These are just a few excerpts from the many inspiring selections in Muse 3. To order a copy and read the entire issue, please visit our Support the Muse/Order Copies page.
Bruce Bennett, Vigil
The ravening disease
shook you, then let you go.
You lie composed, at ease.
We bow, and will it so.
The fight you fought was fierce.
You met it in its lair
and strove against its force
unwavering and aware.
Courage was all you wore.
That battle has been won
and need be faced no more.
Dear warrior, well done!
Mercilee Jenkins, What to Do if You Find Out You Have Breast Cancer
Call all your friends and ask them to help you.
Get mad as hell and rage at the medical industrial establishment
for not taking better care of you.
Blame the government for not taking better care of all women and the planet.
If someone says
What did you do to get this?
Say, I was born after World War II
During the time of above-ground nuclear testing.
All my life, I drank the water and breathed the air
that was polluted by industry.
I worked too hard for the money I needed to live
and my heart has been broken because too many of my friends
have died of AIDS.
And no, breast cancer doesn’t run in my family
but it’s running like crazy through the family of woman.
Thirty years ago it was 1 in 20,
now it’s 1 in 8.
But we’re told there’s no cause for concern.
Maybe it’s our diet
we should eat less fat
until we disappear
no breasts to speak of
no flesh to nourish this disease.
If someone gives you the book,
Love, Medicine, and Miracles.
(And they will)
First throw it across the room
because you don’t want to hear about
how you are responsible for your own healing.
Then pick it up and read it
Find out that the author thinks it’s good to be a troublesome patient
and realize you are well on your way.
Do whatever you need to do
to make yourself feel whole again.
Walk on the beach,
prune the garden with a fury,
have secret ceremonies by moonlight with witchy friends
or rent a lot of old movies and cry as much as you can.
Go to the doctor.
When he pulls the drain out of your side
get a good look at your mastectomy scar,
then go out and get drunk.
When your doctor surprises you with the news
that now you are going to have chemotherapy,
and ask your partner to cut off all your hair
because you’re going to lose it anyway.
If the diagnosis doesn’t kill you,
the cure sure feels like it will.
Tell the newspapers to ban all lingerie ads
since they only make you jealous
of women with two breasts of any size.
Tell your doctors and your well-meaning friends
You are not cheered up by the idea
that now you can get perfect fake breasts
to replace your middle aged natural ones
which you like just fine thank-you-very-much
because they respond to sexual stimulation
and fake ones don’t.
Funny we never seem to talk about that.
You will find out some things you don’t want to know
like who your real friends are,
the ones who offer to help and mean it.
Or what your love relationship is all about.
Fifty percent of relationships break up
and not because you are abandoned
but because you can no longer afford to love people
who don’t nurture you.
Find out how spiritual you really are.
Don’t be afraid to pray
and ask whoever is “in”
as you see it – that great being in the sky –
to lift you up to where you belong
and carry you on a dove’s breath
away from all this
‘cause you certainly don’t belong here.
And tell yourself you love yourself
even if you don’t mean it.
Tell yourself that everyday
until you do.
That won’t make up for the loss
but it will take you to
the next person you’re going to be
wiser, more beautiful,
capable of kicking ass and taking prisoners
and when they call you a
Tell them no,
You’re much more than that
You’re a whole woman inside out.
You’re a self-made woman
and you celebrate life
every time you think of it
and you feel lucky
and you bless your body and honor those who have died
because that’s what eventually happens to one out of three of us,
So you tell that person
that it’s about so much more than surviving.
It’s about defining yourself by new rules
even if you don’t know
how it’s all going to end.
Nancy Schreher, You're Something to Dream About
I am the best of daughters, always striving for perfection. There was a time when I felt I had to be perfect, but now I am the good daughter because I choose to be, because I want the last years of my mother's life to be easier than some of the others. The congestive heart failure that has left her mind confused has also seemed to erase many of the worries she used to fret over. And I'm the caregiver now, the one in charge; she is my child. Whatever I say goes, according to Mom. It's a role I'm unfamiliar with, never having had children of my own, but I have embraced it.
I must go now, or I'll be late. I must hurry to pick her up from the nursing home. Grab my coat. Don't forget Buford, the little blue bunny she bought to be the protective spirit of the prettiest car in the parking lot. If she gets in the car and Buford is not in his appointed spot she will point her finger at the unsentinelled space and shake her head. Today we're going to the mall to do some Christmas shopping.
Oh good, there's a parking spot where she can see the car from her window. I wave just in case she's looking. Don't forget the neatly folded laundry. Though I look forward to seeing her, I've learned a lot about expectations these days. I never know what I'm going to find. Will she have put something away to hide it from her neighbor Theresa and not be able to remember where she put it? You can't imagine the hiding places she can come up with in just one small room! She's very inventive. It recently took me an hour of frenzied searching to find her good glasses. They were wrapped in a pair of underpants (clean, thank goodness!) and buried at the bottom of the Depends box in the back of her closet.
Mom tells the nurses, "Oh, don't worry, my daughter will find them when she comes." And they don't. And I do.
I greet the nurses on duty as I breeze past their station. Just smiles and hellos, that's a good sign. I sigh with relief as I round the corner. Sometimes she's in tears over something one of the nurses, usually the one she calls the Hatchet, has said or done. Then I am the consoler. If it seems serious, I may have to become the mediator, with a trip to the Director of Nursing to intercede on her behalf. She may be confused and have forgotten that we are going out today. She may be sitting there half dressed, waiting for that "third hand" to help her pull up her pants. But of all the possibilities, the one thing I know for certain is that she will be thrilled to see me.
"Well, look who's here," she beams as I enter her room. "It's my darling daughter, my angel from heaven."
I smile and bend over to kiss her. It's a tough role to fill, but I'll do my damnedest. She glances at my jeans.
"Oh good, I'll get to wear that coat today."
She knows that jeans mean a weekend day and most likely an excursion.
As I help her go to the bathroom she says, "I'm such a bother to you."
"You've got the first letter mixed up, Mom; you're my mother, not a bother and I don't mind helping you. Look at all the years you took care of me. Did you ever wish I wasn't your daughter?"
“Never! Every night when you were asleep, I went to your room and thanked God that you were there."
My heart glows as I tuck this morsel away. Someday these hoarded treasures will be my only comfort. I comb her hair ever so gently, get her into her coat, and we're ready for our adventure.
I wheel her down to the lobby past the goodbyes of the nurses and the wistful stares of the others left behind. I leave her in the lobby, run out to the parking lot and pull the car up to the front door. Open the passenger door on the way back in. Maneuver the wheelchair through the double doors without having one bang into Mom. Jockey the wheelchair into just the right spot next to the car, put the brakes on, the footrests up. Arm under her arm, I hoist her up; steady her with one arm while getting the wheelchair out of the way. Then turn her slowly around, no fast moves here. Don't forget to pull up her coat in back and be careful she doesn't hit her head on the car as she plops down on the seat. Then pick up her feet and gently swivel them around into the car. Put the seatbelt on. Fold up the abandoned wheelchair, put it in the back and we're ready to go. Phew! It's so much easier when my husband Bill comes along, but he is busy today.
At the mall, we find a great shirt for Bill gray, forest green and burgundy plaid. Perfect! Mom is pleased.
"Papa Bear will be happy with our purchase," she smiles.
We find some pants that she likes and she convinces me to buy a hat on impulse. Oh, and don't forget the cinnamon bun. Most likely I'll find the uneaten remains next week tucked behind the curtain forgotten, but she can't resist the smell. We go to a restaurant where we eat and talk and watch the parade of people. Sometimes we make up stories about them. Chocolate milkshakes aren't on the menu but Mom loves them so that we convince the waiter to make one for her.
Until Mom’s illness, I was never a mall person, but here we can find so much under one roof. We can spend the day, shop, be entertained, eat and always find a wheelchair accessible bathroom.
Back at the nursing home that evening, I help my mother get ready for bed. Wash her face and hands; clean her dentures; change her into her nightgown; help her go to the bathroom. I write in her diary what we did today and when I will stop by tomorrow in case she forgets. The diary is our link; it is never out of her reach. As I tuck her into bed, she smiles up at me.
"Your hair is always just so. And your earrings look so nice with your sweater. You're so pretty. You're something to dream about."
I smile and kiss her goodnight.
"Please call and let the phone ring just once so I know you're home safe," she requests.
I'm forty six years old and she still worries about me driving home alone after dark. As I start the car for the trip home, I flash the headlights in her window, our goodnight signal.
It's been a long day and I'm tired but happy. Our relationship has not always been so harmonious but I'm thankful that we have this interlude. Being responsible for my mother has pushed me into many diverse roles, from making funeral arrangements to holding the emesis basin when she is sick. Not all of the roles are easy, but I find the strength to do them and I do them well. Having lived by myself for a number of years before I met Bill, I always thought I was too set in my ways, too independent to be a parent. That I would never be able to put someone else's welfare ahead of my own. And yet I have done this for my mother without even realizing it until the head nurse pointed it out to me one day. The pitter-patter of little feet may never echo in the halls of our house, but I add the title of caregiver to my nameplate nonetheless. Of all the gifts my mother has given me, this is the most precious.
Lois Dorschel, Grandma Belle's Cuckoo Clock
Eons ago...Sunday drives, stopping for ice cream cones or strawberry sundaes, and the weekly dinner at Grandma Belle’s. Always at two o’clock! Chicken and gravy, mounds of mashed potatoes whipped to perfection spilling over the green serving bowl with the embossed gold ring, the biggest bowl in order to fit the five pounds of potatoes she cooked. Fresh corn from her garden or pickled beets from last year’s crop.
Of course, since I was only 8, I reserved my greatest anticipation for the pie she had baked the day before. Would it be apple or blueberry this week? I preferred strawberry-rhubarb or minced, but I knew those were holiday pies. Vanilla ice cream or cheddar cheese perched on every piece.
After the meal, everyone helped put the food away (what little was left), wash the dishes, and tidy up the kitchen. Otherwise, there wasn’t much room in her tiny trailer for four adults and four lively children. Sunday tradition included playing cards, and the children could play with the adults! We learned Rummy, Canasta, Sevens, and Pinochle. Sevens was Grandma Belle’s favorite; once in awhile she would let my Dad or me win.
She lived on land that my Uncle Cutie owned. Her second husband, Larry, was a good man, but I never got used to calling him, “Grandpa.” Just Larry. Big thick mustache, curled at the ends. Retired from the Railroad, but still wore his railroad hat. Never went anywhere unless it was to the hardware store for more pieces to add to his train set located in the tiniest bedroom of the trailer. Here somehow he created a whole city with mountains, streams and bridges. There was a railroad station where passengers boarded and whistles warned when crossing the intersections. No one was allowed to touch anything in this room.
My summer vacations were heaven because Grandma Belle watched me most of the time. Both my parents worked, and my older sisters either worked or thought they had better things to do. Adjacent to her land, was a cow farm. The Smiths owned it and they had at least thirty cows. I would go in the morning and watch them be milked. Then my cousins and I would jump off their hay wagon into the loose hay that was spread out for the cows and the horses. That’s when I found out I was extremely allergic to hay. Grandma took me inside and gave me a shower and a healing cup of tea. Her doctoring was painless and effective.
My best reward was an invitation to stay for a week. Together, we would tend the garden, pick wild berries to make jam, and, of course, play cards forever. She had an Ouija board that she took out once from under her couch; she believed in what the spirits told her. She let me try it, and I couldn’t believe the pull those spirits had on my hands. They spelled out my first name, and then, after a few moments, told me that my future would be filled with love and joy. I didn’t know what a spirit was, but I didn’t like the feeling of my hands floating across the board without me being in control.
Evenings with her were magical. After supper, we planned the next day’s adventures, showered and got ready for bed. And then it would be time for my daily chore, the job that made me feel powerful. She had a cuckoo clock that she had brought with her from Switzerland many years ago. It was pure rosewood with a small cuckoo who every thirty minutes reminded you he was alive. Tiny Swiss dancers swirled on a rotating dance floor above Tweety’s head as he sang his song. It was my job was to reset the chains so that the bird could sing the next day. I was reminded (unnecessarily) never to pull the chains too tightly. I was ever so careful, learning patience and pride from this great teacher. It was she who granted me control over time.
Grandma Belle died at the young age of 94 from kidney failure. She outlived five of her seven children and kept up her own house and garden alone for over thirty years. She attributed her longevity to pickle juice and never inhaling the one cigarette she allowed herself each day.
I have grandchildren of my own now. I try to teach lessons of patience and love. We play cards and board games and have Sunday dinners. We tend to my garden, pick berries, and walk the dogs. Only one thing is missing.
My own cuckoo clock.