls on, hitches where the skin
is still wet, damp, humid. so be
patient. Be patient.
Grab the grabber, lads!
Grab it, boys! Unfurl the scrub pants
that always look so huge until you have to put
a foot in, matching right foot to right pant leg,
left foot to left pant leg, yelling, screaming,
rivulets of pink, mostly sera now,
mostly lymph, but every inch aflame.
Scan your area. Is all that can be in place
in place, is there no embarrassment left to shame
you? Your top is on, your pants around your ankles.
Hang the blessed grabber on the caddy, grab the bar
and stand again, yelling, screaming, those noises cannot
be my bones, mobilize your self, girl, get the waist
of the pants with ye olde grabber, pinch them with your left
hand, finally good for something, and use the right
to pull them up and fashion loops resembling a bow.
Hug the wall, no other description writes, hug the wall,
the hooks there mere inches from your eyes and every time,
every time, you think my eye my eye my skull my skull
impaled on this hook, and after I've done all this?
Crying, sobbing, more because you are almost done and
because you can, because he's not here to hear you,
you edge to the door, using grabber and cane, both
for crutch, then fall into the chair, waiting there
like an old hated friend, with two cats, big-eyed and
scared by all your noise, and about to be crushed by your
descending butt. They run, squeaking, happy
that you made it out alive, in time
to feed them.
The cane now more useful held by the bottom end,
using the handle to hook all the towels and clothes,
pulling them to you, then bending, if you can, to grab them
up, pile upon the bed, ready for the washer.
You're almost done, you're almost done,
you're almost done, stop talking and breathe,
stop crying and breathe.
Comb out your wet hair,
and there's a memory of normal,
clean, fresh hair,
a touch of mousse --
shake the can in the right hand,
spray it into the left, scoop it out with the right,
smear it on the parts of the head you
can reach as the muscles seize, don't take
the pills, not yet, you'll hurt more later,
and they really don't help, it's more a crutch
but far less useful than cane and grabber.
Music, music, as loud as can be.
You've got a half-hour,
at least, love, play your music loud, raucous,
scream that and not despair.
Bruce, "If I should fall behind,"
Nina and "Mississippi
Goddam!" and I am suddenly sure
that I am an outraged black
woman, singing my piece, and I enunciate,
with incredibly sober drunken dignity:
"This is a show tune
young (coveting that head of red hair),
singing with blue's greatest
in my parents' garage.
I put on my armor,
my three rings, my three bracelets,
my four earrings, my kickass hair band,
pink with rivets. Each thing a touchstone,
a meaning that I must wear, touch, and see.
I wish to God I could pluck this unibrow
but I cannot see well enough to do it,
nor control the hand enough to pull out
hair by hair, those straggling hairs.
But enough of what you can't do,
princess, look at what you've done:
you are clean, deloused, and you certainly smell
interesting. There's a load of wash going,
and if you don't allow yourself to slow, to stop,
there's a chicken with some meat still on its bones
the start of a marvelous stock.
We've carrots, celery, onion, garlic,
dried and earthy things --
squashes and four kinds of peppers.
I'll wait to see what you'd like for starch, perfectly diced
potatoes or the weight of brown rice or aromatic basmati
or jasmine, maybe beans (I vote potato).There is,
not that we can find, no Italian in you, anywhere,
but you will likely ask for noodles, without encouragement.
I stir in, at the last, my great love, musty lusty
mushrooms, buttons and baby bellas, and when you ask me
if I washed them, amplifying, eyes all squinty, adding "with care?"
I turn away and lie, like always: "But, of course,"
having wiped each one with a clean cotton cloth napkin,
having pared away the stems you so fear
(scary, scary stems).
You're afraid of strange
things, but I respect your fears,
because I have seen your courage --
still, your terror of my green Amish bentwood rocking
chair amazes me, and the sweat of your upper lip
at mere mention of hot air balloons, and, of course,
being killed by a dirty mushroom.
When you come home, I hear the key in the door,
the ever hysterical "Honey, I'm home" done in bad Arnaz.
And I am so glad you never notice that I've showered,
though you usually call from the back, "Do you want me
to put your the wash load in the dryer? When are we
eating?" And I remember to inquire about potato,
rices or beans, know to pause and wait for "how about pasta?"
I pick rotini instead of egg noodles, cook them separately
so as not to muck up my perfect broth,
and remind you to be better about buying
canned tomato products with added salt,
I want my tomatoes unseasoned.
I add my own seasoning, and I love you,
and I will shower, dress, and adorn myself
with clean clothes, aromas,
talismans, prayers, and cries to the sky
as long as I absolutely can, for you.
]with thanks to The Boss]
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