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Muse 15

the healing muse, volume 15

These are just a few excerpts from the many inspiring selections in Muse 15. To order a copy and read the entire issue, please visit our Support the Muse/Order Copies page.

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Mary Jo Balistreri, Sunflower, An Ode

In the house, strange to me now, jammed
with nurses, medications, wheelchair and walker,
I depend on your survival.

Each morning I open the curtain and count on
seeing your bright face.
You steady me.

Crowded, as if in a foreign land,
in a barrel of petunias,
you stand tall and strong.

And the way you brave weather
on the fiercest days,
the whipping wind, the pelting rain.

You teach me all over again how to stay planted,
grow in my given soil. Though words wither
like wheat stalks in drought,

you, fiery corona, petaled face, brown eyes,
you flower before me—
your radiance staves my despair.

Neighbors walk their Dalmatians.
Geese scout the lawn for seeds and corn.
A father and son fish in the middle of the lake.

Here in the house, I wander without purpose.
On the kitchen table, a drafting pencil, paper,
and books of poetry.

I casually write sunflower on a yellow legal pad.
A breeze ruffles the word’s edge. Scatters seeds
in the rich loam of imagination. Expands.

My daughter’s voice calls from the bedroom,
her voice part of the aura. I offer her grape juice
and buttered toast. She asks me to open the shade.

We sit together on her bed.
The sun brightens our faces,
and I show her my sun out the window.

“Let’s follow the sunflower,” I say.
“We’ll lift one foot, then another, inch into the day.
This is the only thing we need to remember.”

Bruce Bennett, The One Thing

I’ll tell you how I knew I needed help.
I left my children in a grocery store
in DC, in a bad part of the city.
Forgot them in an aisle. When I got home
and started putting stuff away, it hit me!
I stood there by the fridge. My God, my children.
I left them in a grocery store. My God!
I had to calm myself, and had a drink.
When I drove back, I found them at the curb.
Molly was three, and clutching Becky’s hand.
They’d both been bawling, but they’d known to wait.
That was the thing that made me change my life.
I didn’t stop at once. It took a while,
but that was when I really knew for sure:
I had to stop. I didn’t have any choice.
It’s when you face that one thing you can’t lose.

Suzanne Osborne, Sick Day

Excused from life,
curl up in the big chair
with a scratchy throat,
a cup of tea, and Mozart
low on the radio. Cars swish
through the rain, gusts
scrabble at the window.
Adjust the afghan, turn
to the crossword.

A siren shrieks
in the distance.
Someone’s got real trouble.

One across: sound
from a farm pen.
Maa or baa?
Garbage truck
growls and whines,
covers clatter
as the guys fling
them in the middle
of the sidewalk.

Baa; one down
has to be brook.
The spaniel from
down the hall
woofs, impatient
for the elevator.
Good thing cats
don’t have to go out.

Twelve across: disparage.
Light fixtures chime
a warning, windows rattle,
floor rumbles as opposing trains
bring obliterating
roar of clashing air and
grating steel.

When peace returns,
Vivaldi has replaced
Mozart. Only birdsong
I’ll hear today.


Hope they’re getting along
without me.

Four across: Author of Orlando.

Not too well.

Tea’s cold. Worth getting up
to reheat? Cat on my lap
votes no. Eyelids droop.
Pipes thump and hiss.


Robert Roger Lebel, Uncanny Gift

All people are different, but some are more different than others.

He had an uncanny gift. Entering a room, he needed only a few minutes to discern who there was in distress, or lonely or uncertain. But it did not end there. He would then set out to reach that person, and to help. He once appointed himself to assure that a young woman, alone at a social gathering and with impairments of both sight and hearing, was safe and had a way to get home.

He kept cheap umbrellas in his car, and handed them out the window to people waiting in the rain for buses. He doubled back to buy a sandwich for the panhandler at the corner. No matter that his own resources were severely limited. His disability check scarcely allowed for a dignified living.

All people are different, but some are more different than others.

Genetics has revealed the immensely small: we are made up of trillions of cells each with billions of molecular subunits. Astronomy has revealed the immensely large: the universe has billions of galaxies each containing billions of stars and spread across billions of trillions of miles. These words may seem clear and familiar enough, but the actuality they describe is beyond ordinary comprehension.

I belong to a faith community centered on the notion that love is the glue that binds all reality together, and that love will finally prevail over all other forces.

For some, the scientifically revealed immensities of smallness and greatness are obstacles to holding such opinions; I can understand that. For me, those immensities only emphasize the limitations of my senses, however enhanced by telescopes and microscopes. I cannot grasp and own ultimate truths. That, I submit, is—and must be—OK.

All people are different, but some are more different than others.

Philosophers teach us that where taste is concerned, there is no room for argument (de gustibus non disputandum). If I enjoy avocado and you like artichoke, it is absurd for us to argue rightness or error. It is normal and healthy that we differ in such ways.

For our son Kevin, the differences became problematic. For him certain textures made ordinary food noxious. He could not eat either artichoke or avocado because each elicited great unpleasantness. He sometimes turned down dinner invitations because he feared that his inability to tolerate many foods would seem like rudeness or lack of appreciation.

Nor was it stubbornness or laziness that kept him from seeking out concepts of high mathematics or deep scholarship. These were congenitally unattainable for him. He did not know about such things, but he knew how to care.

What Kevin could attain was forged in the crucible of suffering, the suffering that comes from being more different than others. He observed the world through a lens of lesser skills and more vexing health problems than most persons. That lens focused him not on intellectually inspiring immensities of greatness or smallness. Rather, it revealed to him the world of other peoples’ pain, inspiring him to seek to do something about it.

Kevin’s limited analytic abilities made him often incomprehensible to people like me whose world is filled with abstractions. But his predilection for mercy made him an example to all of us. Learning disabilities, intractable gout, inability to demonstrate to the world around him that he should be employable . . . all these taught him compassion (if not patience).

We knew that Kevin had an aortic aneurysm. It had been stable for two years. He was just a week away from scheduled follow-up when, in moments, it became catastrophic. He was 37. We who loved him have had our struggles with “what if?”, and moved on.

Had he lacked a family strong to sustain his dignity, Kevin would surely have been a street person. My small memorial to him is that I now keep loose change in my pocket, and no longer pass a panhandler without giving something. I do not trouble myself about the recipient’s worthiness. That is not my problem. Having had so much difficulty fathoming Kevin, I now appreciate the importance of a simpler task: to act justly, love tenderly, and walk humbly.

All people are different, but some are more different than others.

This, this is the immensity that really matters.

Questions? Please e-mail us at The Healing Muse: [email protected]