Blanket Sea

Arts & Literary Magazine

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“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.

Collage Art by Sasha Saben Callaghan

Image 1 – “Blood Brothers”

A man in Victorian dress, and with metal prosthetic arms, sits against a background of tropical vegetation and flowers. Beside him is a tiger. They both have similar challenging expressions on their faces. There are phrases which frame the central image – ‘dare to live,’ ‘speak the truth,’ ‘dare to love,’ ‘live without fear.’

 

Image 2 – “Dollface”

The porcelain head of a doll stands out from a black background. The face is covered in tiny cracks and the top of the head is broken, revealing Victorian scrap paper and flowers inside. One of the doll’s eyes is ringed with pearls. It wears drop earrings and a choker decorated with a gold key.

 

Image 3 – “Lungs”

A young woman, naked from the waist up, sits with her back to the viewer. Anatomical markings have been drawn on her skin. Her lungs are depicted by layers of red, pink, and peach flowers. She has a ruby and gold bow in her hair and a flower growing at the base of her spine.

 

Image 4 – “The Anatomy Lesson”

A skeletal torso on a black background. The bones are decorated with pink and lilac flowers, gemstones, shells, and butterflies.

 

Image 5 – “The Lovers”

Two young women, one Albino and one with fair hair, sit together. They both wear Victorian costume and have flowers and jewels in their hair and on their dresses. Between them is a gold hourglass and a golden apple with a blemished centre. Hanging above them is a gold astrolabe. To the left of the frame is a black rat and to the right of the frame is a gold compass in a bright yellow case.

 

Artist’s Statement

As a disabled artist, my aim is to bring vivid and strange imaginings to life.

Recently, I have been using a blend of collage and photomontage to create surreal artwork that encourages the viewer to think about difference and see beauty beyond the mainstream.

Each piece is constructed to challenge assumptions of ‘reality’ and convention.

 

 

Sasha Saben Callaghan is a writer and digital artist, living on the east coast of Scotland. She was a winner of the 2016 ‘A Public Space’ Emerging Writer Fellowship and the 2019 Pen to Paper Awards. She was also longlisted for Penguin/Random House WriteNowLive 2018. Her poetry and short stories have been published in a wide range of magazines and journals including Ambit, La Lanterne Rouge and 404 Ink. Her illustrations have featured in three nation/international art shows during 2019. Sasha’s lived experience of disability and impairment is a major influence on her work. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

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