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What I Remember of my Stroke (Almost 20 years ago)

The med-tech said the MRI showed I had had three events— I remember two. A friend asked me a few months later if I had forgotten anything. I asked, how would I know? Another, whom I met for the first time months and months after the events, asked if I had aphasia since I was always searching for words as I spoke. If I had always done this, or was it a result of the stroke? Again, how would I know? I don’t remember being at a loss for words in the past— does that mean I have memory loss, or that it did not happen? I could ask people who knew me before, but then that would be their memories of me, not my own.

This is what I remember of that night. My in-laws were over for dinner. We were seated around the kitchen table. I don’t remember the children there, but they would have been, or should have been. I vaguely recall a roast pork loin in a cream sauce on the table, but that could have been another night with different people talking about different things. I was drinking a margarita. I had just taken a drink, savoring the salt and tequila as I placed the glass on the table. It was then that the first event I remember occurred. I felt odd, out of sequence somehow. My vision blurred briefly, as if I had just woken up. The world looked as if I was peering through a smudged lens of a camera. I rubbed my eyes, but my vision remained gooey. 

I still felt odd. So, I excused myself, and retreated to an overstuffed chair in the living room. Very quickly my vision cleared, and I felt normal again. I returned to the table laughing about how weird the whole thing was, and finished my plate. After dinner, Lisa and her parents went outside to sit on the porch. I cleaned up a little, then went into the front room and sat down in the Lazy-Boy in the corner. As I sat there the words from Pound’s Cantos we had painted above the front door: “To be men, not destroyers” went from one line to three as if I were looking through a prism. That was more than a little weird. 

Lisa called the nurse line. And after we described what had occurred, he said it sounded like a stroke, but not too bad of one since I felt normal. He said I should come in to the after-hours clinic in the morning and see a doctor. I wondered if I would wake up in the morning.

The hospital was a comedy of errors. The after hours doctor sent me there as soon as she heard my symptoms. We arrived, talked to a receptionist, who sent us up stairs for a room. The floor nurse had no idea why we were there, and sent us back downstairs. Finally someone in the ER escorted me back to a bed. They stuck wires and tubes all over and in me. Lots of machines beeped and blipped. Then they sent us home. 

Over the next few months I had a series of tests: my heart, my blood, my head (MRI), my arteries. I saw the amounts the insurance company shelled out rise to the tens of thousands. Luckily I had insurance through teaching, or we would have been hard pressed to pay it all. Then after all of that they sent us a letter to describe what had happened. Lisa demanded that we see the neurosurgeon who signed off on the letter. We went in; and according to all the tests, and the gobs of money the insurance company paid, he told us the results. Yes, I had had a stroke. Yes, I was really young to have had a stroke (45). No, they did not know what caused it. Yes, it could happen again. No, there was nothing I could do to prevent it. Take a baby aspirin everyday. That was it: take a baby aspirin everyday. Like the punch line to an ancient joke that no one laughs at anymore: take a baby aspirin, and don’t call me in the morning. 

(January 29, 2023)

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Plunge

We could not see the Mediterranean 

sky from the dive bar off the alley.

A neon-blue sign on the wall flickered

and flowed over us in pulsating waves.

We willingly began to drown, tangled

in the laconic kelp strangling

our naive hearts in a nascent love.


The twins behind the bar laughed 

at our tumbling and fumbling;

as, like sea glass on a foreign shore,

we danced in the neon-blue light.

(January 22, 2023)

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Ablution

Rising each morning,

he finds himself

falling into memory

and its patterned rituals.

Most days do not cohere;

stories slag off as he walks

unsteadily down the stairs.

He does not fragment,

like a shattered mirror,

so much as crumbles

like cheap concrete

into piles of disaggregated

data— isolated numbers 

floating in the air. The dust,

briefly, rises into the sun, 

then settles like a benediction

across a landscape of sin.

He finds comfort in his ruins,

where the darker horror hides

in the ashes of the mundane.

(January 21, 2023)

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Loss of Synchronicity

My gravity slipped,

as she moved from time.

a radio signal wavered

one degree to the side.

The song grew static,

then solidified,

reinserting the melody

before vanishing

like dusk into night.

(January 20, 2023)

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Blurred Shadows

Over time, I have learned

from youth’s cacophony

the world blurs to silence.

I can only hear myself

in slurred muffled whispers.

I am not who I was,

nor who I meant to be

had I but persisted,

rather a shadow of both

beneath a darkened sky.

(January 16,2023)

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Chrysalis

“all the borders of itself”

-Ranier Maria Rilke

The worm turns

into itself

to remember

the strands,

the traces,

which wove

the carapace

it will

leave behind.


I must change

my life.

(January 9, 2023)

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I am Tired Most of the Time


By the time I wake, I’m worn out.

I try to convince myself I slept,

because I have no memory

of being awake. All night’s dark 

moments resemble each other; 

until incrementally, day breaks

shadows cleanly across the wall.

I can see I am awake. Yet still,

I’m unsure I have slept at all.

My thoughts too are like this now:

ideas and images enter, then part

with only a hint they were there,

like a lover’s perfume on the sheets

hours after she has left your arms, 

returning once again into his.

(January 7, 2023)

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Most of my Life I have Been Uncertain

I sit at a window sill

and watch the people below;

I have too much time to kill,

and no place really to go.


My life is a broken gun

left hidden behind a door.

I forgot where I left it,

never needing it before.

(January 2, 2023)

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Chronic Doubt about Writing Poetry

The time devoted to it:

futile prayers to a dead god,

or mere self-indulgent pap?

Either way—not much more:

no moon; no red rose;

no stolen kiss in the hall,

just thread bare cliches

to drape across trite sentiment,

like chairs in abandoned rooms.

(December 13, 2022)

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No Words Left for the Dead

Silence and echos suffice

for few needs remain.


They do not speak through us.

Although we speak of them


in convoluted circles

with misplaced words,


and tangential voices,

as if we somehow knew more


than them about the language

required to navigate the stars.


(December 9, 2022)

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Brer Rabbit Decontextualized

Even without the spoken word

as transcript, I fall through

context as if from a tree,

cracking branches and ribs,

finding solace in dislocation.

Alternatives are pointless

to parse, being unspoken.

Yet, a story’s happy ending,

too often, exists elsewhere.

Negotiating past conversations

into a tremulous present,

I am always somewhere else.

Rarely, am I here:

outside the tangled bramble.

(December 8, 2022)

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Repair

Unlike broken Japanese bowls

laced with rivers of gold,

there is no art for a broken heart.

(December 7, 2022) 

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How do we Begin

To rebuild the fables

after they have fallen

requires patience

to find what persists

in what remains.

A mother whispers

a song above a crib;

an old man remembers

his first taste of love;

we speak to each other

slowly across the night.

Within memory’s spaces

simple words are spoken

night after night after night.

(December 6, 2022)

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etude

like notes in a tattered Stravinsky score

starlings stand on taut electric lines and

murmur about the secrets of the world


as if a sheet the wind has snapped free

from the line out back they lift as one

and shimmer across the crisp morning sky


(December 5, 2022)

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Self Portrait Before a Bookcase

I am the books I have not read—

perhaps begun, or perhaps not, then

abandoned like a sack of kittens, 

to stack on side tables until relocated,

years later in a flurry of decluttering 

before a holiday, to a shelf where 

the petulant spines whisper, beneath 

the dust, their clucking disappointment

with lost possibility, and false claims

of the myriad loose threads which lead 

directly from the maze I only thought 

of entering, when instead I opened a book.

(December 1, 2022)

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Dana Prajna Paramita

1.

Where are you going?

You’re already here.


Now, let that go—

but stay


without

staying.


2.

It is easier 

to be the authority


and pronounce

bits of bated wisdom,


as if you know

anything more than now.

3.

Listen, you are here:

the pulse of wind through the trees;

a loud distant sneeze.


(November 30, 2022)

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Set and Setting

I wish I were drunk,

but I am not—

There are no soft edges left.

Rage waits. Boys, with guns

bigger than them, walk

casually into classrooms

and churches to kill.

The house is cold;

the Mexican blanket is not enough.

Plague festers the air; and, 

we breathe deeply. Savoring

the fear, we watch the street

humming darkly to the wind.

Again, we say what’s been said:

the same muttered rituals,

with the same fruitless results.

The world is broken, and I am

tired of this sober life.

Bit players, we dance awkwardly

in the blurred background

without lines to speak,

nor character enough to change.

(November 29, 2022)

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Honi Soit Qui Mal Y Pense

Look, Sunshine,

the strippers at the club

are like the aurora borealis, but

never would I presume to tell you

the beauty of a jiggling moon.

I have too many privileges to grind

to toss that kind of monkey wrench.

Beauty,

after all, is the truth we pursue; and

never would I presume to tell you

how to pass a lonely afternoon.

(November 22, 2022)

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Yet

This is my story:

a prelude to nothing

beyond this moment.


This is my story

as I tell it today

unrevised, unfiltered.


This is my story:

different than yesterday,

different than tomorrow.


This is my story

I must tell to myself

each day, every day.


This is my story;

I have not told, yet.



(November 16, 2022)

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Vacancy

A student tells me

she cannot hear an

inner dialogue.

How lonely she must

be to have silence

as her only thought.


A flame burns without

a flicker, alone

in an empty room.

It illuminates

itself and the walls 

along the light’s edge:


nothing can be seen;

there are no echoes.


(November 13, 2022)

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Absence

“there is no absence

that cannot be replaced”

—Rene Char

She sits in a hole in the room

where time drifts like dust motes

through sunlight. There is no time

anymore for resentment, or anger,

to fester their dark intentions.

Everything fades. The half-life of names

expands absorbing our vague desires

in the absolution memory grants

with each revision. She is tired now.

Patchwork obligations, like cages

without keys, contain her reasons.

In her way, she is dying, as are we all—

an obvious cliche, yet rituals

daily provide us with parameters

where we feel most comfortable.

Life is painful enough. Outside the air

clutters with snow, and rime forms

along the fence line. She watches the door.

Once, long ago, someone knocked, then left.


(November 12, 2022)

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Wish List

You ask what I want.

I have no answer

that is not abstract:


Happiness, less drama, less stress;

no flagellant memories

laced in guilt and blame;

time to think;

time to move about the house;

time to take for our life.


time to remember:

who I am;

who you are—


to find ourselves

together again.

(November 9, 2022)

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Position

“To see a world in a grain of sand/and a Heaven in a Wild Flower, Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand And Eternity in an hour”—-William Blake

An eternal pause

which opens in a moment

then vanishes


(like a leaf fall breaks

the still flow

of the autumn air;


or a stutter step

in a dance

almost breaks rhythm;


or a match flares

an aura briefly

as the wick takes flame)


is where we are,

always.

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place holder

in the dream this time

I wrote a line to start

then again inevitably

I woke to remember

nothing but the sense

that something had left

something consequential

something now absent

like the vacancy we fill

each time we move quietly

through an empty room

something that’s always there


outside the dream I write

myself through the delusion

that I have something to say

beyond my mundane day

beyond my awkward cliches

beyond my last glimpse of land

where gulls screech to the wind

their sneers of mockery and desire

where I’m stripped of my words

and left alone with what I am

a tongueless mouth gasping

for air beneath a dying sea

(October 20, 2022)

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Causal Vacancies

Mist moves through the trees

which loom overhead.

The why of my way

trails vaguely behind,

catching on branches

like tufts of soft fur,

clinging to the briar.

The negligible

wind falters then dies;

and, the air thickens

as the earth reaches

for the distant sky

like a supplicant

to an absent god.

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My Thought Provides an Easy Prey

My cliches wander in

with a negligent ease.

They have no compunctions

with rude visitations.

Like a tabby stalking

a yard of a neighbor

who fed her once

years and years ago,

they simply stray from

the page’s periphery:

an easy image

returned to repeatedly,

providing a brutish clarity

to a violent mendacity.

(October 6, 2022)

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Waiting Room Allegory

He sits in a wooden chair

in the center of a locked room.

The chair is bolted to the floor.

The room is bare, but for a light

hanging above him like a sword.

The light is dim, without a shade.

He is not wearing a blindfold,

but he might as well be—

for there is nothing to see

beyond the industrial gray walls.

No one has come into the room.

He is not sure how he arrived,

only that he is here now, alone.

If he listens he can hear his breath

otherwise the room is silent

as if all sounds are absorbed

into the walls before they enter.

he sits with his back to a locked door,

or what he assumes is a locked door,

for he has not attempted to open it.

Every now and then a light flickers

beneath the door as if a warning

to him in a code he cannot fathom

even if he were able to see it.

The room is cold, not overly so, but

enough to cause his nose to run.

He would like to wipe his nose

but his hands behind his back are tied,

as are his feet to the chair’s legs.

He doesn’t know how long he has waited,

nor how much longer he must wait,

nor what he is waiting for exactly:

just that he waits in a chair, alone, 

in a room; and, he is just like you.

(October 4, 2022)

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eventually we fall

Somedays I am here

more than most:

Thin flesh over fragile bones,

unable to hold a thought

from dream, I wander

from room to room

metaphorically lost

in a house I once knew.

My hand on a window,

I feel the winter sun

briefly at my fingertips,

before the shadow falls

between the bare branches

lightly laced in ice.

(September 30, 2022)

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for days then years

the sadness grew

its tendrils

through the rooms

of their house

casually

laconically

until

it touched

and troubled

their lives

staining all

in a yellowish

brown smudge

as if an old

mattress

tossed to the side

of an abandoned

dirt road

(September 27, 2022)

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Inertia

What can I say?

After years

of writing,

I am tired

of my life

as it is;

and yet,

I’m too tired

to change,

or stop.

So, I go on

writing toward night

as if I had

somewhere to go.

(September 22, 2022)

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Hand on the Gate

Here we are

at last, lost,

wondering what’s next?

Desperate for a redemption

to justify

our petty striving,

we sacrifice our souls

for a future

we will never see.

While the present vanishes,

a silent effect

to an unvoiced cause,

the gate clicks

closed

on its own.

(September 19, 2022)

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Masonry

The rough stones, I stack

in a circle around me,

slowly wear the skin from

my fingers until they bleed.


Nearby, but far enough,

you too build your circle

mixing traces of blood

into the wet mortar.


This is how we live:

each day we wait—

for a new excuse

to slowly bleed out,


then lay the last stone

of our sarcophagus. 

(September 19, 2022)

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dissect each moment in memory

to eviscerate

all that could have been

and all that there was

each day since birth’s cry


to worry the wound

probing the center

as a bee a rose

deeper then deeper


to pin the skin back

exposing the flesh

as if broken dreams

to prurient eyes


to recoil in fear

until a last breath

rises from dry lips

as a final kiss

(September8, 2022)

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Revising a Poem I Lost 40 Years Ago From Memory

Each day that summer as I walked home from concentrated classes at the University (Early Modern Philosophy: Descartes, Kant, Hegel, Hume, Berkeley all in six weeks), I would wave to an old woman who sat on the porch of her disheveled house drinking coffee, I assumed. Each day for a couple of seconds, we would affirm each other’s existence in the other’s life. One day she called out to me, she wanted my help with something. I hesitated — for I had places to go, people to meet all afternoon. I was afraid she would take more time than I had to give. After I negotiated her neglected front lawn, she held out an old alarm clock, “It’s broken,” she said, “I don’t know what the time is anymore.” I took the clock from her crumpled hands, turned the key a few times, and it started to tick loudly. She thanked me, and I went on my way. The next day and the day after that for the rest of the summer, I never saw her again. Although, now and then, for the last forty years, I think of her, her clock, and the time she took that day.

(September 5, 2022)

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Origin’s Layers

Pattern’s traces, worn through

repetition, call from dance’s edge;

where shadows pulse like breath,

and flicker leaves against the sky.

I hear only the sharper echoes,

of the little dog at my heals,

whose yips and growls cut past

the surf’s surge far below, but not

the curved contours cloistered

closer to my heart. I am a fool

to trust so blindly in a god, 

who allows me to languish

in faith’s certainty, as if

cowardice could protect me

from the final fragile shattering. 

The bits and shards scattered 

along the broken grounds are 

difficult to winnow. I become lost

in a melodramatic reverie

where each memory excavates

a self-abnegation usually reserved

for saints confessing their silent sins.

(September 4, 2022)

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Ikkyu Reiteration: Centered

#CamerasandDancers by Jacob Jonas The Company. Dancer: Jill Wilson.

“there the dance is”

—T.S.Eliot

to move from this mountain,

I am nothing;


to return to the temple,

still, nothing;


to remain—

nothing.


(August 26, 2022)

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Ikkyu Reiterations: Put Asunder

The roses you planted decades ago

still bloom despite their age.

A slight breeze dances the trees,

and I remember I must leave soon.

We rest our heads on each other

as rain clouds deepen our night.

(August 25, 2022)

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Ikkyu Reiterations: After a Few Days Alone

Dew upon the grass,

the moon open to the sky,

for years we sing our song together.

Rain and tears flow through my heart

only to vanish in the river’s flow. 

Outside the tree’s branches

reach into the dark night.

(August 23, 2022)

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Sunday Afternoon With Friends

We drank beer, and

talked about music,

and art, and poetry,

and all the other

inconsequential

moments of life

which make us

more than we are

when on our own.

(August 15, 2022)

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Ikkyu Reiterations:  and which part of that is now

Having returned a cow

with my horns clipped,

I chew my straw sardonically,

as my sad-brown eyes survey

the undulant fields.


The cow herd pats my neck,

looks across the open field,

and asks me, a mere cow,

with a casual disregard,

“What’s this?” then walks away.


I have no language to unlock

this moment from time now.

Each song ends with desire,

a flutter of a solitary bird

falling from a tree.

(August 10, 2022)

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Time and Integrity

I crawled to earth

gasping for air;

I am no more now

than who I once was.

I’ve maintained myself

in memory’s traces,

tucked between the hours

and the tired minutes.

Centuries passed slowly,

like summer afternoon

shadows thicken over

slovenly trimmed lawns.

(August 6, 2022)