the storycurator
stories about real life and creativity

a blog by jan doets

 

When Uncle Willie wrote to me
he would write for them both
and sign his letters
“love from Uncle Willie and Aunt Virginia”

when Aunt Virginia died after a long illness
he signed off with “best wishes from Uncle Willie”
as though his love for me had died too

he became a compulsive traveler
learned Mandarin Chinese
took a trip up the Yangtze river
and became an expert on the classical gardens of Suzhou

postcards with carefully wrought messages
came to me from Western China, Mongolia
from Sri Lanka, Sabah and Surabaya—
and all alone in these distant places
(without Aunt Virginia as a cover
for such overpowering sentiment)
he let the word “ love”
slip quietly from his vocabulary

 

Stuart Dodds

 

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He loves every country but his own
and knows more about the plumbing in Ancient Rome
than what it would take to repair the pipes
under the sink in his house.

He has stood on the rim of Kilauea
and offered flowers to the volcano Goddess

He has been to Ulan Bator and back
yet he cannot summon the energy to telephone
or write to his old Scottish aunt
 
Stuart Dodds

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worse than the fighting
were those times following a violent scene
when my father
offered his hand in friendship

after the hullabaloo—
my mother shouting, my sister crying—
within an hour
it could happen—
an offer of peace

not a direct offer
rather a nervous suggestion
that there was no reason why we could not be friends—
how could he know
that I had learned to enjoy this war
and found it preferable–
its clean lines of battle—
to an uneasy truce?

how could he know
that dodging blows and trading insults
had became for me
(if not for anyone else) a sport?
how could he know
I was touched by his remorse
his desolation
and found it too intense to bear?

 

Stuart Dodds

 

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One minute like a savage cat
and then like butter
a tone of voice
full of respect and caring
for the man you just fought

During that fit of savagery
you lost me
I wont need your solicitude
nor will I retaliate

I will be kind and considerate
and you will go on as usual
and you will never know
the change you wrought

You have made me as wary as you
and as sharp
and you will not have noticed
that closing of the heart—
from now on, I am shutting you out

 

Stuart Dodds

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Weeping may spend the night

 but joy comes in the morning.”

                             –Psalm 30

At first, I thought it was a change of shift—a traumatic event for an ICU patient when the nurse he has come to depend on and nearly fallen in love with, in the course of a long and difficult night, vanishes without warning or farewell and is replaced by a total stranger.

But this was a different kind of commotion, with many new voices and lots of laughter. Adding to my discomfort, a man in the next bed, hidden from me by a curtain, never stopped groaning, quietly for a while to himself then breaking out in full and tragic song. I had asked my nurse about him earlier and she said he wasn’t actually in pain.  She said, “He doesn’t like it here.”  No one, it is true, came rushing to his aid.

My nurse had vanished and the party atmosphere grew louder and louder. It was a situation that occurs sometimes in a workplace, or in certain public places like a restaurant, when people who know each other— who would seem to travel in a pack–come in and take over and because of their social standing or their connection with the establishment are not challenged until they become really obnoxious—and then it takes someone in authority or with nerve to say loudly:  “Excuse me, this is an ICU and we have some very sick patients here who need rest and quiet.”  No such person spoke up.

With limited vision from where I lay, I could see young Indian doctors with stylish three-quarter length white coats speaking with British accents, and nurses who looked more like movie stars than nurses, with inappropriately long hair, although they too were dressed in white.

I not only felt deserted, I was becoming suspicious. I was in need of pain medication and the leads to my heart monitor were tangled up with the IV line. “I need some attention,” I called out to a woman in blue who happened to be passing by.  I wished I had spoken with more authority or that my voice had sounded stronger although it may not have made any difference. She was exceptionally well made up and altogether more glamorous than you would expect a nurse or hospital technician to be at this time of the night, or morning. “A nurse will be with you in a moment,” she said, leaving me with the impression that a new order was in force and nursing was not one of its priorities.

I began to suspect that the entire ICU (at least this ICU for there was talk of another one on the same floor) was being emptied of all real patients and its medical staff in preparation for a performance of some kind, a scene in a film or installment in a television series, and all the new people were actors, directors and crew members.  I wondered about my neighbor whose agonizing drama continued uninterrupted by any hospital care whatsoever and, if, in light of what the nurse had told me about him, he was conforming to a script.  Whatever his role, I had a sense that I was the only real patient left and, as such, I was a problem.  I was made to feel I didn’t belong and felt menaced by the situation. In my worst imaginings, I thought they might try, somehow, to get rid of me, or do me harm.  In my weakened condition, I certainly could not defend myself nor could I get up and walk away.

All of a sudden and without a sound, my nurse, Michelle, appeared at my bedside.  In the early morning sunshine, she looked beautiful—with a blanket wrapped around her shoulders.  She had been sleeping. When Dante Alighieri encountered Beatrice for the second time, after a period of nine years, and she returned his greeting, he could not have been happier than I was that morning to see Michelle with her familiar smile and her tired but friendly dark eyes.  “How we doing?” she said.  I was going to ask her for an explanation of all that had gone on before but decided against it.

My sense of persecution had ceased upon her arrival.  My surroundings had changed too.  All the beds around the room that had seemed empty were full again and the nurses station was alive with normal chatter and the rustling of paper.  There was not a sound from the next bed.  Had my tragedian died and been carried away?

After being made comfortable and presentable—freed from all of my tubes and connections—I was ready to be wheeled into Recovery. On the way, I saw my neighbor for the first time. A nurse sitting at his side was feeding him with a spoon and I waved “Goodbye.” He was grinning from ear to ear and waved back. For him, too, the terrors of the night had passed.

 

Stuart Dodds

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These harbingers of peace and stillness
seem to be helmeted
and armed
their demeanor
in the twilight
is stern

floating across seas
on turtles and sea lions
they have come to cogitate
in these marble halls and corridors
to issue a warning
from the depth of their being—
creatures of reproof
models of calm

having reached a truce in the great struggle
they are not without art—
in the light of dusk
with their weapons sheathed
their bearing holds a certain theatrical menace

captains of thought
and rapt attention
with an arrangement of clothes quite cavalier
quite beautiful
they sit in command of their space
and fill the air with shadows

 

Stuart Dodds

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for Helen Crosby Lewy

The wind howls
blows and recedes
and blows again

French windows strain to bursting point
the house creaks like a ship

a Siamese cat of our acquaintance
with intelligent eyes
looks up for an explanation
at times an adoring cat
at times a perfect stranger

if things get worse, would she run?
would she disappear?
or would she trust us
against the violent storm
draw closer to us for protection
as she sometimes does?

there are moments
when she looks like the Egyptian cat in the museum
with a gold ring in its nose
and powerful sloping shoulders

I would like to ask her
“Are you that cat? Akhenaten’s minister?”

her slate-blue eyes would answer with a steady gaze—
in a fit of pique, she could do anything—
if the storm gets worse, she may side with the storm

 

Stuart Dodds

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Having been kicked upstairs
and given the title of associate editor
Bernie felt cut off
on the editorial floor—
like those who retire to the country
when their life’s work is over
and find it intolerably quiet—
he missed the newsroom and its inhabitants
he missed the excitement
“come up and see me some time,” he’d say
he had made himself so disagreeable when he was city editor
they rarely did

in his long career at the paper
there was almost no one he had not offended
and, for the most part, this change of personality
(the new, cordial Bernie) left them confused

If management’s idea was for him to become bored and leave,
the plan worked…
at his retirement party
(he took one of the buy-outs)
I watched him in conversation with his newsroom replacement
a more congenial sort who laughed a lot
and a conniver of the first order
who may well have engineered Bernie’s “promotion”—
when he told Bernie that he, David, was “a people person”
the look on the older man’s face
a look of disbelief
and non-comprehension (his stock-in- trade over the years)
was the picture of him I would keep…
the old Bernie I would miss

Stuart Dodds

 

 

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Shame likes an audience
and a red face
guilt runs deeper
and needs no audience
it works in the dark
and its face is lined with sorrow
one makes you cower
the other cringe
both have a place
on the Wheel of Suffering
and they alternate shifts
shame has the day shift
and guilt the night
one is a slave to opinion
the other to Original Sin

Stuart Dodds

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I have walked into a ring of enchantment
and cannot leave
your hair blown by the wind
your fragrance
your encircling arms

a rush of confusion and desire
a tidal force
drawing me in

could you not hold me further away
for a time
turn off this power you have
one night
so I can come to you?

let us start again

like the guests in the Buñuel film
when they return to their former positions in the room
and Bianca returns to  the piano
to a sonata of Paradisi

Bianca breaking the spell—
they are free
(for a while)
to walk in the open air

let us have the forbearance to go back
to that moment when we met
to the moment when this turmoil began

 

Stuart Dodds

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