Sunday, December 26, 2004

POEM: Mystery of Ice

The funny thing
About ice
Is how
Without studying
Or thermo-dynamic physics
It stands with arms crossed
across its chest,
And how it defiantly
Makes geography;

How it can take river water
Gathered like sugar along
The banks,
Firmly direct
water which is not convinced
it even needs to become ice

When warmer air
Skids over its slick skin,
How it squiggles
Like a garden hose,
two children making a mess

defining a geography
of youth
that is the mud of spring.

Dec 2004

Saturday, December 25, 2004


The music in the car on the way to the hospital was interesting. First, Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds”: “don’t worry/about a thing/cuz every little thing/ gonna be alright”.
That was followed by Warren Zevon’s “Poor Poor Pitiful Me”. I have to admit I was feeling it, if just a little.
But when we got to the O.R. prep room, they piped in music and Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water” wafted through the quasi private beds in the prep room. This was my Dad’s favorite song. I was only a week away from the 30th anniversary of his death.

There are no coincidences. I was not alone and I really wasn’t nervous, just anxious to get it done with, get it over.

In the prep room the nurse asked me questions and had me get into a paper flimsy Johnny. “Can I leave the skivvies on?” wincing at the word “skivvies” – no one calls underwear skivvies these days. Bonehead.

“Nice try!” the nurse responds, and I go commando tightening the Johnny around as tight as I could for some sort of privacy.

Steve and Chris came I after that and kept me company. It was great having them there, especially Steve. I know how much he hates hospitals but I also know how much it meant to Chris to have him there. Soon after that, Chris’ sister, Judy arrived and yes, we were now officially a “scene”. Can you imagine if my out of state family had driven up as they warned they might? I’d have been blacklisted from the hospital for sure.

Across from me was a frail looking elderly woman, with blue-white hair. Her bony body was covered up beneath the blanket but I could see how the Johnny hung off her making her arms look like the clapper of a bell, flailing with all the space and the large roominess the Johnny provides. I think about the things we are taught as kids about modesty and propriety, and how this all disappears in a hospital. The old woman is chatting nervously but causally with an older middle aged man, presumably her son. I could almost see her trying to sell me chances to the next St. Anthony’s festival for her local church parish. She wore an oversized blue cap which clashed with her wrinkled alabaster skin.

Next to her was a larger man who was being prepped for open heart surgery. He was extraordinarily hairy and since they were cracking his chest, they had to shave him. They pulled the privacy curtain around him and began. The droning continued for what had to be 15 minutes. Steve looked over to me and muffled a laugh. I knew what he was thinking. After a while, after we had all grown immune to the bee-like hum of the surgical razor, I heard the man being shaved exclaim in a dark, mocha baritone, “I think we’re starting a small brush fire here!”

The whole O.R. prep room broke up with laughter. Steve almost lost it and I laughed out loud. My nurse also shook her head with a grin that scooped across her face. At least there would be laughter going into this.

It occurred to me then how the lot that was assembled in this room were the beneficiaries of today’s magic. These men and women – doctors and nurses – were going to be lopping off organs, cracking open ribs, dipping their hands into the deepest innermost regions of human beings. I wondered if any of my soul would be lost, allowed to escape into the ether as I lay there inside out to the airborne world. I thought about how years ago, these same men and women would be tried for witchcraft, and magic and all sorts of savagery.

Gathered in this room was the pinnacle of human medical need and medical technology and know how.

Flying was once an interface of the unknown: it took a special sort of courage to fly across the continent. We now board flights hourly across the world with little more concern than whether or not our luggage will reach our planned destination. Likewise, these surgeons require a different sort of courage, but again, so much has been made mundane: it is the routine that belies the “hardness” of it. Maybe, I think, it is just another form of ritual that glides our way in the modern world.

Soon the anesthesiologist stops by: he is a square man with a round shiny head, and seems incapable of wearing a smile. His job was to administer the epidural which took him two attempts after lots of pricking and having my shoulders and upper body held back by a smaller more pleasing appearing black man named Josh.

I didn’t mind the square smile-less doctor missing the mark, thought I have to say, he reached new levels of pain with each prick of the needles. I did mind that the guy never cracked a smile. Maybe he was new. Maybe he was nervous. I’d heard most anesthesiologists were hoots! Comes from the fact that maybe they’d partaken of some of the nitrous they seemed to be able to get their licensed hands on.

No, a sense of humor makes us better at what we do, I believe and even if it doesn’t? it helps us fake it until we make it much smoother.

It was smart, however, to get the epidural in correctly right from the start. This was my instinct, as I figured this was going to control the pain – along with every other bodily function below my waist for the next few days – it had to be right.

The prep room was a flurry of activity. I saw Dr.”C” only once, dressed smartly in a black turtleneck and black pea coat. I remember his outfit because the dark colored outfit contrasted brilliantly with his sliver hair and white, taut trim beard. He came in to crack a few jokes (“The left kidney right?” – it was the right he was too remove – to which I responded, “okay, is that MY right or YOUR right?”
He autographed my RIGHT flank, to indicate where he would cut, and then he disappeared to get dressed for surgery.

Soon they wheeled me in. I gave Chris and Judy and Steve hugs and kisses and I just saw hands moving all around me. No one even acknowledged my presence in the room. Then, out of nowhere, a clear mask came over my nose and mouth and I was gone.

I slept a dreamless sleep. It was like a moonless, starless night. Nothing. I was hoping for some good dreams.

My first vision was the clock and I was trying to do the math in my head. I knew I had gone in sometime after noon and I was trying to read the clock, then compute the math. Was it done? Or did I horribly and accidentally wake up in the middle of the operation? Dr. “C” was standing in front of me shouting, “IT WAS CANCER! WE GOT IT” and me feebly giving him the thumbs up, then in my typically idiosyncratically way, thinking, “Do you suppose he thought I meant the “thumbs up” as though I was saying, ‘Yay, Cancer!’?”

Even with allthat anesthesia, my mind just wouldn’t cut me any slack. I swear, I’m hopeless. I stopped worrying what Dr. “C” might think about my “political stance on cancer”, and fell back to sleep but not before asking for my family. I was at least conscious enough to ask that correctly.

The procedure took a little longer than anticipated, but only because they had misplaced the film (which I had actually brought with me to prevent this very thing from happening). Also, the cancer was deeper than he had estimated from the film. He went back twice to scoop out more and more kidney until he could be sure he was dealing with clean tissue. He did frozen sections on each scoop until he had what he felt was a clean section – about 1/3 of my right kidney altogether.

The cancer was gone and I felt like packed cotton: tight, bound, and really no pain. There was an IV in my right arm.
All that kept playing through my head was: “The cancer is gone! The Cancer is gone!”

But for how long?

I am reminded of that Lakota Sioux line: “Sometimes I go about pitying myself, and all the while I am being carried on great wings across the sky.” That’s what I feel like right now. At this moment, I am just one small idiot not blessed, but acutely aware that I am at one point of a cycle that can sometimes be not so forgiving, and not seem so “spiritual”. Will I feel as grateful and humble when the other side of that wheel comes around? I have done nothing to either deserve getting this cancer, nor have I done a thing that warranted its random finding and eventual cure. I am a fool if I think otherwise.

I grip the ropes tighter, enjoy the now, and am aware of the wheel making its way around. Give me the grace to bear with that, when it comes, as abundantly as I have been given this grace, here today. That is all I ask.

Einstein once said: “There are two ways to view the world: as if everything in it is a miracle, or as if everything is not a miracle.” I have chosen the former. And even if this cancer comes back, and I am fighting again, won’t that be miraculous? And when I am asked to face the struggle that is the condition of mankind, won’t that be wonderous?

God, please just give me the strength to remember this. And if you are my friends, I expect nothing else but for you to remind me of this.

M C Biegner 2004

Friday, December 24, 2004

POEM: Christmas Eve Morning Poem

What does the cold morning bring to me?

The frigid gull in gentle glide,

a maizey kind of morning light

tossed to the floor like a rug.

A quiet like the first sign of breath

A deep drunk inside my head,

Spreading fingers to massage

the empty spaces in me.

What does the fragile sparrow bring to me?

New light feeding,

And new Love breeding,

Let us all practice salvation, starting today!

So that what shies from us this December

May soon grow tall and strong.

Monday, December 20, 2004

POEM: William

Tell me William,
as you thrash in your bed, next to mine
you unlash faith in the darkness
uncoiling it like a spool of fishing line,
curled up as a human ball
naked wrists rubbed raw
by leather restraints and
gargling the softest kind of loneliness -
what brings us here together?
if the heart is the source of all knowledge,
then what does a broken one reveal?
what do you make known
in slurred speech
and dignity held soft
and quiet and out of sight?

Who is it that loves you?
and wonders how you are?
here, life unfolds behind a one way mirror -

what is it we offer to each other, here
tonight - now -
and how can i ever feign
the lonesome sunrise anymore?

Friday, December 10, 2004

Dear Writing It Up in the Garden Castaways

We sit here on the cusp of a holiday respite and it is December. Despite what Eliot wrote, April cannot even begin to hold a candle to December in the type of cruelty months can dole out.

I am a week away from major surgery and while I am aware this is only a bit riskier than, say, driving without my seat belt - well, okay, maybe it is a bit higher risk than this – my superstitions still get the best of me sometimes. Thirty years ago, nearly to the day, my father died in December, at age 48 – my age. Two years ago – again, very nearly to the day, I suffered a heart attack. And then of course, there is the anniversary of John Lennon’s death, which I am still struggling to come to terms with.

I am remembering my father tonight and there are strange spirits moving in the air. I don’t mean to give in to hyperbole or melodrama, but tonight, I just want to say something to the group – something that should be said, because none of us knows what tomorrow may bring.

Yes, I called us the “castaways” because it occurred to me how much like castaways we really are. We all started this journey on a 3-hour tour seeking God-only-knows-what and we find ourselves here, deposited on the shores of this airy and warm Victorian home in Northampton, Massachusetts.

Driving home from work tonight my mind raced making connections it had no business making.

Elizabeth, of course, would be all Mary Ann – she is as sweet as any country Kansas farm girl – real or fictional. But then so would Gail and Nerissa, who also have some decidedly “Professor-like” qualities, being so smart and steadfast. There is no question that we would have Daniel as our “Skipper”. His writing voice commands respect; it demonstrates knowledge of where to go and what to do.

Merideth and Tommy are like those cannibals that came from neighboring islands from time to time, banging coconut shell drums to make music and offer to whisk us away, only to have their plans foiled at the last minute when the evening ends and the group must retire for the evening to the “other world”.

John, of course, would have to be “Lovey” – not for any real reason except the thought of it is so surreal, it just fits with his writing style.

Charette – or as I prefer to think of her, the “Monet of Narrative” – would have to be the glamorous “Ginger”, though I have serious doubts that Ginger could ever push a noun against a verb the way Charette does.

And I would dearly like to proclaim Tom Duffy as sweet as any “Marry Ann” though I suspect he might move away from me slightly in the circle. Beside, he has some definite “Professor” tendencies also,

Then of course, there is me. I am the hapless “Gilligan”, sitting here week after week in my goofy red cons, hatching plans in my head which believe me, really do make sense in my head, until I verbalize the ideas, and I get these sideways looks, the way the RCA Victor’s dog’s head is tilted listening to his master's voice from an old victrola.

No doubt about it, we are Castaways. We are purposefully marooned here each week to feed whatever it is that makes us need to write. Sometimes, when K-Fucked radio is turned up loud in my head, I hate my writing. I think how to the untrained eye we must seem like just a bunch of crazies sitting in a circle, sucking on tea and cookies, engaging in a self delusional form of mass masturbation of the most indulgent nature.

This of course, makes me think of that Woody Allen line “don’t knock masturbation, it’s sex with the person I love the most.”

But it’s not really like that. Not really. That’s just the K-Fucked radio talking.

Look at Cody, the dog. You know how he barks when you enter the room? He just wants to be noticed and I find that so honest I have to lean over and just pet him. I mean, he barks just to get attention. Maybe I should start that practice. It’s much simpler than all the Machiavellian plots I devise to accomplish the same goal. And in the end, that’s all writing is about too, isn’t it? We are all born in isolation and living is that expression outward to making contact. We are all here, barking like Cody, to be noticed.

And somehow, this is a comforting thought. Good old Cody.

When I go back to the “real world”, I realize what a haven we have created here and the partly it’s because none of us really knows how it was done. Oh yes, there are lots of reasons, but like the best things in life, I am finding, these things just are, and we discover them, like stumbling over our shoes under our bed in the night. We don't create them.

Just as when the “Gilligan’s Island” castaways found themselves out of place in the real world when they finally did get rescued (do you remember watching that special episode?) I suspect each of us finds ourselves just a bit out of sorts Friday mornings.

So what I mean to say is that none of us knows what the tide will wash up on our shores tomorrow, so this is why we keep at it. Tonight I am thinking of my dad, thinking of how much worse it could be, counting my blessings like a farmer counts his harvest in the fall. Still, I find myself sticking my one foot in that door of “but why me?” just a little. Some things just aren’t right, and this is one of them.

I’m not afraid of dying, not that I believe I will die (pain is a whole other question however!) I am tyrannically afraid of not telling those around me how important they are in my life It’s something I’ve had to work at, this overwhelming force which prevents what is inside me from filling the four corners of the night sky. So here, with utter abandon, and complete foolishness I want you all to know – those here now and those who have built their little palm huts in the past and have moved on - how privileged I am to share this island with each of you. How your writing and sparkle have made my days pass with less sturm und drang; how, in the words of Peter to Jesus in one of the Gospels during the transfiguration, “it is good to be here.” Verily, I say.

And while maybe our writing has not been catalogued with ISBN numbers, nor reviewed by any scholarly rag, and no one has asked me for that book tour quite yet, what we do is important. What we have found is the very thing we all seek in everything we do: we have found family.

So how about we give up a hug and split a cocoanut?

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Loose Ends

For Charrette (To Infinity and Beyond)

There are the loose ends
That are the details of a life
Frayed in chaos
They are tears that are
Really just promises;
You watch bewildered one garment
Start to unravel.

You learn how
It's these tattered ends
Which make the new garment:
The sound of a baby,
New constellations,
Revitalized courage
And the strongest kind of love.

Dec 2004