Blanket Sea

Arts & Literary Magazine

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“Field” by Sayuri Ayers

Listen to Sayuri Ayers read her essay, “Field.”

 

“Hey, sister.” Sean leans in, his eyes glazed with Haldol. “I hold gardens of eternal life in my hands.” I nod. It’s another day in group therapy. If we don’t attend, they will hear about it, and there would be no dinner seconds, no sodas, no popsicles. Every day I pledge allegiance to pillboxes and self-care, just as long as they don’t prescribe meds that make me a slack-jawed shell.

I am one of the lucky ones. When the blackness eases out of me, I will be released, maybe after two weeks. Lifers like Sean will always drift in and out of these corridors.  Now he shoulders a white robe, his face brilliant under the florescent glare.

Before dinner, I pace the lavender rec-room. Beatrice sobs in a worn recliner. Soon, they’ll wheel her up again to fifth floor for ECT. Beatrice’s eyes are bruised hollows, her hands—cupped lilies straining for light. She sways against a whorl of darkness.

I remember Wyeth’s painting of the girl prostrate in a field.  She claws at the earth, craning towards the houses on the hill. I wonder what the people in the houses are doing:  frying bacon on cast iron skillets, ironing shirts while the girl is swallowed up by tawny grasses.

The meal cart rattles through the Plexiglassed doors. Mounds of green beans and stringy chicken slosh on plates. Someone plinks Amazing Grace on the piano until an orderly locks the lid. I weep into my dinner.

Bolted to ceiling, the television weatherman motions to pleats of red, orange, and blue surging from the edges of the screen. Outside the city limits, storms loom over a savage field.

 

 

Sayuri Ayers is from Columbus, Ohio.  The daughter of immigrants, her work explores identity, mental health, and motherhood.  Her prose and poetry appear in Entropy, SWWIM, Hobart, The Pinch, and other literary journals.  She is the author of two chapbooks: Radish Legs, Duck Feet (Green Bottle Press) and Mother/Wound (forthcoming from Full/Crescent Press.) Sayuri is a Kundiman Fellow and Soaring Gardens Resident.  In 2020, she was awarded the Ohio Arts Council Individual Excellence Award for creative nonfiction.  Please visit her at sayuriayers.com or follow her on Twitter @Urban_Lily.

“Redefining the pain scale” by Jennifer Brough

Listen to “Redefining the pain scale,” read by Jennifer Brough.

 

1. Remember when we first met? We laid out our dreams like a picnic spread and walked so closely even the darkness was warm. i loved you almost instantly.

2. In the archives of my life, i’m sure there have been years without pain but have misplaced the files. Searching in cabinets, suitcases and photographs for evidence, i find nothing but red herrings.

3. Early one weekend, i phone the non-emergency helpline. Trying not to cry i fold in on myself like a deck chair. You rub my back, helpless. The doctor suggests acupuncture. We stare at each other.

4. “Have you tried…?” is a refrain that follows me in a hymn that everyone seems to know but sings in a different key. i move my mouth in yeses to the scattered choir but no sound emanates.

5. It’s hard to be intimate often and it’s often hard to be intimate. Pain lies between us and caresses me with pins and needles long after you’ve fallen asleep. This is her version of foreplay.

6. i moonlight as an equaliser, someone who adds the things i should be grateful for and world tragedies to a gleaming golden scale, in the hopes that Pain will be outweighed. She isn’t.

7. We’ve been to A&E more times than we’ve been on holiday. i drag Pain along like a naughty child, apologising to doctors who introduce me to morphine. Now i can go swimming while being completely still.

8. i hold a funeral for the body i once had. i light candles and rattle the collection of pills like hollow bones over a salt outline. Though my throat burns i do not weep, only wait to become anew.

9. By flaking away layers of pressure, i have, at last, found a blank wall in a corner of myself. The silence is startling. When you come home, you look at me and smile.

10. All this is a way of saying too many transient things. Beyond greek diagnoses that fall out of my mouth like bricks when all i really need to say is thank you, don’t go, i love you.

 

 

Jennifer Brough is a writer, editor and avid reader. Outside of these wordy pursuits, she is learning Spanish and dreaming of Mexico. Her poems and short stories have been published in Eunoia Review, Pussy Magic and Mookychick, among others. She tweets @Jennifer_Brough.

“Autoimmune” by Adrienne Pilon

Listen to “Autoimmune,” read by the author.

 

I am my own worst enemy.

Caught in the grip of a familiar fatigue, malaise and pain, I struggle.

My body fights itself. Joints stiffen and twist of their own volition; muscles tire without exertion. I am exhausted but cannot sleep. There are drugs to take, and these have their own terrible consequences. There are also terrible consequences, says a doctor who should know, from not taking the drugs.

I am trying not to be depressed. I ponder the wondrous paradox of the lotus, that flower which emerges pure and jewel-like from the muddy muck. I attempt to extrapolate analogies from this.

I make lists in order to focus. What can I do? I can be cheerful with my family. I can do my best to keep things running in the house, even when I am exhausted. Put on a load of laundry, clear a single table, open mail, prepare a shopping list. Eat well, hydrate, stay limber. Be hopeful. Be a good friend. Send an email. Read. Write, a little, even if my brain feels fogged over.

Then a day comes when even reading is exhausting. What then?

I try not to panic. I look for wisdom. I want to be the lotus.

To live, says the Buddha, is to suffer; suffering is caused by desire; desire can be overcome. Overcoming the desire is embodied in the Noble Eightfold Path: right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration. I recite the Eightfold Path as I ride the stationary bike, the only exercise I can currently do, because it does not require being upright. Breathe in: right action. Breathe out: right livelihood. In and out, down the list, and then back to the beginning again.

Days pass, though, and I have barely risen from my bed without fatigue and pain, and so the fear comes anyway.

“All shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well,” is the prayer of Julian of Norwich. It is presented as a meditation in a book about living with illness, one of several books I read for inspiration, or out of desperation. Unfortunately, I know this mantra to be untrue, and I’ve never been one for wishful thinking, nor do I think I will come to Christ, or anybody else, and be healed. Sometimes things are well and sometimes they are not, and sometimes I am not well. That is simply true.

Still, on a good day, I rise and I breathe. I work, and though I return to bed at day’s end, this, I tell myself, is a victory. Yet I chide myself when I see others more energetic than I am, achieving and moving and shaking; I am filled with self-recrimination. Why cannot I just get up, get moving? Why can’t I sleep? Why can’t I run? What if I just try?

So, try I do. The trying lands me back in bed, though I thought somehow this time would be different. So the cycle goes: increase the exercise when I am feeling better, stretch out the distance, move the body a little further, a little harder. Some improvement. I chant. I think positive thoughts. And then, steps backward. Two days up, pushing myself a little harder can mean one or two down. Finding the sweet spot is tricky.

Go back to breathing, to a mantra, and when one mantra doesn’t stick, try another. “Om mani padme hum,” chant the monks, but I hyperventilate when I try, panicking again.

Eliminate gluten. Eliminate corn. Eliminate soy. See a doctor. See another doctor. Take steroids. Stop taking steroids. Eliminate alcohol. Bring back alcohol. Take a sleep aid. Stop taking a sleep aid.  Stop taking the drugs, because the doctor who should know was probably wrong.

I walk to the corner. And back again. Once more. I try. Once more, I breathe, I stretch. I try to sleep, to eat well.

In the trying, I am frustrated, and in the frustration, I fear, again, that I won’t rebound; that the spiral of illness goes downward forever. And I feel shame. Why am I not stronger? Better? “Be here, now,” I say, another mantra, but I don’t want to be here.

I try once more. I breathe. Some days there is only the trying, and the breathing.  Some days that is all there is, and some days that must be enough.

 

 

Adrienne Pilon is a writer, teacher and traveler. Her work can be found in Scary Mommy, Full Grown People, The Furious Gazelle and elsewhere. She currently serves as associate editor at BoomerLitMag. She lives with her family in North Carolina.

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