Sunday, January 25, 2009

Beginning at the End ~ 1984


“I’m the most desperate, lonely woman you will ever meet in your life, and I am blind. There is nothing more lonely than blind desperate loneliness. And I want them to feel it. I want them to know my loneliness.”
— K. E. Hansen

In the book you always hoped
to write, your life began with “The End,”
the day you lost your sight,
surgery meant to cure.
Those first weeks, you ignored doctors’
gloom and waited, expecting
any day for your sight
to return, to see again the red
roller coaster near your favorite surfing spot,
the pine green specks
in your boyfriend’s light brown eyes,
the charcoal you were using in your last sketch,
you now will never finish.

But the first time you are left
alone in the darkness you will see
for the rest of your life,
you feel a loneliness so profound, isolation
that nothing twenty-eight years
of sunlight and starlight
have prepared you for.

You feel buried alive,
trapped and terrified, alone and aware
as you will be until the day you die
that the world as you loved it
continuing around you
is gone to you forever.

Frantic at the thought of living
your life through,
you stumble around your mother’s home,
groping for the switches,
turning on every light you can find
with each flip praying
this will be the one.

When you knock over a china lamp,
which breaks apart at your feet,
you begin to cry, tears that tumble
down your cheeks for days,
and you crumble to the floor, screaming
to God, the questions you will ask
again and again, “Why? Why have you
done this? Why have you kept me
half dead?"




Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Friends for Life ~ 1988


“I believe in people. I may not understand why the heck they do what they do, but I believe in them.”
— K.E. Hansen

The first time I see you, I determine
I do not want
to know
you.

Outside of a summer school class,
before the first session, you stand
secure in a swarm
of fellow students, they taking turns questioning,
“What’s your guide dog’s name?”
“Can I pet him?”
“How old is he?”

You answer warmly, sometimes laughing loud
and long, head thrown back with the confidence
of someone who knows
people will wait,
want more.

You are wearing a black leather miniskirt,
a crimson low-cut top, a black
shiny belt, and cherry red

pumps. At your side, your guide dog Danny,
a black lab, sits obediently.
Later you will tell me
that you always wear
at least one black

accessory, not just because black
“never goes out of style”
but also because wearing black
keeps you and Danny always
color coordinated.

Like moths at a light,
students keep surrounding
while I steadfastly step
inside the classroom,
burying myself in a book, putting you,

too bold and brash,
out of my mind.

Corner of my eye
minutes later,

I see your guide dog
leading you,
one trusting high-heeled step at a time,
straight to my side,
and I watch you touch
for the chair next to me,
feeling your way into my life,
bringing the brightest smile
I’ve ever seen,
a sunray spread surrendering me,
as I hear you ask,
“Is this seat taken?”




Monday, September 29, 2008

As If You Always Will ~ 1992



“Over twenty-five operations and losing my sight, this scares me most. I keep touching it. I can’t believe it will be gone tomorrow. I keep telling myself God must have a plan.”
— K. E. Hansen


Night before surgery, you tell me you’re scared,
really scared. Through four years’
friendship and more health scares
than I can count, I’ve never heard
you say this.

In the Christmas photo you sent
this year, you frolic
with your guide dog on the beach.
Clad in a white tank top and rolled-up jeans,
you stand balanced
in the surf, knees bent, back arched,
arm poised to throw
a stick. Your honey-colored hair streams
in the wind, water rushes round toned,
tanned calves. Below the photo, your words,
“Lover of life, come dance with me.”

Days after surgery, you’re bantering
already, asking your nurse,
“Could you check with the doctors
A-SAP
to see if hair is going to grow
out of my stump
and when I can shave
it?”

Below the knee, your right leg
gone, thick cover of bandages crisscrossing
the amputation site.
Intense pain
comes and goes.
You swear
you’re going to dance
again. Soon.
In your red pumps.

You have to settle
for black boots.
Against doctors’ wishes,
you’re dancing months
later, a benefit you’ve organized.
Doctors warn: injure remaining ankle,
may lose that foot, too,
skin so slow to heal,
steroid-brittle bones
caving in.

But tonight,
swaying to Kenny Loggins
in your boyfriend’s arms,
prosthetic leg barely noticeable beneath
black lace stockings,
pain of the last months
hidden in your laughter,
you draw all eyes in the room,
dancing lightly, naturally, blissfully,
as if you always will.





Sunday, August 31, 2008

Last Resort ~ 1990's


“Blind disabled woman needs roommate. Low rent in exchange for personal assistance.” 
— K. E. Hansen


You live alone for many years, fiercely holding
onto your independence, redefining
what is feasible. Chili,
for example. You refuse to stop
making chili. Your party specialty.
Slowly chopping vegetables,
carrots, peppers, onions, tomatoes, garlic
carefully positioning the knife, slice by slice
checking the placement of your fingers
before each cut, then gradually pressing down.
Over twenty ingredients,
chopping, stirring, tasting,
you’re at the stove hour after hour,
seeking sublime.

I have learned over the years not to lend
a hand—not to find your clothes, not to fasten
your prosthetic legs, not to check your glucose.
Having seen you snip
at others who offer,
I know you will ask for help
as a last resort.
You are striving to keep yourself
the kind of woman who always leaves home
with her guide dog fed
and her nails done.

But after a stroke,
you have to start living with the man
off the street, anyone who responds
to your ad. “Blind disabled woman needs . . .
Some stay months, others
a few weeks. One man steals
your heart, another your life savings,
$273 cash from your boa constrictor’s
aquarium. “He must have really needed it,”
you conclude, not angry, “if he had to
look in there.” Then comes the woman who loves
boats. “You mean she loves to sail?”
“No,” you explain, “I mean she loves boats.
Romantically. Works with them, chills
with them, sleeps with them. She’s a fetishist.
She’s nice, you know. I just say, whatever
floats your boat.”

Your fingers less sensitive, mind less sharp,
you have had to learn to trust,
even when you shouldn’t, to accept
what many wouldn’t. Still you fight
for self-sufficiency, often crying, yelling
in frustration, searching for missing lipstick,
wallet, insulin, cardigan, band-aid, lotion, leg
the objects in your life
rarely where you left them
in your mind.

Sometimes, sitting with you over a Diet
Dr. Pepper, watching you reach
and reach and reach
for the can, grasping
only air, I can’t stand
not to
and I slip my hand
across the table, sliding the can
a few inches forward,
far enough still
for you to find.





 

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Seeing Straight ~1995


"I think I am the only one on the planet who asked Santa for a pair of bluer eyes and longer legs and actually got them.”
— K. E. Hansen

“Are my eyes straight?”
you ask, turning to look

at me, trusting
and expectant.

In the sunlight, I can see the fine blonde 
hair
on the side of your face, the deep v-indent
in the center of your upper lip,
the long lashes, curled and darkened,
lining your blue

eyes. Without boundaries
of eye contact,
I look into your face
as into no other.

“I think your left
is upside down.”

When I met you I did not know,

as others don’t,
your eyes are glass,
hand-painted striations so delicate and beautiful,
their surface reflects light
like a blue dawn.

Turning to slip

your eye out, you chuckle.
“I was just thinking about that time
with the study group.”

You were prepping for a final

when another student in the group 
made you laugh,
hard.


No warning,
your right eye flew
out of its socket
to
you-had-no-idea-where.

You heard a few chokes,
then silence.

Seeing straight
to humor, 
a lens you keep always 
in your sight,
you asked, "Has anyone happened
to run across
my eye?"





























Saturday, May 31, 2008

Ten Years of Therapy ~ 1998


“I wouldn’t trade this life for anything. I feel like I’ve lived twenty lives."
— K. E. Hansen

As we drive to pick you up,
my sister says that spending
an evening with you feels like getting ten years
of therapy.

When we ring your doorbell, you yell
for us to enter. “Sorry I’m running late,"

you call from your bedroom.
“Having trouble getting my legs
on. Be with you in a few.” Minutes later,
we hear a thud and a cry. “God damn it
to hell. I hate this bloody
life.” On your way to join us,

you have fallen, foot snagged
in a heap of laundry.

Standing and feeling your way to the kitchen,
moments later you’re dishing Gravy
Train, telling Danny, "It's girl's night.
You get a few hours off." Without your dog,
you take my arm, teasing me,

as you love to, about the time
years ago when I led you straight
into a pole while painstakingly
warning you about a step,

way up ahead.

You order a seven-inch pyramid
of vegetables from our favorite restaurant,
carrots, beets, sprouts, jicama, cucumber,
which glisten with sesame tahini dressing.
Chit-chat ceases in the presence
of salad as you touch the tomato peak,
face alight with joy.

You take only one small sip
of water as you eat your salad, saving
your fluid allowance for later
in the meal. You don’t qualify
for another kidney
transplant and you have passed
the five-year mark
on dialysis. Your doctors say
you will have a few more years,
tops.

You ask questions over entrees,
remembering details—my sister's boyfriend's
name, my mother's trip to Oregon, my new
job. When my sister steers
the conversation to you, you say, "I can’t
complain. Life is good." You never hesitate
to say this,
days when it’s true.

Sometimes when we’re out, we bring
your wheelchair and take an after-dinner
ride. On empty sidewalks, 

you like to see if we can break
the speed limit, my sister and I each taking
a handle and pushing and racing
until you grip the side of your chair,
eyes wide, hair streaming,
and we all laugh like kids

at recess.

But tonight, teetering

on your prostheses, you ask if we’re up
for Mr. Toots, a café nearby with live jazz.
We agree, though my sister hovers
behind, hands outstretched,
as you ascend the long steep
staircase, gripping me and the rail,
unsteady still. Aloud, you count

each step, keeping a tally for coming down.
You have fallen in the past, taking
stairs on your own, losing balance,
breaking bones, risking
your fragile hold
on life.

We sit close to the band inside.
Occasionally, I look over and see you
smiling slightly,
nodding your head and tapping

your fingertips, skin split
and needleprick scarred,
still keeping time
to the beat of the music.



 






Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Perfect Match ~ 1990's


"Can you come over as soon as possible? It’s important. I have to get to the mall.” 
— K. E. Hansen

By the time you ask, "What shade?"
my mind is already darting
forward, trying to find language
for what my eyes distinguish
without words.
I’m tempted
to just say "crimson,"
a word I’ve heard you use,
a member of the brilliant red
family, I’m pretty sure,
but knowing you
double-check your colors
with several sources,
can’t chance it.

"Uh . . . I’d say somewhere between
a fire engine
and fresh blood.
Approximately."

We’ve been shopping an hour
already, Gottschalk’s, Mervyns, Macy’s,
navigating narrow aisles,
exploring clothing jungles,
you, mapping, commanding, gripping
my arm,
me, steering, describing, trying to prevent
clothing-rack collisions.

Before going blind, you dreamed of fashion
design. And if I asked you today,
you could catalog the catch
from years past. The swarm of skin-tight
jeans. The flock of camis.
The herd of heels.
You design on your body,
carefully comparing, combining, creating
in your head before making
the final call.

“You mean scarlet,” you correct
me now, tone taut. "Let me
see." You often offer spur-
of-the-moment style tips.

Handing you the cotton stretch
“can’t be more than 3% spandex” top
to survey, I am delighted to avoid a grilling
about the cut, and I watch your fingers
systematically investigate
the neckline, sleeves, hem,
then slowly travel
across the front, over the back.



“I’m not sure it will work with my cream
cardigan. What’s your
take?"

At this moment, my mind goes
blank. A cardigan . . . ?
I wear black most days.
I spend less
than one minute, covering
myself with clothes.
I have never had the nerve
to tell you I did not know
until I met you
it was possible
for shades of black
not to match.

"It seems like a risk," I say finally, unwilling
to accept responsibility
should a clash
be reported.


“Too bad,” you say. “We’ll have to
keep hunting. How about hitting

Juniors?”

“Let’s not forget
Ross,” I respond, half-masochist,
half-grateful, knowing
we’re
running out of stores.




Monday, March 31, 2008

The Men: Chapter 4 (& 5) ~ 2000


“The only thing I remember about being with Tony was that he changed positions constantly.”

“Rick was bisexual and sometimes that was hard to handle because I’m not used to competing with men.”

“I just don’t get it—I just don’t get it. I feel like I’m constantly being tested. I feel like I’m going to scream—give me a break, God. Give me a break. And then I found out Martin’s coming over tonight.”


— K. E. Hansen

Lying in lingerie,
as you often do in the middle
of the day, you work on The Men
chapter of your autobiography, drafting
in your head, trying to decide how many
can you include, how steamy
should you go. Even leaving out
a few dozen,
sometimes you aren’t sure you’ll be able

to fit the men you’ve loved
in one chapter.

They drift in and out like lifeboats,
docking at your heart,
roping round your body,
then cutting loose after a few
months, most unable to sustain
attachment through the diabetes tidal wave
surging through your life.

With names spanning the alphabet,
and life stories as varied,
the man in your life gives you
energy when you’re down,

someone to look forward to,
phone calls, shared meals,
and warm nights
when your hands can explore
the length and depth of his body,
massage head to toe
face, arms, hands, chest, legs, feet,
express through your fingers
and lips
the joy you feel
in seeing
him,
blindness disappearing in darkness
as you take in with touch
features and contours
of another.

Most float out of your life one night
to the next, but a few stay through passion
and pain to weather a relationship.
Kevin, seven years younger

still living with his parents,
stays over one night with his guitar
and doesn’t leave till two years later.
Zack, a biker with serpent tattoos, loves you
with a steely tenderness,
seeing you through the turmoil
of the two amputations and the stroke,
without breaking open
his own heart.

Yet best for last, comes Martin.
Your cab driver

as you depart from a three-month stint
at a convalescent hospital, the two of you bond
over Buddhism, he a lifelong student,
you a Christian learning Buddhism
in the everyday challenge of living
in your body, letting go of who you were
and wanted to be, every day a giving up
and getting up.

Twenty years your senior,
Martin calls you his “girl,”
introduces you to Chai,
reads to you on Saturday afternoons,
and even when he gets a “lady friend” in his life,
remains a phone call away day or night,
to reassure you that this body
is only a suitcase
for your soul,
waiting to be
unpacked.

Cherishing you like no other,
to the end he takes you to Pleasure Point,
a spot where you used to surf,
still your favorite place in the world.
Sitting on a bench overlooking the ocean,
air thick with seagulls, sea spray, sea scent,
he describes the shade that day,
cobalt blue, dark turquoise, jade green,
and together you gaze out at the surfers,
lying on their boards, waiting
and waiting for the right wave,
then all at once paddling, crouching,
and finally, braced and balanced in the wind,
standing at last.





Sunday, February 24, 2008

Pulling Through ~ 2001


“I have an ego the size of a Porsche.”
—K. E. Hansen


Each piece takes hours,
blue under gray, gray over blue, cord upon cord,
slowly you knot
intricate spirals.

Doctors have given you The Sentence
over and over
neurologists, nephrologists, endocrinologists,
can’t seem to figure out how
you keep pulling through.

You store colored beads in different sized
jars, a rainbow small to large.
Bit by bit, you intersperse them in symmetrical
patterns, each bead a witness to concentration
woven with curses
as you keep track of multiple cords,
threading, braiding, looping, knotting
by touch alone.

By now, your body is a battlefield,
legs, abs, hands, breasts, face,
assaults on every front,
eye and limb
casualties.
You’ve lost track
how many times they’ve told you to get ready
for goodbye,
how many times you’ve kept preparing
for tomorrow.

Mid-piece, you always wait for a pair of eyes
to critique,
later, unraveling, unbraiding, unstringing,
if a single bead does not match
your plan.

Days when you’re rushed to ER,
sugar plunging or skyrocketing,
the doctors ask if you remember
who you are,
and you give them your first, middle, last,
and the names and doses
of every medication your doctor’s ordered,
the —izers, the —iptins, the —izones,
reciting the list
even on your way out
of consciousness.

Had you ever had a call back,
you would have put aside your macramé
and taken work,
when you could,
a telemarketer, you hoped at one point,
a survey conductor, you wished at another.
No employer took the risk.

“She’s not going to make it
this time,” doctors tell your family when you slip
into a coma one day and fail to slide
through. Week four, week five, week six,
they wait
for you to die.

Years’ end, you’re macraming again,
ornaments, key chains, wall hangings,
hands even slower now,
each piece days’ labor,
gifts you will wrap in thick Hallmark paper
the kind that does not wrinkle easily
you have called three stores to find.

Only your primary doctor
finally gives up
predicting,
realizing at last
you’re not going to go
on someone else’s
timetable,
not going to give up
before you’ve threaded through every bead
of energy you have for this life,
not ever going to start
cutting corners.
 


Monday, January 28, 2008

Bird of Paradise ~ 2002


“There is no ugly flower on earth. They are all beautiful, and they know to look to the sun for their light.”
— K. E. Hansen
















 

I wheel you into the sunny courtyard, a fusion
of bromeliads, ferns, palms. A dozen doors look
into the courtyard, yet I’ve never seen anyone
emerge. Residents lie wilted
in their beds.


Angling your wheelchair to maximize sun
and sitting on a bench nearby, I remember
many times I’ve sat with you as you sunbathed,
your skin, soaked
in lavender lotion, bronzing in the heat.
Stretched out bikini-clad,
you would tell me about your latest love.
Corey. Todd. Max. Names changed
often, your excitement
never did. We are quiet
now.

Planted in this nursing home, unwillingly
uprooted, you know well what's
ahead: TV (Animal Planet or Jeopardy),
dinner hour (corned beef or turkey), sleeping pill
(one—or two, if you get lucky). Your roommate
no longer speaks. Next door,
a woman in her nineties wails
for her mother, long since dead.

Yet at this moment,
past and future melting,
you lift
your face to the sun, brilliant
smile unfolding,
simply absorbing,
drinking warmth,
finding the nutrients
in the earth of your life.