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Muse 17

the healing muse, volume 14

These are just a few excerpts from the many inspiring selections in Muse 17. To order a copy and read the entire issue, please visit our Support the Muse/Order Copies page.

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Bruce Bennett, Missed Anniversary

It was the day you died, and I forgot.
I even had a poem I could have read.
I could have brought you back, but I did not.

I wasn’t thinking. I was at a spot
that you knew well. You just weren’t in my head.
It was the day you died, and I forgot.

It’s not as if it mattered. Not a lot.
There were some moving things I might have said.
I could have brought you back, but I did not.

So now I’m writing this, and saying what
I didn’t. It’s always something else instead.
It was the day you died, but I forgot—

I didn’t do what I’ve always done. We plot
revisitings, fresh chances, when one’s dead.
I could have brought you back, but I did not.

So here’s this truth: you left us with that shot.
We could not, did not, follow where that led.
It was the day you died, and I forgot.
I could have brought you back, and I did not.

Annette L. Berkovits, Don't!

Don’t let that soul wound heal.
You’ll regret it.
Scratch at it with sharp nails.
let it bleed, let the crimson
trickle be a daily call
to resist, resist forgetting,
resist letting the pain
be soothed by life.
Chicken in the oven,
dust on the armoire,
unpaid bills piling up,
laundry tumbling in
the dryer until it turns to dust.

Don’t fool yourself,
don’t delude yourself that
things will never be the same.
You’ll still brush your teeth,
reach for the soap bar
in the shower, rummage
for fresh underwear,
turn on the news.

Even in time your
hunger will return.
You’ll yearn for a hot meal,
not the bagel you used to
grab on the run, or the
stale donut eaten at midnight,
the last one from DD
before they closed.

You will answer the phone
at last, I’m OK you’ll say,
for how can you keep saying
things are bleak. You’ll
feel you must lift the callers’
spirits to keep them from
drowning in your sorrow,
and soon you’ll start
believing it, almost.

That will be the exact time
to rip open the scab
to remember things
will never be the same.

Donna Steiner, What Insomniacs Do in Bed

Listen to the wind. Lament our lack of vocabulary to adequately
describe the bone-ache of 4 a.m.  Admire the fluid moonlight overfilling

the squares of window.  Admire the under-valued texture of flannel sheets
Admire the capacity of our aging lungs; establish a goal to use modulated

to mimic the sound of wind.

Note the absence of wind. Note the absence of cricket call, bird call, note the         
absence of howl.  Note the absence of rain, of drizzle, of shower, note the
of humidity.  Wonder about the bottle of water on the nightstand, neither
     half full

nor half empty.  Does it exist if no one sips from it, if no one can see it in the
Wonder about germs and mites and viruses, and whether they multiply right now,
upon our skin, around our eyes and mouth.  Wonder about love, how it was

everywhere, always, and seems now otherwise.

Do not envy the sleeping, for we know not of what they dream. Attend to the between:
between wind and absence of wind. The hammock between breath
     and deeper
breath, between the scrapheaped stars above and the scrapheaped trees below.

Accept your constellation of gifts: the gift of sleeplessness, the gift of restlessness,
the gift of fatigue and the gift of sorrow.  Repetition is a form of education:
the repetition of breath, of eye-blink, of heart thrum.  And, of course,

the merciful repetition of daybreak. 


Lori M. Hawks, Seeking Oz

I am made of tin, and fur, and straw.

I have days when my heart hurts, and days when it feels like it's missing all together. Then there are the days when my mind feels lost, and the days when it's busy accumulating more lesions.

My brain is damaged but is still beautiful, still brilliant.

My heart hurts but still beats, still loves.

The wizards, they treat us like our minds are separate from our hearts, when we all know they are connected. After all, you can think with your heart. We call it Intuition. Dorothy called it her Yellow Brick Road. We try to follow it.

But the wizards divide us. They divide up our organs and send us packing. We carry our segmented bodies from one wizard to the next. We asked to be fixed. They try just that one piece.

Even if they fix your pieces, you are left to your own devices to gather them up, and to try to fit them neatly back together. You try. You try. You keep trying.

All of this trying takes courage. It takes courage to fight for this body. But it takes even more. It takes heart. It takes mind over matter. It takes everything.

Because we are made of tin, and fur, and straw. We are made of brains and courage and heart. We are made of stardust, and we are all connected. Don't let the wizards tell you something different.

They use fear to scare us, they use pills to numb us, they use props to fool us, they use knowledge to intimidate us. They hide behind their curtains with smoke and mirrors.  When all along we are made of the very same tin, and fur, and straw. While all along they are scrambling to reassemble unhinged pieces of their own brains and hearts. While they too are questioning their courage, and all of us are desperately seeking Oz.


 Natalie Cawthorne, Funny Boy

At the checkout counter. Anxiety’s creeping in. You’re jumping up and down beside me; a six-foot-two sixteen-year-old, boyish and lanky, too skinny for that height. But there’s no time to eat, never any time. There’s too much jumping to do, too much clapping and skipping, and those circles aren’t going to run themselves around the house. You’ll spend an hour running laps, mind so lost in the far off land of your iPod that I’ll have to stand outside too, your personal traffic guard, redirecting your path when it strays too close to the road. Because you don’t notice the road. You wouldn’t notice the car either. Once the iPod’s on, the land you’re in is even further away than your normal one. But what is normal anyway?

It’s our turn to checkout. No incidences so far. We’ve almost made it to the end, almost home free. The little girl behind me whispers, “Daddy, he’s funny.”  You’re clapping your hands loudly now because the lady at the checkout has handed you There Goes a Fire Truck, the DVD you’ve been tirelessly obsessing about since Tuesday. For me, it’s still Tuesday. You wouldn’t get to sleep last night, or the night before. And you were up again the moment my head touched the pillow, like you knew, instinctively protecting the dark circles under my eyes which you’ve grown so used to. One big, fat Tuesday.  

You’re waving the DVD around now, jumping, like you do, like it’s a sacred offering, a tribal dance revering the gods for the blessing of rain, or in your case, fire trucks. There’s a blue circle on the front that says Ages six to ten, not the most typical pick for a sixteen-year-old. You’re not really sixteen, though, are you? Not in there. Just on the outside. What is typical anyway?

The dad whispers back. “Yeah sweetie, he’s funny.” There’s no malice behind it, no uncomfortableness or disgust, no pity, no annoyance, no underlying meaning, but inside, I want to lose it. I want to whip around and smack that Dora the Explorer ice cream cake he’s waltzed up here with, all care-free, zip-a-dee-doo-da, straight onto the ground. I want to scream at him, correct his ignorance, his impudence. There’s ways of saying it, you know? That’s what I would shout at him. On the spectrum, special needs, Autism, — pick one, but for God’s sake, pick one of the right ones.

You’re not jumping anymore. For a brief moment, you’re still, standing like any other boy, absorbed by the pictures on the back of the DVD. It makes me hate myself. For degrading you, categorizing you, defining you, turning you into a label—another stupid label. And me, on my high and mighty horse, getting defensive about the right label, the politically correct label. Me, robbing you of a description that would, for any other boy, be a compliment. You are funny. You make me laugh every day. What is the “right” label anyway?  

You’re smiling to yourself. The last item beeps past the scanner, a bag of green apples. I’ll slice one up for you later. You’ll eat half a slice and a box of Cheerios for dinner. But, hey, it’s something, and we gotta’ pick our battles, right? We’re almost there now. You look over at me and shove the DVD in my face, pointing to a picture of a clown on top of the fire truck. You’re giggling. “Look, Mummy,” you say, “that’s funny.”

Groceries are bagged, anxiety’s shifting. Just need to pay. I rummage around my bag looking for the wallet, sifting through layers of last month’s shopping lists and crinkled receipts, the dirty tissues, clean tissues, and wet wipes. No wallet. I wiggle my hand deeper, past the grime covered strawberry lip balm with the missing cap, the pharmacy-brand Jojoba body mist, and the empty tube of peppermint Mentos. Still no wallet, so I’m forced to go in elbow-deep, a midwife at full dilation and still no baby. I’m feeling around the absolute bottom now, the land of lost Mentos, forgotten pennies, and sticky mysteries. My wallet’s at home, which means I’ve been carrying around a pleather pouch filled with trash and this was all for nothing.

You’re getting impatient. I can tell by the way you start pacing back and forth. Anxiety is in full force when I realise I’m going to have to pull that DVD out of your hands. You won’t go down without a fight. There will be screaming, kicking, pushing. There may even be tears, from both of us. Everyone will stare. It really shouldn’t matter. But there won’t be anything funny about it.

A tap on my shoulder. It’s the dad behind me, the unknowing recipient of some undeserved internal wrath. He’s probably going to let me know there are people waiting. It’s well within his right since I’m just standing here, temporarily out of order, the result of an anxiety-induced brain malfunction. I inhale deeply, preparing to face him, along with the rest of the irritated wolves in the checkout queue, because, they have places to be, don’t you know? 3-2-1, okay, turn.

He’s smiling. “You need me to get that?”

I refuse automatically, excessively. “Oh, no, no, no, no,” I say, as graciously as I can, “Really, no, no, no, you don’t have to. Really.”

“Please,” he says kindly, “It’s no trouble. We’ve all been there.”

In the end, I let him pay for my groceries and the fire truck DVD. He wants nothing in return, waves the suggestion away to the winds. No IOU, no phone number, no Facebook bulletin alerting the world of his good deeds. Just tells me not to worry. That I’ll laugh about it later. 

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