I always say that everybody has something. I’d like to say that I have a bird’s nest full of tangles in my hair and a big butt, which is true, but I also have a condition. My doctor says “you are not sick, you have a condition”. Well ladies and gentlemen my “condition” sometimes makes me feel like crap. I don’t want to be pitied for it. I don’t want to be defined by it, but sometimes, damn it to hell, it’s hard to put on a happy face and walk with grace.
Married in ’95. Diagnosed with MS in ’96. You can guess the rest. Today I am blessed with a wonderful son, a man who writes poetry so beautifully I wish I wrote half as well, and some days it’s still hard not to think I’m broken. On those days it’s a challenge to write.
I took an “Industrial Poetry” class from the brilliant Brendan Constantine, who is my idea of a cross between rock star and royalty. For one of our assignments he gave us each a gift-wrapped box. I don’t even remember the assignment exactly. I think it was to write about “the unknown”. We were not allowed to unwrap the box until we were on the second page of our poem.
I wrote the poem below. I never unwrapped the box. Brendan said I was his only student who had never opened it. I talk about this poem a lot, because I read it one night, and at the break a woman came up to me and said “I’m sick”. I said “I am too”. She said “I never talk about it”. I said “I don’t either”.
And I guess that’s a huge part of why I write.
Do I wish I were 100% all the time? I’d be a liar if I didn’t say yes. But I wouldn’t have connected with that one woman, who may never have told anyone and who may have hurt more than I do, both in body and in spirit.
So please read the poem below if you’d like. It’s not very good but it’s a look into my window. Think of me trying to get the tangles out of my hair while I think of more words to write and wonder what’s not going to work today. And damn, if I could just wear heels one more time…
You can sing, and you do, but you can’t raise your arms.
You can raise your arms
tall, glorious stretches,
but you can’t sing.
You have no balance.
You wear heels all day and put on taller heels that night,
remember what it was like
to punch holes with your stilletos in the roof
of Jimmy’s car after the dance,
after a little sloe gin
before your curfew
You can’t swallow.
You can’t taste
but you can swallow.
Words fly away.
You know they’ll come back,
you just have to be patient
Did someone sit on your glasses?
Did someone turn up the sun?
If you close your eyes at the red light,
you’ll fall asleep. But you have to pee.
You know where every ladies room
is in the 2 miles between work and home.
In case you can’t make it.
“9’s don’t want to type.
You write poems with strange extra spaces,
You leave the spaces i n.
You can feel your fingertips
so you change your earrings.
The backs on the moonstones
are too awkward but the diamonds
go on nicely.
You can still feel your fingertips
so you change your necklace.
And on and on…
Tobi Cogswell is a two-time Pushcart nominee. She has been widely published, both nationally and internationally, on-line and in print. She is the co-publisher and co-editor of San Pedro River Review (www.sprreview.com). She sometimes feels sorry for herself, but as her son tells her to do when she gets a rejection…”say screw them, take off your bra and eat candy!” She recommends this whole-heartedly.