Medicine


To the doctors again, I loaded the car with the wheelchair and its 

inhabitant and the inhabitant’s 62-year marriage distracting mate.

My dementia-ravaged mother’s caretaker naturally came along.

She and I lifted my mother’s stiff resisting 95-pound taut body high

into the van, me pulling from the seat above, she pushing from

the cement driveway below, the two of us nearly thankful she has 

wasted to such an accommodating weight, making the task feasible.

 

On her wedding day, she was 95 pounds, so my father repeats to

anyone who will listen, including the new neurologist who observes,

examines my mother while my father offers his opinions in a blared

recital of facts: “She was an English Major and wrote a thesis on, on…

Saul Bellow. It’s in Long Beach in the school somewhere. She was a

good wife. The best you could ask for. But you never know how much

you have in a person until she’s gone.” And so goes his secular litany.

 

Struggling not to once again remind him that she hears and is alive

and beat down the growing irritation, I explain that she fractured 

her shoulder somehow while in a nursing home and so protects it.

The doctor nods, hmmm’s and continues manipulating my mother’s

rigid limbs, tries to uncurl her fingers long-ago cemented into C’s.

She murmurs her observations in one word confirmed diagnoses: 

“Spasticity…atrophy…tremors…neuropathy…” as she plies tissue.

 

My father answers, “Her left arm doesn’t work at all,” when the 

neurologist inquires about body movement, and I snap, “Not true.”

I shush him a few times as his need grows to run the show, talk to 

someone who will hear what he repeats like a skipping vinyl record, 

evoke sympathy from new flesh (the same old audience tires), 

release nervousness or some other cause of his inaccurate, 

inappropriate and irrelevant comments–and I immediately soften.

 

He needs so much too, but then he has always stolen more from her.

The pink and blue light sabers clash in stinging zaps inside my body.

She is a White Walker sans the unstoppable malice, with bones 

for a face and fallen flesh failing to disguise human skeleton, I muse.

 

In the car trip to the office, she sneezed, and I marveled at her voice,

the familiar sound of her reflex, which flooded me with spinning

memory flinches of every moment I had ever heard it, pouring

gooey thick amniotic washing into the bones of my sense of time

and destination, the immediate and outward, unknown, unseen.

In Arabic death ritual, relatives painstakingly and lovingly wash the
 
corpse to send it onward in its journey while leaving blessings behind.

 

But the miasma of missing Mom living right before my eyes, mouth,

nose, ears and skin, who I touch and purr to and who sometimes

gaping-mouthed, wild eyed, crazy-toothed, lopsided smiles at me with

oh-my-God-of-the-moment recognition, cherished, ecstatic familiarity 

and connection for us both, confuses us, me, who churns with the incongruity 

and daze of seeing him well enough to complain, repeat the same jokes and other 

grating, mindless habits he has long held, and just as long refused to change–

 

and yet see him as short-term too, gone in a cardiac flash or in interminable dribs

and drabs of life-leaking, irrefutable, genuine  horror for him, me, everyone but 

the doctors, nurses, pharmacists, technicians and equipment and drug 

manufacturers who gain from decay, his, theirs and ours, the dying.

 

At home, I hear the wheelchair wheels squeak by as my 20-year old

10-months now concussed daughter, chair-splayed, giggles at the electronic 

buzzes emitted from her palm’s worship, the small God of life she knows, 

my mother never knew, its advent arriving too late, my father acknowledges

then glances away from, its mystery blinding, and I know far too well, prey to 

its opiates, but not enough to forego profit and sneer nor succumb to its disease.

Shall we call this nature and proceed with a sun-spreading daylight’s delivery?

  

    

Tomorrow it will rain

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Tomorrow it will rain and clean us.

Tomorrow the winds will blow, the

Seagulls cry and the oceans below

Swallow us deliciously deep inside.

Tomorrow it will rain sorrow’s smile

Amniotic wide soothing wild comfort,

As prickly mist-spray freckles faces

That gather and drip in blind rivulets.

The forest hounds heard it first again.

Tomorrow’s earth welled in tears will

Return us breathing wet gilled gasps

Coughing air empty as the promise 

Of flight in flapping wingless arms to

A raging sun’s scourge to proud men.  

But tomorrow’s rain will drown sins of

Stories told and re-told, lies in truth,

Til we too believe the cause-effect, a

Cumuli soothsayer’s scientific stream,

Meteorologist, fortune-teller and god,

Tomorrow it will rain and clean us all.

Road Trip


Travel jumpstarts wonder. 

Leaving the usual haunts along the same paths to and from work, market or eateries, draws out the dormant words, smoldered sparks awaiting flint. 

Nothing but changing scenery piques alertness, imagery and observation so profoundly. 

I eat nature.  

Travel bits piece large land masses speeding roadside to tiny impressions, ideas and memory fragments, creating a large mosaic of tile-words. 

As I write, I fly over the Pacific on my way to Seattle to meet a connecting flight to Spokane, where she awaits.

More likely she waits for my call: “I’m here.” 

She and I will drive the distance Google reports as 19 and a 1/2 hours, but I know better. 

Last June, we drove her to Spokane for school. 

She left school–and Spokane–in December to come home and heal.

Last week, she finally returned to the life she began to make there before the unfortunate detour, the accident.

Her head.

She, who took me to a radical feminist art show last April, who sometimes wears a “cunt” pin, who sports Klimt’s The Kiss line drawing of two women tattooed above her ankle, and who smirkingly cranks up Taylor Swift’s “We are never getting back together” on the car radio, will be my car companion across three states homeward.

Road trip.

Just like last year, the rain astonishes us, its violent insistence.

And again, the greenness of green, the way rain pelts the tinny Honda framed windows reminds me of crackling gum chewers, and the nod to engineers knowing that windshield wipers need three or four speeds, these three I recall in a whirlwind road-swallowing marathon beside a semi-conscious travel mate.

She peered into satan’s screen for 23 of the 24 hours. 

But she never could figure out how to find the nearest vegan restaurant to the five freeway in downtown, perhaps too daft from sleeplessness or not acquainted with practical phone features as much as the camera, social media apps and texting.

I grow older in bounding leaps, too old for freezing, middle-of-the-night rest stops along two-lane, farm-house roadways without gas stations for 94 miles and cramped, compact car cabins designed for legless sleepers.

It could have been the blue moon.

I drove and drove, sidling mountain edges; through snowy pines and meadows, rain-soaked forests and cloud-burst flashes drenching miles of almond trees squared off in rows blurring into golden heather fields dotted with black Jerseys ruminating time and space in their masticant jowly bovine stares prescient with the soon-approaching L.A. traffic psychosis.

And home.

Only my biceps carry the road residuals: the mindless painful wheel gripping in the desperate fight against gravity’s theory. 
 

Six Bee Poems

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Six Bee Poems

I Tell The Bees

He left for good in the early hours with just
one book, held tight in his left hand:
The Cyclopedia of Everything
Pertaining
to the Care Of the Honey-Bee; Bees, Hives,
Honey, Implements, Honey-Plants, Etc.
And I begrudged him every single et cetera,
every honey-strainer and cucumber blossom,
every bee-wing and flown year and dead eye.
I went outside when the sun rose, whistling
to call out them as I walked towards the hive.
I pressed my cheek against the wood, opened
my synapses to bee hum, I could smell bee hum.
‘It’s over, honies,’ I whispered, ‘and now you’re mine.’

 

The Threshold

I waited all day for tears and wanted them, but
there weren’t tears. I touched my lashes and
the eyewater was not water but wing and fur
and I was weeping bees. Bees on my face,
in my hair. Bees walking in and out of my
ears. Workers landed on my tongue
and danced their bee dance as their sisters
crowded round for the knowledge. I learned
the language too, those zig-zags, runs and circles,
the whole damned waggle dance catalogue.
So nuanced it is, the geography of nectar,
the astronomy of pollen. Believe me,
through my mouth dusted yellow
with their pollen, I spoke bees, I breathed bees.

 

The Hive

The colony grew in my body all that summer.
The gaps between my bones filled
with honeycomb and my chest
vibrated and hummed. I knew
the brood was healthy, because
the pheromones sang through the hive
and the queen laid a good
two thousand eggs a day.
I smelled of bee bread and royal jelly,
my nails shone with propolis.
I spent my days freeing bees from my hair,
and planting clover and bee sage and
woundwort and teasel and borage.
I was a queendom unto myself.

 

Going About With The Bees

I walked to the city carrying the hive inside me.
The bees resonated my ribs: by now
my mouth was wax, my mouth was honey.
Passers-by with briefcases and laptops
stared as bees flew out of my eyes and ears.
As I stepped into the bank the hum
increased in my chest and I could tell the bees
meant business. The workers flew out
into the cool hall, rested on marble counters,
waved their antennae over paper and leather.
‘Lord direct us.’ I murmured, then felt
the queen turn somewhere near my heart,
and we all watched, two eyes and five eyes,
we all watched the money dissolve like wax.

 

CCD

My body broke when the bees left,
became a thing of bones
and spaces and stretched skin.
I’d barely noticed
the time of wing twitch
and pheromone mismatch
and brood sealed in with wax.
The honeycomb they
left behind dissolved
into blood and water.
Now I smell of sweat and breath
and I think my body cells
may have turned hexagonal,
though the bees are long gone.

 

The Sting

When the wild queen leads the swarm
into the room, don’t shut the door on them,
don’t leave them crawling the walls, furniture
and books, a decor of moving fuzz. Don’t go off
to the city, alone, to work, to travel underground.
The sting is no more apis mellifera, is a life
without honey bees, without an earful of buzz
an eyeful of yellow. The sting is no twin
waving antennae breaking through
the cap of a hatching bee’s cell. The sting
is no more feral hive humming in the stone
wall of the house, no smell of honey
as you brush by. No bees will follow, not one,
and there lies the sting. The sting is no sting.

About this poem

First published in 2011.

Jo Shapcott

Jo Shapcott won the National Poetry Competition in 1985 and 1991. Her collections include: Electroplating the Baby(1988), which won the Commonwealth Poetry Prize for Best First Collection, Phrase Book (1992), and My Life Asleep (1998), which won the Forward Poetry Prize (Best Collection). Her Book: Poems 1988-1998 (2000), consists of a selection of poetry from her three earlier collections. Her latest book of poems, Of Mutability, (Faber, 2010) was shortlisted for the Forward Poetry Prize and won the Costa Prize for Book of the Year. She was awarded the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry in 2011 forOf Mutability. She is also co-editor (with Linda Anderson) of a collection of essays about Elizabeth Bishop and co-editor with Matthew Sweeney of an anthology of contemporary poetry, Emergency Kit. She teaches on the MA in Creative Writing at Royal Holloway, University of London.

Bee Heists

 
 
It is not enough that bees are vanishing: sick, stressed, overworked or poisoned. No one source of colony collapse and disappearing bees can be pinpointed by consensus. Now, due to vanishing supply but unrelenting demand, bee hives are the latest coveted commodities to steal. 

The Washington Post reports in As bees vanish, bee heists multiply the following:

The bee economy in California is immense. Eighty-two percent of the world’s almonds are produced within a 400-mile stretch in the state. There are hundreds of thousands of acres of un-gated almond orchards in California, all of which need to be pollinated in the span of a few weeks in February — by an ever-dwindling bee population. Beekeepers come in from across the country to fulfill contracts with farmers and brokers, moving hives to and fro on forklifts and flatbed trucks. And they come with a steep price that’s getting steeper every year.

At the start of pollination season in 2010, the average hive cost $130 to rent. Rental fees are $200 this year, and will continue going up as hives continue to die off. The industry is becoming increasingly volatile, increasingly expensive and thus, increasingly criminalized.
 
Bee keepers forego income most of the year, banking on readying themselves for payday when the season arrives. When their hives are stolen, they cannot recoup their losses and despite the article’s keen detective (a beekeeper himself) on the trail of these thieves, few of these crimes get solved. This business runs on slim profit margins, so keepers are unlikely to break tradition and invest a whole lot on gps and other tracking, stamping and registering technologies. 

The answer lies in saving the bees, not in tracking and imprisoning the criminals (though that too should happen). Finding the cause(s) of the bee scarcity to eliminate roots out the entire chain of victims and perpetrators. Banning known pesticides that weaken, confuse and/or blind (mutes sense of smell) bees, breaking down colonies and affecting bee populations seems like a logical start–globally. 

Investment in and cultivation of local beekeeping so that a variety of bee species thrive rather than feeding traditional worker bees like honey bees on intense single crop diets, i.e., all almonds or fruit trees, is another solution. Keeping local native bees to pollinate a variety of local crops has been known to grow bee populations

Bees are responsible for over 75% of our food supply. I am baffled why more attention, funding and efforts are not thrown at their plight. The bees’ lament is our own: industrialized agricultural production is killing us. We are too far from nature, mother and human.

Mornings

Morning quiet, 

the children and their father 

 are visiting far family 

–the other coast kin.

Silence woke me at 5,

in nature’s alarm,

floored by fleeting time’s passing.

So I padded through a dark kitchen

out the French doors opening

to trees, wall-ivy and cement.

Fog painted my yard early or 

late last night.

  
My morning treasure hunt,

gathering fruit like ancients before me,

I pluck a near ripe tangerine.

  
Dew muffles the circle’s slow awakening.

Only the witness and I ruffle the thick, cool air, 

she inside, me out–both dark of day denizens.

 

Inside, the brewed elixir–arisen–awaits 

the heat of my lips, warm breath

chicory and oily coffee bean permeates.

  

Drawn along softly in my wake, 

unprepossessing, anticipating

every  step and saunter, click

and rushing air precipitated by

daylight’s motion in muted tones,

she watches–just in case.

I feel her eyes and cast mine downward.

   
  

Patience–she sits center in wait,

eyes beaming a steady pinpoint plea:

Notice me. Give me hand.

And I do, bent over her supplication

until the toaster pops and

the noise straightens my knees 

and takes my face away.

  

 

A bite of breakfast timed to her arrival,

stirrings from rooms behind, 

the caretaker wheels her in,

the ritual rousing now complete.

   
  
My first meal companion–

brain-shut in stifled words

uttered inside an airy maze,

once an ordered, meter-mind    

sounding poetry and song, love

and laughter, the mothering kind.

“Good morning, Mom.

Another unpromised day greets us,

so let’s play the lottery with our luck.”

Her inward stare toward the window

flickers only hair trigger slightly.

And the powerful sun, 

still swallowed in mist 

nods assent.

   

Diurnal

  
Most animals play in the day

and 

oenothera biennis and rose 

petals expand daily 

contract at night

opening sunward

shutting moonward,

nature’s accordian

in and out eye music’s

glossy pupil blooming

earth’s aesthetic reflection.

Mammals like me 

mostly diurnal, though

human circadian rhythms  

pattern imprecisely,

governed by childless

sleep and post partum

delirium or soldiering on

through mine-laden lands,

disrupting the perfection of

REM to death to wakeful

retreat and once again nightly

or daily if confusion creeps in

for good, for bad and neither

the way cycles are complete

and wobbly, perfect and broken

for earth walkers nocturnal

eschewing sleep

for poetry.
 

credit: myeyesinthemirror.deviantart.com

Wisdom?

 
 
It’s the nature of the beast.

To demolish all creative thought in a cliché, say

the sentence out loud without pause.

Don’t question it; don’t sneer. Don’t ask:

Does it mean surrender, resignation, acceptance,

withdrawal, wisdom, abidance or indifference? 

You already know the answer.

Code for trade-off, the things that cannot change

not by will or effort, not by demanding, wishing, 

hoping, foot-stomping, screaming, crying or praying. 

Laziness, perhaps, or exhaustion, one preceding

the other, most likely, at intuiting the insurmountable.

 
He’s always late, never checks his messages when

he’s made a date to meet me, and snores so loudly

most nights I can’t sleep, and counts on my inability

to hold on to anger time after time, til I wonder

if he’s just playing me, holding me down, keeping me

in the invisible stockades of pilloried complaints,

usual ones like taken for granted and love me enough.

 
“Look, if you want something bad enough,” my mother

always said, “you’ll find a way to get it and keep it.” 

That nearly always sounded like truth, like something

right out of the good book of cause and effect and

Newtonian physics or the natural laws of divine free will

or perception–on the little brain bits we have to depend.

The whole a-will-a-way combo, the tritest of them all.

Except how do I know if I have accepted in wisdom, peace 

and knowledge what I cannot change, made a fair exchange 

or simply ducked and run without a step in the face of the 

inevitable, my presumed conclusion befitting the fatigue 

of too many, just too many reasonable compromises?

“Better not to ask,” she’d sometimes say.

Pico’s Postulation

  

And I wondered if that old Italian philosopher Pico was right about humankind’s dignity and creative nature, the will of the gods, that if a man chooses to wallow with the pigs or dance with the divine, so he might do either according to how his nature blossoms from his choices. I wondered about pregnant possibilities and free will, humans as chameleons, shapers of their own destiny and fulfillers of their potential as they absorb what is around them, choosing to be like bats and hang upside down in a cave or cravenly ritualize baby killing or kiss the feet of the holy one. How free is the will of a beaten child, however, or a man gone mad from the war?

 
credit: wikipedia

 

   

    

Boxed Orchids

  

Gone from view, vacant stares through empty glass

where boxed orchids now hold your station

by the rise of not enough occasion 

and too many glances past.

I once held your gaze through the reflected glare,

the sun obscuring encircled simmering eyes

unrelenting in the search, seeking surmise 

somehow, and now your portrait still

replaced ironically in nature’s pride

perched on sills

peering inside 

out where you refused to shine.