Archive for the ‘No Shame in Survival’ Category

Rage

June 13, 2008

I rage like a rising river

Bursting my banks

Flooding my plains

Not to be contained.

 

I rage like a cancer

Infecting a body

Wasting tissues

Destroying cells.

 

I rage like a farmer

When my crop is ruined.

I can’t feed my children –

Helpless, hungry, prayers unheard –

 

I seek a bullet to make piece.

 

Kerry Vincent © 1993 (When the Mississippi River was flooding)

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The Lost Child

June 13, 2008

Still as the roots of a tree she sits, staring off into space.  She holds her sadness close to her, like a beloved doll or teddy bear.  She shows no emotion, but she rubs her thumb roughly back and forth over her index finger constantly.  Each memory is a stinging slap on her cheek, a hot poker on her bare skin.

 

Years before someone had commanded, “Leave her alone, she’s dead.”  So she walked away from herself, from her own childhood, nevermore to return.  She grieves alone, in silence now, not sure what she has lost, but missing it all the same.

 

The child she left behind is still asking for her help, for someone to listen, for someone to comfort her, to believe her, to make the monsters go away.  She tells the girl to be quiet – no one cares.  “Quit crying.  Don’t be a baby.”

 

Every now and then, she lets the little one sit with her, coloring pictures are her feet.  As long as she is good and quiet and doesn’t ask for anything.  If she speaks, the child is shoved back in the closet again.

 

She says she doesn’t know any little girls, never has, doesn’t want to.  She doesn’t like children.  No one would want her for a mother.  Maybe, someday, she could love a child – be kind and nurturing – if caring did not hurt so much – or feel like a weakness – if love did not seem so impossible – and especially, if the little girl, did not look so much like her mother.

by Kerry Vincent (c) 1993

against the current

June 11, 2008

 

Dredging the river

For a lost soul

An innocent child

Drowned long ago.

 

Swallowed up

By lies and fears

Sucked under

Held fast.

 

Her frail and lifeless body:

Bloated, bruised, pale.

Watchers turn away.

 

* * * * * * * *

 

…Downstream

Other children

Wade and swim,

Splashing,

Laughing,

Unaware…

 

By Kerry Vincent © 1993

 

 

 

 

 

Ivylene

June 11, 2008

“Lie still and Daddy won’t hurt you,” says 84-year-old Ivylene, over and over again.  Memories of childhood abuse are part of her, like the cascade of wrinkles around her eyes and mouth.

 

Ivylene hid her pain for the greater part of a century, but when her defenses broke down at the Shadyville Nursing Home, “Lie still and Daddy won’t hurt you,” was the first thing she had to say.  What does it matter who knows now?  Ivylene had out-lived her father-abuser; he died at 49 of cirrhosis of the liver.  Her mother is also dead; she can no longer shame Ivylene, for telling strangers about the family secret.  She never even told her children, who could not understood why Mother was so nervous, why the least noise disturbed her sleep.

 

Maybe now, after all these wasted years of agony and silence and shame, Ivylene can confess her secret, and find a way to forgive herself for having been a helpless child.  If only someone would listen to the old lady and take her seriously.

 

Perhaps the stain is too deep, like the yellow on her fingers from decades of smoking.  She mutters to herself, and tries to be quiet, but when someone comes close to her bed, she yelps like a kicked beagle.

 

By Kerry Vincent © 1993

spirit animal

June 10, 2008
Ar-ar-ar-ROO!!!!!!!!!!!!!
(Sorry, that’s my best online howl.)
Coyote is my spirit animal and it seems I am always howling about something…
I howl to be heard, to make contact with the rest of my pack.
I howl because I feel hurt and I see hurt and I can’t always make it go away.
I howl because I am angry at the meanness I see in the world.
I howl because I take everything so seriously – but then – thankfully – my mischievious, playful nature takes over and my howl turns into a barking laugh.  I transform my pain into creative energy, then “go into my studio and make something!”
 
In Southwestern Native American stories, Coyote is the Trickster, who sees life as funny, sad, wise, and silly, all at the same time.  Like Raven in other tribe’s stories, Coyote is a shapeshifter, often a messenger the gods send to raise awareness.  In college I considered myself a socratic gadfly – always asking unpopular questions.  In my jobs over the years, I am often the one saying, “But that’s not right.”  (And being told if I can’t play along, I “can go excel somewhere else.”)  I currently work for the Department of Defense – and I drive through the security checkpoints blasting John Lennon on my CD player, “All we are saying, is giove peace a chance.” 
 
Coyote is open to multiplicity and paradox, always striving for the balance between risk and safety.  Coyote sees the dichotomies – and points them out.  “The Emperor Has No Clothes” could be a trickster tale.    I believe in “the wierdness of life” – and it never disappoints me! 
 
This doesn’t mean I always enjoy the role of outsider, of “prophet unwelcome in her own land”.  Many times I speak up, but I am trembling when I do so.  But I do it anyway because I believe, “Your silence will not save you.”   I spoke up about the family secret, my childhood abuse, and made people uncomfortable.  But, as Audre Lorde said, “When I dare to be powerful – to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.”
 
But I am a bit of a clown, too – hopefully a wise fool.  I love stories of how people overcome pain with laughter.  I wrote a book called The Condom Queens, about HIV-AIDS education in a rural, conservative community.  On the request of one of the persons living with AIDS who provided insight, it includes lots of humor.  He said, “We may be sick, but we still like to laugh.” 
 

“Many native traditions held clowns and tricksters as essential to any contact with the sacred. People could not pray until they had laughed, because laughter opens and frees from rigid preconception. Humans had to have tricksters within the most sacred ceremonies for fear that they forget the sacred comes through upset, reversal, surprise. The trickster in most native traditions is essential to creation, to birth”. (Wikipedia)

Byrd Gibbens, Professor of English at University of Arkansas at Little Rock; quoted epigraph in Napalm and Silly Putty by George Carlin, 2001

 

I am proud to take Coyote as my spirit animal – the wise fool, the sometimes silly sage.  If you are driving along and see a yellow dog hanging her head out the window of a passing car, howling or laughing, it might be me, Coyote Kerry!

  

 
  

Make a Wish!

May 21, 2008

Make a Wish!

 

We have a cake, candles, and gathered guests. We sing “Happy Birthday to

 

Bryan!”, but the birthday boy is nowhere in sight. It is St. Patrick’s Day. While others

 

are drinking green beer, we are having a birthday party for her little boy.

 

I look at Gloria, Bryan’s mother, my best friend. Her hands and her dreadlocks

 

are shaking, her eyes wet, but she is smiling. 1 am thankful that she is holding up.

 

Gloria and I met twenty years ago, when we worked for a power-hungry

 

television evangelist who fleeced his flock and mistreated his staff. We quit, but we kept

 

in touch with occasional calls and Christmas cards. A few years ago, we discover we are

 

both in therapy to deal with our childhood sexual abuse. We decide to start getting

 

together once a week as an informal support group. Who knew she will help me through

 

coming out as a late-blooming lesbian, leaving my unhappy eighteen-year marriage, or

 

that I will soon be helping her?

 

When Gloria becomes pregnant, I worry. She will be a single mom, barely able to make it financially, even though she works two jobs. How will she raise a child? But she is determined to find a way.

 

I offer to be her labor coach. When I get the call to meet Gloria at the hospital, I leave a

 

meeting with a vice-president that it has taken me two weeks to arrange. But when I arrive, Gloria

 

tells me that her sonogram says something is wrong with the baby. The doctor comes in and asks if they can induce labor and if she will agree to an emergency cesarean section if needed. “Anything to

 

help my son,” she says.

 

But all the procedures in the world cannot help. Bryan has Chromosome 18 damage,

 

A condition insurance adjusters call “Trainwreck.” Nearly every one of his vital systems has

 

something seriously wrong with it. I call a nurse friend. She informs me the baby does not have a

 

chance. How can I tell Gloria?

 

I stay with her through labor, scrub, enter the delivery room, but am asked to

 

leave while they do the C-section. I pray the baby will at least have a face. God is

 

merciful: Bryan is a pretty little boy with soft, curly hair and all his fingers and toes. His

 

big dark eyes, so full of pain, are the only clue that his insides are hopelessly scrambled.

 

I have never seen a newborn who looks so exhausted. They rush him to the neo-natal

 

nursery.

 

Next I pray that Bryan will at least live through the night, till Gloria’s anesthetic

 

wears off, so she can hold him and name him. That wish also granted, I pray that somehow the

 

doctors can cure Bryan’s life-threatening conditions.

 

But I run out of miracles. God is not a genie who grants three wishes. Even

 

though Gloria will be a loving, deserving mother, even though she has given her heart

 

and body, Bryan will not survive. Her only baby’s breath never rises above God’s softest

 

whisper.

 


I know Bryan will not live much longer, so I overcome my shyness, lie my way

 

into the neo-natal nursery, bringing my partner, who is a photographer, to take pictures

 

for Gloria.

 

The next morning, when Gloria awakens, the nurses bring Bryan to her. He is

 

hooked up to life support devices, barely alive. She cradles him in her arms long enough

 

to name him, read one story, sing one song, give one good-night kiss.

 

Sometimes, even a mother’s love is not enough.

 

The medical staff call me and Gloria’s therapists she has no family to be with

 

her when they withdraw life support. Gloria hugs Bryan and sings, in a splintering voice,

 

a last lullaby, “Jesus loves me, this I know…” She kisses him and whispers good-bye.

 

Bryan dies quietly, in his mother’s arms, in a roomful of love and prayers.

 

Gloria cannot let go of Bryan, despite the nurse’s coaxing. She clings to him for

 

half hour, then tearfully passes him to me so I can say good-bye, too. I hold my friend’s child and tell

 

him, “Your mama loves you and wants you so much. We’re going to miss taking you to the zoo and

 

out on walks.” Bryan does not mind the tears that fall on his face. I touch his tiny starfish hand, feel

 

his nubby baby toes through the cotton gown, kiss his fine hair. It is too late for my usual incantation

 

for newborns, “Don’t let anyone abuse this baby!”

 

When the nurse takes her son to the morgue, Gloria rocks, wailing, keening: “My

 

baby! My poor little baby is gone!” I have never heard such raw grief or felt so

 

inadequate. Gloria shakes and weeps and finally has to be sedated.

 

 

Bryan’s casket is no bigger than a shoebox, set adrift in the backseat of a big blue

 

Oldsmobile. I witness his burial because Gloria is still in the hospital. Someone has to

 

see where the grave is dug. The plain wooden box is lowered down. I say a prayer, drop

 

a white rose tied with a blue ribbon and a letter telling him how much he is loved and

 

missed.

 

Gloria grieves Bryan’s death for weeks. I want to help, but I cannot bring her

 

baby back. I call every day to make sure she is all right. I loan her some money when

 

she quits her job she cannot face working in a daycare again. I want to fix things for my

 

friend, but it is impossible. Gloria tells me that just being there for her, and listening, is

 

enough.

 

Bryan lived just twenty-two hours. He changed our lives forever. He taught us

 

that you don’t have to be perfect to be loved. You don’t have to live a long life to make a

 

difference. You don’t have to do great feats just be yourself. You can be angry at God

 

and not be struck down.

 

Years have passed. We have tried to let go and move on. Gloria took a

 

break from childcare but is working in her field again. Nowadays when Gloria sees a

 

child Bryan’s age, she can smile without trembling or tearing up. We still get together to talk about

 

our jobs, significant others, storytelling, and the play about child abuse we performed in last spring.

 

Holidays are painful – we guess what presents we would have bought Bryan this Christmas, what he

 

might have wanted this birthday.

 

 

           Of course, we still wonder why. Gloria wants to know why God took her little  

boy. I want to know why God gives healthy children to careless mothers and takes them  

from loving ones. We are learning to live without the answers. We are slowly healing,

 

but we are learning that healing is a lifelong process.

 

God does not outline lessons on some celestial chalkboard.

 

Bryan taught us that love hurts, but is worth the pain. That friendship is being

 

there, giving each other support, like a loom woven with joys and the sorrows. Like his

 

mother, Bryan was a soft-spoken teacher, who taught us that life, even just twenty-two

 

hours, is too precious to take for granted.

 

For most children, birthday parties are a ritual of growing up. For us, Bryan’s

 

birthday party is a celebration to remember a baby boy who touches our hearts still. We

 

blow out the candles and make a wish.

 

(based on a real life experience in 1995) (c) Kerry Vincent

letting go

May 19, 2008

 

Shall I continue to top off

My tall water glass of sadness?

Or wave the waiter on,

Saying, “No, thanks, I’m fine.”

 

Shall I hold my bitterness tight,

Clenched like a handful of sand?

Or open my palm and let it go,

Let it become one with the wind?

 

Shall I clutch my memories to me,

Like a sad corsage turning brown?

Or send my thoughts off like scouts,

Looking for new adventures?

 

Shall I take my chances like Icarus,

Flying too close to the sun?

Or maybe I’ll burn like a phoenix on fire,

And rise again from my ashes?

Valkyrie’s Prayer

May 7, 2008

A web of weird is cast –

Three sisters weave the wick:

Clothos, who spins the thread of human life,

Lachesis, who determines the length,

And Atropos, who cuts the thread of the quick.

Twisting raw fibers,

They form a cocoon,

Over and under, around and through:

They proclaim my fate and raise an alarm:

A mortal soul is born!

Mine is a cloth torn from the loom

As the spirits whirl and dance,

Chortling with glee.

Random misery is my lot –

I cannot escape the gods’ own curse.

I dwell in a cloud of blackness,

My innocence plucked from my youth.

Cancer of sorrow sprouts like a fungus

In the dank undergrowth of my mind.

Tangled, ensnared, choked by the ropes,

I claw at the garrote and pray,

“Great Norns, transform me!

Let me become uroboros,

Declaring, like the Scots queen,

‘In my end is my beginning.’”

 

Kerry Vincent © 1992

i remember…

May 7, 2008

* * * * * * *

      Only a name.  Only a name and a piece of cloth.  Only a name and a piece of cloth to remember someone who lived and loved, someone who died of HIV-AIDS.

            This is the second time I will view a Names Project AIDS Memorial Quilt exhibit.  I take a deep breath and begin the slow walk around the huge gymnasium.  Bright panels of leather and lame’, denim and sequins, hand-blocked letters remind me that persons with AIDS are more than Center for Disease Control statistics:  each one has a name and a personality and someone who will miss them.

            I recognize Ryan White’s name, but the panel that strikes me most displays simple yellow letters on black felt.  It says, “My name is Duane.  I was born in 1964.  I was diagnosed with AIDS in 1987.  By the time you read this, I will be dead.”

            A square of canvas and markers are provided so viewers can sign a quilt panel.  I see the name of someone I knew, Helena Henry Hatch, a fellow volunteer.  I went to her funeral.  Always dedicated to education and prevention, Helena requested that condoms be distributed for free after her funeral service. 

I write, “You teach me to honor the present.”

          Someone else has written, “Love is never wrong,” and “Love is not in vain.”

            My friend Jerry says hello and shows me the panel he sewed for his buddy Larry.  I give Jerry a hug and tell him I love him.  Jerry is caring, creative, talented, intelligent, he knew Janis Joplin during the original Summer of Love, and he is HIV +.  I don’t want to lose Jerry, too.  Ever the caregiver, he hands me a tissue.

            I tell Jerry, “You will always be more than just a number, just a name on a piece of cloth.”

            He kisses my forehead and thanks me for coming to honor his friends.

 

* * * * * * * *

AUTHOR’S NOTE:

I wrote this piece about 15 years ago.  Jerry died in 1999.  I made his panel for the Names memorial quilt.

Kerry

When I Turn 40

May 7, 2008

By Kerry Vincent © 1992

 

When I turn 40,

You’d better duck!

I won’t waste time

And I won’t give a fuck!

When I turn 40,

Get out of my way.

I won’t be pleasant

And I’ll have my say.

If you don’t like it

I won’t really care.

If you don’t believe me,

Just test my dare.

Mid-life is half-life,

I’ve got no time to lose!

No more pleasing others:

It’s MY time to choose!

“Life begins at 40” –

Or so I’ve heard say.

Why wait till then?

I’ll start living today!