Poison

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Into my ear you slipped poison

words that ran off your tongue

and clung

to me for years.

Thirty years

of fear,

it’s origin I had forgotten

until today, on my way to a place

of life, not death.

But death is what I thought.

And death is what I believed,

a death delivered by a fork-tongued hag

who was dead herself .

 

 

Bottomless Sea-Infinite Sky

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When I was twenty

life offered infinite, though imagined, pleasures.

And, as I delighted in dreams of my future,

I floated upon the bottomless sea of fantasy.

But years passed

and I found my feet set firmly

on its sandy floor,

chin thrust upward,

gasping for breath,

looking into an infinite sky

an infinite void

an infinite nothingness

and I wondered if, when night fell,

sea and sky would become one.

But now

in this glimmering twilight

the sea is shallow

drained of dreams

and I am dry.

Only my toes remain in the well of possibility.

But the sky, still separate from the sea of youth,

I look to it and wonder.

 

 

Anxiety Knocking on Your Door

 

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Heart pounding, pulse quickening, shallow breathing-these are all very real symptoms of anxiety. I know because my anxiety is severe and at times crippling.

In examining my work as a writer, I have discovered that anxiety stands out as one of the great forces driving my narratives. What I have also noticed is that, when describing the condition, writers, myself included, focus on the physical manifestations listed above. We use these descriptions because they are accurate. Stating that, in the midst of an anxiety attack, your heart rate increases and you feel a pounding in your chest is not melodrama; it is truth.

The issue for the author, however, is because we use these descriptions so often, we have weakened their power. So, my self-assigned writing task for today is to describe anxiety in a way that reflects the truth yet eschews phrases that may, unfortunately, sound trite.

Here goes…

For me, when anxiety strikes, it is like hearing a knock on the front (or back) door. I assume that when most people hear a knock, they don’t panic-unless of course they have committed a crime and are waiting for the police to show up and arrest them.  Most think that perhaps it is a neighbor wanting to borrow a tool or a cup of sugar, or it could be the UPS carrier delivering a package. But, for a person with anxiety, a knock on the door always generates fear. The knock can mean that, in fact, the police have come to arrest you, although to the best of your knowledge, you have committed no crime. Or it could be someone coming to deliver tragic news. Or a home invader is positioned right outside the threshold. That knock on the door brings terror, and that terror spurs all those physical sensations we are going to avoid in this bit of writing.

What’s important to note here, is that if you suffer from anxiety, there is a constant rapping on your door-it comes in the sunlight, the moonlight and the shadows.

It reminds me of something I experienced as a teenager (true story). My father was a prison warden, and high-level corrections staff and their families were required to live on prison grounds, so, when I was ten years old, we moved onto state property. Our house was one of four built atop a hill.  Behind our homes were miles of forest. In front were fields and on the horizon, one of three prisons. For a child, the experience was what you would imagine-lonely and frightening.

One New Years Eve, my parents went out with my father’s colleagues who lived on the street. My brother was with friends and that left me alone on the hill with my best friend who came over to watch movies. I remember it was after midnight and we were upstairs watching Stand By Me when we heard a rapping on the back door.  We ran downstairs to see who it was, but when I turned on the back light, there was only darkness. Nothing else.  We grabbed knives from the kitchen and waited until my parents returned home.

So that’s it. Someone emerging from the darkness to rap on your door.  That’s anxiety.

A side note: a few months ago, I was startled awake by a rapping on the door. I looked at my phone; it was 3am.  I checked on my children before running downstairs and  peered out the window to find nothing. Just darkness.

 

 

 

Happy

“Are you happy?”

they ask every few months

or so

it goes

that their investment in your well-being

is an investment in their being

well

it is understandable

given that your unhappiness makes them

unhappy

people make conversation uncomfortable

because they address

feelings

are best left unsaid,

best left to settle to the bottom of the

well

it’s dark there,

an appropriate place for dark

thoughts

are thoughts because you keep them to yourself.

You do not share them with people who are

good

people are happy people.

They are bright and light and they avoid people like

you

don’t tell them you are scared and sick and angry and sad

because they could not be

happy

people need you to be happy

too

 

 

 

Lead

My darkness covered you like a blanket weighted with lead.

But I didn’t know.

I didn’t mean to shroud you

with me.

 

In a moment of clarity, I saw it all

the horror of it all

the confusion of good intentions

and miscalculations

and foolish actions

the incapability of a mind full of chaos

to move toward the light.

 

Instead, I carried the heavy weight

of fear

dragging it along

and laying over all I touched

crushing all the good

the hope.

 

And what now

if I lift this leaden blanket laden with all my darkness?

What remains?

The broken remnants of what could have been;

who could have been?

Or is there hope buried beneath the withered remains of possibility?

Let’s Play a Game

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A short story by Heather Nanni

“Hannah,” my mother said, watching me through the rearview mirror. “Think of a name, but don’t tell me what it is. Okay? Did you think of one? Ready?” She waited a minute, glancing back at me and smiling, and then she said, “Blaire.”

I wondered how my mother did it. “Yes, Mommy! Yes! Yes! Do it again. Let’s play again.”

“Okay, Hannah, now remember not to tell me. And be sure not to move your lips. As a matter of fact, why don’t you look out the window? That way I can’t even see your face. All right. Think of a name.” She waited a moment. “Did you think of one? Are you ready?”

“Ready, Mommy.”

“Okay. Here goes.” She made her silly drumroll sound-the one I tried to mimic but couldn’t. “Cindy!”

“Mommy! How do you do that? Again! Again!”

And so the game continued, until my mother had enough. “All right, Hannah. That’s it. Mommy’s tired.”

“Mommy. How did you do it? Tell me how you did it? Is it magic?”

“Hannah, you know there’s no such thing as magic. I’m disappointed at you for even asking. It’s God’s special gift to me.”

“Mommy, do you think God will give me the gift too?”

“No Hannah. Like I said, it’s a special gift from God to me. You have gifts, right? Like the doll I gave you for your birthday? Did Mommy expect a doll too?”

“No Mommy.”

“Well then you can’t expect this gift either.”

That’s how it started. I was six years old when Mom first played the game with me. And, although Mom told me I didn’t have her gift, once, when I was a few years older, I tried to see if she was right. We were having tea together and I said, “Mom, think of a name.”

“Why Hannah?” she asked.

“Because I want to see if I can do what you do.”

But, rather than think of a name, she reached across the table and slapped me in the face. “I told you already! That’s God’s gift to me. You greedy thing!” With that she threw my teacup against the wall, tea and ceramic pieces flying everywhere. After I cleaned the mess, she sent me to my room where I remained until the next morning when she took me to her minister so I could confess my sins. I was eight years old then, and it would be years before I tried my hand at mom’s gift again.

As I got older, mom developed her skills and expanded her repertoire. By the time I was about ten, she no longer limited herself to guessing names. She read my thoughts.

“Hannah, did you like the chicken Mommy made for dinner?

“Hannah, do you like Mommy’s new outfit?”

“Hannah, did you pay attention during today’s sermon?”

My answer was always, “Yes, Mommy,” and her response was invariably, “Oh Hannah. When will you ever stop lying?” Then she would continue with either a reprimand or a beating.

When I was a teenager, I realized my mother was paranoid.

“Hannah, did you tell Kathy about what happened here last night?”

Kathy was my best friend. Of course I told her about what happened the night before. How my mother rolled on the floor and begged God to expel the demons from our house. How she prayed over me, dragged me by the hair and locked me in my bedroom. My mother didn’t wait for me to answer. Instead she punched me on the side of my head and took me to her pastor’s office where they decided it was best to take my phone away and not allow me to see my friends any longer.

Being without friends or any life outside of school gave me a lot of time to study my mother. I learned the only thing that calmed her down after working herself into a frenzy was watching religious videos-mainly of zealot preachers yelling at congregations to repent. One night, she woke me from my sleep and yanked me out of bed. “Did you say your prayers?”

I hadn’t. I had fallen asleep. My mother raised her hand to strike me, and when she did I just closed my eyes and pictured her walking out of my room and going into the living room to watch a video. To my surprise, she lowered her arm and left, and, like a sinner’s sudden realization that Jesus is their Lord and Savior, it came to me­-if I could hold a thought with an image rather than with words, my mother would receive the message without even realizing.

It took a lot of practice and a lot of beatings to perfect my skill. I started small-envisioning a roast chicken rather than asking my mother to make one. It was tricky though. If I allowed the words to slip in-I hope mom makes a roast chicken for dinner-she would hear them.

After about three months, I decided I could put my gift to good use and help my mother manage her meds. She took all sorts of pills-for arthritis, migraines, her heart condition. I got pretty good at visualizing her not taking some, taking too many of others, swallowing entire bottles. One day, in fact, I walked into her room and found her lying on the floor, an empty bottle of heart meds next to her. I never felt so strong in my life. I finally had God on my side.

Of course, I’m nothing like my mother. I would never abuse my gift. Anyway, I’ve got to go and take mom to day care now. She’s never been the same since her unfortunate incident with the pills. She really needs round-the-clock assistance. Looking at her through the rearview mirror, it’s hard to imagine the person she once was.

“Hey Mom. I have an idea. Let’s play a game.”

 

The Monsters in My Bed

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During the day,

I’m equipped to keep the monsters at bay.

But at night, when I’m asleep, I’m helpless.

Naked.

Stripped of saber.

and strategy.

So the monsters crawl under my sheets and, when I wake,

their talons are wrapped around my throat.

 

Sweet dreams are easy.

Sweet awakenings are another story.