I've been rather quiet recently. Not just online, but in person, at home. I honestly can't think of anything to say in answer to the questions, "so how are you doing" or "do you need help." When I'm really focused inward on the existential wrestling that occurs in my mind and heart when I've faced a lot of stress, I really don't have much to say.
At least not in prose. And for some reason, responses in experimental free verse are not generally considered helpful.
The hard days are rough. Sometimes they arrive in great numbers, and slowly it your perception shifts until it seems that all the days have been hard. But it's even more difficult when you've had some good days right before—your memory of the distinction between just fine and overwhelming is quite fresh.
A while back I was venting to my brother about how I can't think of anything to write when I'm in the middle of a chronic illness flare. My world narrows to basic survival. Eating, sleeping, going to the bathroom. What is there to write about that?
His response that day was "I bet you could write a poem about your journey to the bathroom if you really tried."
So I did.
Eight Steps | Or, Must we Begin Again?
Chapter One, Verses 1-8
Count the Hours
One. I feel too formless to stand, but the need to void my bladder has become pressing. I am driven to hold myself upright and travel eight steps to release my waters at the altar. Nascent humor makes light of my quest with a dry mental quip, and my heart is lightened enough to begin.
I reach for the lamp beside the bed. I miss the pull twice. I stand. Forward with the right foot.
Two. It's hard to catch my breath. I hold still for a moment, my spine swaying on top of weak hips gripping flimsy legs, as I try to force my lungs to open wide, to drag in enough air for the journey.
I can see my destination. Forward with the left foot.
Three. A thin carpet of dog hair has adhered to my soles.
I pause for a moment and note the shadows cast on the drawer fronts of the dresser, the wispy illustration of trees outside, waving their branches. I realize my thirst and call out for a refill of my glass. It will be there when I return. Forward with the right foot.
Four. Sometimes the moon shares its light through the small window, but the window faces the alley to the south, and I don't remember the last time I saw the sun.
A filmy aura in golds and blues is slowly vignetting my field of view. Forward with the left foot.
Five. Have I ever seen the ocean? I can't recall. Forward with the right foot.
Six. My dog has named himself head nurse of my ward. His flank is pressed attentively to the outside of my left knee. Should my feet fail to pass muster, he will gentle my descent to the floor.
I reach for the door. Forward with the left foot.
Seven. I am almost there. I glance to my right and catch my reflection. I don't look myself in the eyes. Forward with the right foot, and then turn.
Eight. I collapse on my throne.
I try not to think about the journey home.
Chapter 2, Verses 8-1
Count the Hours.
The trip back is not set with a measured and careful pace.
Upon reaching the bed, I give into gravity... It seems as if no bed is enough to hold me, as if my bones crave the ceaseless pull of the core of the earth, as if they long for greater mass, as if they want to become dense enough they could plummet through the bed, the floor, pulling my skin so taught it would tear and my blood could escape from its vessels and drip through the fitted sheet, the mattress, the bed frame, the subfloor, down into the very foundation of the house, fruitlessly wishing to return to the soil...
Do I want to be consumed?
There's no water.
Perhaps no one heard me.
I call out again.
Chapter 3, Verses 25-500
Count the Hours.
After untold cycles, I make it a little further.
Twenty-five steps. It's enough to arrive at the corner chair by the fireplace in the front room. I step into the unlit hall made more gloomy by the presence of some unseen phantom, who seems purposed to spook me with almost-memories of the time before. But I can see thin rays of sunlight falling through the dusty air around the bend, and I press on. Once seated, I sip the cup of oolong tea I found placed on the side table and bathe my face in the steam from its heat.
Fifty steps. I'm in the kitchen. I forgot we had a stove... What have I been eating?
One hundred steps. I've made it outside, and am now seated with a brown thermal blanket on my lap as I tip my face towards the winter sun. It isn't enough to warm me.
Count the Hours.
Two thousand steps. Have grocery stores always been this loud and bright? All the music playing on the loudspeakers is from the 90s. I'm not ready to think about that.
Six thousand steps. They didn't serve food on the flight. I'm standing on the shore watching waves crash against the fort. The rain scours the heat of the day from the air. My feet are bare. The rocks are not smooth, but I savor the tingles spreading through my nerves as the sharp stones and shells nick my soft flesh.
I think I remember this.
Count the Hours.
Five hundred miles. About one fourth the length of the Oregon Trail. It's taken two and a half years. I feel so victorious I don't notice the encroaching aches, the agitation in my joints, the fog closing in on my mind.
I am eating sliced pears in the kitchen—savoring the terse sweetness, paired with my favorite aged cheddar—when the pain rips through my chest and my brain spins and I am once again made intimate with the press of the wood floor against my cheek.
Chapter 4, Verses 1-8, 8-1
Count the Hours.
Eight steps to my throne.
I barely remember the way.
One. I don't know if I can keep doing this.
Two. I should have vacuumed yesterday.
Three. Did I take my meds?
Four. My family would be better off without me.
Five. I have just decided that the entire concept of destiny is absurd.
Six. Are we out of toilet paper?
Seven. Haven't I dreamed of myth and monsters? This is not a quest.
Eight. Is this my whole life?
Eight steps back.
Count the hours.
I feel a lot in response but the words I have tried to use in answer sound so trite. Love you.
I love your words, regardless of the form they take or the relative triteness they exhibit. Never feel the need to restrict your voice around these parts!
(Also, I don’t think I have ever heard or read anything from you that was genuinely trite, so I’m also doubtful about your statement here. You have taught me a lot about sincerity.)
Reading your words is like drinking a perfectly brewed Earl Grey kissed with almond milk and a 1/4 teaspoon of honey.
I love the pacing of this. Also you pick the best words and mold them together so beautifully to create such vivid images in my mind. I really felt drawn into your experience as if I was there looking through your eyes. Oh and I’m definitely using “releasing my waters at the altar” the next time I declare a bathroom trip so thank you for that.
Specificity is my personal love language, so thank you for this great feedback. As a writer, learning how to master my own POV has been the hardest work. It’s nice to hear that it worked this time!
You’re more than welcome to the phrase 😁
You took a “normal” everyday experience and sketched it into a beautifully designed portrait that can lead the imagination to believe I was right there with you. Well, for most of it. Some parts I felt it proper to give you privacy. LOL. I sure hope this makes sense.
Thank you for allowing me on your journey.
Ha! I like to play with distance and intimacy in my writing, as I take you on journeys you wouldn’t normally take with another person. I am glad you enjoyed!