Blanket Sea

Arts & Literary Magazine

“The Second Arrow” by Caroline Johnson

“What has no shadow, has no strength to live.”
— Czeslaw Milosz, “Faith.”

 

“Choose any spot you like,” my oncologist says. I pick an overstuffed Lazy-Boy next to an IV, park my bag full of books, then she leaves. Soon a nurse greets me, says she will be taking care of me for the next four hours. I touch the scar where my left breast used to be and try not to think of any upcoming cocktail treatments—chemotherapy, radiation, tamoxifen, with a splash of more surgery. I wish instead I could get drunk on real Russian vodka, wake up when it is all over to find it had only been a fraternity party.

I stare at the nurse’s straw blonde hair damaged from years of dyeing and can’t help but think of all the money I’ve put into my own hair—expensive cuts, keratin treatments, highlights. I am still getting used to the smooth dark synthetic locks and bangs of my “cranial prosthesis,” trying not to laugh at how one of my favorite students said three times, in all seriousness and naivety, “I’m likin’ the new hair, Ms. J.”

The nurse dabs alcohol on my port, then sticks the needle into my skin. The first step is flushing the port, then I am given an hour’s worth of anti-nausea medication, followed by the big Red Devil, Adriamycin. The nurse brings the bright cherry liquid in a syringe and injects it into my skin. Soon I will be peeing pink.

I first met my oncologist five years ago at a party at her house, a multi-million dollar estate with swimming pool and tennis courts. The party was for her sister, a friend of mine; I remember a conversation in the kitchen about T.S. Eliot. The oncologist was clutching a wine glass, explaining how a group of doctors, including herself, had started a poetry club. I wondered how scientific people like doctors and engineers think, if they needed more poetry in their lives than most people.

After she discovers I like poetry, the chemo nurse tells me of her favorite poem, “The Hound of Heaven,” an epic Christian ballad about running away from a loving God. I look it up on my phone and read it. I want to discuss it, have a conversation about why the protagonist doesn’t recognize God, but she just bends down and flushes my port again.

Weeks earlier my oncologist told me about her trip to Africa, about the lions she saw on her safari. That was after I learned my treatment would last not months, but years. I was assigned a navigating nurse to answer any questions I might have, but I sensed burnout as I caught her several times sitting by a large window of light. Other nurses, like Pam from the Philippines and Sue whose husband lives three states away, work to brighten my mood as they inject my body with drugs. A young nutritionist visits periodically to talk about what I should and should not eat. But it is the chaplain whom I love. He is from Georgia and wears a suit. We talk about Flannery O’Connor and Mary Oliver. He likes British History while I prefer American. As we talk I feel myself transforming, as if someone is trying to help me carry some unbearably heavy stone. Then one day he tells me of the second arrow as I try not to think about what a woman said in a support group, how her port-a-cath leaked and all the veins on her right side lit up like a Christmas tree.

The first arrow is the suffering, the true suffering, he said. It comes from without and we have no control over it. The second arrow is how we hurt ourselves. It comes from within: criticism, worry, brooding, and depression. The chaplain told me not to listen to the second arrow, not to hurt myself. Yet I can’t help but feel I have crossed a border, unwillingly been deported to another country. It is strange and foreign and I don’t speak the language. I am always trying to get back to the Land of Before. The doctor is my coyote as I trespass the rocky desert under open sky, past barbed wire diagnoses and the Rio Grande, past nausea and fatigue and clumps of hair, past biopsies and bone scans, as I try to return home. In the end, I am alone.

 

 

Caroline Johnson has two poetry chapbooks and more than 70 poems in print. A nominee for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net, she has won numerous state and national poetry awards. Past president of Poets & Patrons of Chicago, her full-length poetry manuscript, The Caregiver, is forthcoming from Holy Cow! Press in 2018.

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“Letter Enclosed” by Amy LeBlanc

Checking the ceiling corners
for spiders and constellations,
I hear my voice ask
are you alone
is there anyone
but my chest is cresting
and I pull the shirt from my stomach.
The scent of laundry is strong
and the Unmentionables bleed
fiber into fabric softener.
The letter L is written
on my hand in case I forget.
Unaddressed postcards tumble,
creasing their silhouette.
Dogeared pages turn teary
as the glue unravels.
Against the vibrations,
I worry about spilling cups of coffee
and move that to the dryer too.
The static tears my skin,
snagging my spine
one stitch at a time.
Shrinking, unraveling–
the vowels and consonants
hang on the line
too damp to be read.

 

 

Amy LeBlanc holds an honours BA in English Literature and creative writing at the University of Calgary where she is Editor-in-Chief of NōDMagazine.  Her work has appeared in Prairie Fire, (Parenthetical), Untethered, and Canthius among others, and she received second place in the 2016 Blodwyn Memorial Prize for fiction.  Amy also has work forthcoming in Room, Contemporary Verse 2, and The Antigonish Review. Her chapbook, “Collective Nouns for Birds” was published by Loft on Eighth Press in December.

 

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Photography by Megan Sadler of My(chronic)Self

“Depression”

(Black and white photo of a woman resting her head on her knee. She is bare-faced, eyes downcast in somber reflection; her unkempt hair falls loosely over her shoulders. )

“Pretty on the Outside, Pain on the Inside”

(Off-centered portrait of a woman. Half of her face is made-up, in full color, with hair neatly braided. The other half is bare-faced, in black and white with unkempt hair. )

“This is What A Bad Day Looks Like”

(Black and white photo of a woman lying on a bed, knees to chest. Her eyes are closed, face obscured by shadow while the rest of her body is illuminated by sunlight.)

“Reflection”

(Black and white photo of a woman holding a hand mirror. Her back faces the camera, the top half of her face is visible in the mirror’s reflection.)

“My(chronic)Self”

(Black and white photo of a woman looking over her shoulder in profile towards sunlight. Her face is obscured and bathed in brightness.)

Artist’s Statement:

People don’t see me on my worst days. When I’m in a flare, I live on my couch; safe from the prying eyes of the world. That’s what inspired me to start My(chronic)Self, a series of self-portraits I publish in conjunction with posts on my blog of the same name. When I am at my weakest with an IBS or Endometriosis flare in progress, I pull out my camera to document it. My goal is to bring the viewer into my world at my worst moments. This is what chronic illness looks like and it’s not pretty.

 

(These photos first appeared on My(chronic)Self.)

 

 

Megan Sadler is an amateur photographer, blogger, and IBS-D and Endometriosis patient. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Creative Writing from the University of New Mexico. After leaving her job due to her deteriorating health in 2017, she became interested in photography and wanted to find a way to document her life with chronic illness through photos and prose. This turned into a photoblog called My(chronic)Self which debuted in January 2018. A true Pacific Northwest girl at heart, Megan is currently enjoying her new life in Boise; exploring the beautiful Idaho wilderness at every opportunity with hiking boots and camera in tow. You can follow her on Twitter @mychronicself and Instagram @megannicolephotog.

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