These are just a few excerpts from the many inspiring selections in Muse 10. To order a copy and read the entire issue, please visit our Support the Muse/Order Copies page.
Tish Pearlman, New Light
Does life start anew?
Do I wrestle with fallen stars,
my eyes peeking at the
break in clouds
where energy roars full speed
by the deep sleep
resting by the pull of tides
painted in eclipse—
Do not speak to me of
The leap of doe and the flight
I seep into your dreams now
I am the river creating new
I rise before morning
and feel the pull of
crying owl, full moon,
the dissipating storm.
Gregory Eastwood, An Old Hip Fractured Requires a Good Young Bone Doc
Call from sister Chris.
This time, the news not so good:
“Mother broke her hip.”
They found her standing
Leaning against the walker,
Pain, age ninety-five.
E.D. films reveal
Right femoral neck fracture.
What should we do now?
Mother is beyond
Her capacity to join
Easy to stereotype—
Until we listened.
His options, kindly:
Do nothing—her hip heals fixed,
She’s in bed always.
Despite age and confusion,
That is the best chance
To relieve pain, get her back
To walker and chair.
Under his guidance
We considered DNR,
DNI, the rest.
We took the best chance:
Mother’s hip is doing fine
Now, three years later.
A good result.
Kay Ryan, US Poet Laureate (2008-2010), Why We Must Struggle
If we have not struggled
as hard as we can
at our strongest
how will we sense
the shape of our losses
or know what sustains
us longer or name
what change costs us,
saying how strange
it is that one sector
of the self can step in
for another in trouble,
how loss activates
a latent double, how
we can feed
as upon nectar
Excerpt from Say Uncle, copyright ©1991by Kay Ryan.
Used by permission of Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
Elijah Dut, Why I Am Skinny
“What do I go for: a loaf of bread or a pair of jeans?” Just after the outbreak of war in Sudan in 1987, I fled with my grandmother to Uganda for safety and survival. In Uganda, life was a daily struggle; we faced severe hunger and death threats from radicals in our host community who mistakenly thought refugees were invading their land. While in Uganda, my grandmother did our shopping.
Two years later, my grandmother died. I was only seven years old. This was the turning point in my life; I had to live my own life with inexperienced hands and the brain of a little boy.
My neighbors checked on me each morning to see if I was still alive. Glory to the Lord, at least someone was checking on me. Everybody thought I was going to starve to death; they just did not know when. One evening as I stood watching the sunset, I remembered my grandmother’s warning: “Don’t throw food away, for a hunger might come someday and you will starve to death.” I felt heavy with guilt; the war that had sent us to this wilderness and the flood that overflowed our land existed because I did not save food.I remember asking my grandmother before the war came, “What kind of animal is hunger? What does it look like?”
She said, “It is an animal that is as big as an elephant and as gloomy-looking as Juma, the dog.” I used to be afraid of Juma, and I knew that the elephant is the largest animal on the land. I had not seen one, but was scared and tried not to throw more food away. At that time, the hunger never came so I asked my grandmother again when it will come. “Any day, someday, any time,” she said.
I finally said to her, “I am ready for whenever that is, Grandma.” Now remembering that conversation, I fell to my knees, and I cried heavily as if I was in a crying contest. I asked myself, “Is life long enough that my stomach will ever be full again?” I went back into our thatched hut knowing that her revelation had come true. The hut felt unusually cold. At sleeping time, my grandmother used to burn logs of wood all night to keep our hut warm and to keep the mosquitoes away. As I lay down, I heard mosquitoes ululating, chanting their lucky song, and ready to suck blood out of my veins. They attacked quickly. I started punching and slapping myself. Today I can tell you, given a choice between a mosquito bite and intramuscular injection, I would take the daily intramuscular shot. I cried and cried. Between my hunger and the mosquitoes, I wondered which one would take my last breath.
The night dragged. In the morning, I imagined the mosquitoes saying to me, “See you tonight.” I vowed, “No!” I saw some mosquitoes around the roof of the hut, others on the wall filled with my blood, and others on the floor, their bodies too heavy for their wings to lift. From that day, I began to sleep during the day, gather firewood at night, and burn it every night to chase mosquitoes away.
Three days later, my Aunt sent me six Ugandan shillings. Six shillings in those days was like getting a thousand dollars. I was happy, playful as a calf, and couldn’t wait for the marketing day. I decided to go shopping for some food and with the remaining money to buy some casual clothes so I could go to church with other children. I arrived at the store and right in front of me was a pair of dark blue jeans. The price was six shillings. Too much! I asked the shopkeeper how much for the jeans, and he said six shillings. I tried to bargain, but it was like milking a bull. The shopkeeper seemed to know what was in my pocket.
I walked back to the food aisle, my eyes glued to the jeans. “How much for a loaf of bread?” I asked a saleswoman.
“One shilling and 50 cents.” The breads were shining as if polished with brown kiwi cream. I was salivating, but I walked back to check the jeans. Back and forth I paced, so confused about what to choose.Now, I was not only hungry, but also exhausted. My mouth was so dry that I was spitting cotton. “Should I buy a loaf of bread or a pair of jeans?” I looked up into the sky, hoping to find the answer. With no strength, I stood, took a deep breath, and gave my money to the shopkeeper for the jeans. My stomach seemed suddenly numb. Since that time, my stomach has never again protruded or swelled.
I ran home to put the jeans on and show them off to friends. I also informed my friends that they could not leave me behind for church services anymore simply because I did not have “cool” clothes. I ran around telling every child in my neighborhood about my new jeans. The joy of my new jeans was great, but the cramping teeth of hunger were still stronger. My choice of jeans over bread put me more into the lineage of mosquitoes with skinny legs; I became their little cousin. I regretted my decision the minute the sun went down, but it was the best decision I could make at that moment. I needed to fit among my peers. Since that day, I have never gained weight. We become who we are because of the choices we make.
Tetman Callis, From the Heart
Grant Collier could barely see.
“It’s the cytomegalovirus, it attacked my eyes,” he said, his voice subdued. “I can see around the edges. A little. That’s all.”
When he had been able to see from edge to edge across the middle, he was far-sighted. If he wanted to read, he had to wear glasses. He didn’t like glasses, didn’t like the way they made him look—like a handsome young man wearing glasses—so he didn’t read much. Not books, anyway, or magazines, even. He read people, could see right into the parts of them that revealed why they do what they do. He couldn’t do that anymore; he was losing his mind.
His arms and legs were covered with sores. The legs didn’t show, he wore pants, but it was a warm day and he was in a short-sleeved shirt. There were the sores on the arms, they could be seen. His younger brother, Simon, who had been taking care of him and had taken him on this visit to Jeff, their old friend, guided him across Jeff’s one-room apartment and to the couch, sat him gently there. Jeff, who would say that Grant had once been his best friend, wasn’t ready for this, for this visit, these sores, the blindness, the present absence of the old friend, the childhood friend, who was sitting right there without being there, what was there was a blasted shell. Jeff knew they were coming today, Simon and Grant, it had been arranged, but he wasn’t ready for this. They were, they had to be, they had been living it for months, ready or not, here it was.
“I’m hungry,” Simon said. “Grant, are you hungry?”
“Mmm,” Grant said. “I don’t know. I guess.”
“You should eat something.”
“I have some leftover Chinese,” Jeff said. “Some take-out. I can warm it up if you like.”
“That sounds good,” Simon said.
Jeff opened the refrigerator at the kitchen end of his tiny apartment, pulled out the square, white cardboard containers of leftover take-out, set them on the tiny counter by the sinks, his back to Simon and Grant.
“Do you need some help?” Simon said.
“No,” Jeff said, cheerful, horrified. “I’ve got it.”
Yes, please help me. I am not ready for this.
“We’re going to have some Chinese,” Simon told Grant. “Does that sound all right?”
“Yeah. I guess.”
“It’ll be ready in a couple minutes,” Jeff said.
He pulled plates out of the cupboard over the sinks, forks and spoons out of the flatware drawer by the refrigerator, spooned the take-out onto the plates, set about warming the platefuls of leftovers in the microwave. His hands were trembling, only a little. The microwave hummed and beeped. He looked at Grant, sitting on the couch, looking at nothing.
Let me help you. Let me do something for you. Let me take some part of this away from you. Find a way. Make something up. Tell me lies.
“Almost ready,” he said, cheerful, devastated.
“Where are we?” Grant said.
“We’re at Jeffrey’s apartment,” Simon said. “Remember?”
“Oh. Yeah. Are we going to eat? I’m hungry.”
“Yes. Jeff’s making us lunch right now.”
“What are we having?”
“We’re having Chinese. I told you.”
“Oh. Yeah. I forget. We’re at Jeffrey’s apartment, right?”
“Right. I thought so. Hi, Jeff.”
“Hi, Grant. Lunch is almost ready.”
Jeff took two plates in his hands, forks and spoons and warmed-over take-out on the plates.
“Here,” he said to Simon. He may have smiled, or may have thought he was smiling.
“Let me take Grant’s first,” Simon said.
Jeff handed Simon one plate. He took it and turned to Grant, reaching to take Grant’s hand and guide it to the plate.
“Here you go.”
Grant took the plate. Simon guided Grant’s hand to the fork.
“Okay,” Grant said. “I can do it now.”
Jeff handed Simon his plate, returned to the counter by the microwave, and took up his own.
“It’s good,” Simon said. “Thank you, Jeff.”
“You’re welcome,” Jeff said, returning to the couch to stand by Simon and Grant while the three of them ate. “It was nothing. Just warmed up a little take-out. That’s all. It was nothing.”
“Is it all right?” Simon said to Grant.
“Yes.” Grant was eating slowly. Jeff, eating quickly, nervously, stood and watched.
Let me sit beside you. Let me touch you without being afraid. I am so afraid. Please don’t guess how afraid I am. You’re going away and I can’t stop you, can’t follow you. Let me hold you, for a while. Stay and we’ll talk. We’ll talk about all the people we knew, the things we did, the endless nights of drinking and dancing and celebrating being young and alive and in the now, the constant now. We’ll talk all day long, and all night. Stay. Stay. Stay. I am so afraid.
“I can’t eat anymore,” Grant said.
“Here,” Jeff said. He reached quickly and took the plate to the kitchen sink.
“Thank you,” Grant said. “Where’s Simon?”
“I’m right here, Grant.”
“Who else is here?”
“Just me,” Jeff said. “It’s me. Jeff. Remember?”
“Oh. Yeah. I remember. I’m tired.”
“Thank you for lunch, Jeffrey,” Simon said. He handed Jeff his plate. Jeff took it to the sink, put it there with Grant’s and his own.
“You’re welcome. You’re welcome. It wasn’t any trouble at all. I wish there was more I could have done.”
“I’m tired,” Grant said. “I want to go.”
“Okay,” Simon said. “We’ll leave in a minute.”
And in a minute, they left. After they were gone, Jeff stood at the kitchen sink. He didn’t see anything for a little while, then he saw the plates there. Grant had eaten very little. Jeff picked up Grant’s plate and one of the forks. He ate everything Grant had left, every bite.