[image description: Tahlia Day’s wonderful cover art for the Strange Horizons 1 May 2017 issue; an abstract greyscale piece of rippling currents and dotted lines in beautiful swirling patterns, something like looking from above at a topographic map of a storm.]
cw: death, terminal illness, suicide mention, Sagamihara, poetry
I had a poem published in Strange Horizons recently. You can read it on their website here, in the 1 May 2017 issue. They’re a wonderful source of diverse & nuanced speculative fiction and there are some beautiful pieces published alongside mine in the same issue. I wrote CRADLE THE SEED last year, while in a dark place that I am not entirely sure I have escaped from. It’s a poem that tries to be many things at once – a plea for help, a prayer to dead gods, a premature requiem for myself, an attempt at coming to peace with my death & regaining hope for my life.
It’s an understatement to say that it’s difficult to live with an unpredictable terminal illness. I have been intimately acquainted with death my whole life & thought I understood my relationship with it, the fear and the longing, but my diagnoses & the rapid degeneration of my health has pulled everything into terrifying focus for me. The fear is overwhelming because it derives from the unknown. At once I have the certainty of my death and the uncertainty of exactly when it will strike. My heart stops frequently. My MCAS seems to react to the entirety of the known universe, so just about anything can send me into anaphylactic shock without warning.
For a time last year I thought that I could defeat the fear by taking control of my own death, choosing the time & form, relieving my loved ones of the burden of my crippled existence and the inevitable trauma of my unexpected demise. I am so very glad to say that I was terribly wrong. My crippled existence is not a burden but a gift. I still spend perhaps too much of my time attempting to support my loved ones through the anticipatory grief of my death, but the fact is that when I die, I die, and I will not be around to help them through it, and my energy is better spent devoted to my life rather than my death.
Last year, in August, Jess Jacobs died. She was a professional patient advocate and health innovator. She was 29. She had two of the same diagnoses that I do: Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome and Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome. The two are often comorbid. Jess and I weren’t friends, and we did not know each other well. We were in several EDS online communities together. Sometimes I commented on her selfies. EDS is a brutal condition, especially the vascular type, and we lose our own far too frequently; just about every day my online communities are notified of someone’s death, or we have a suicide scare, or people just disappear. I don’t know why Jess’s death hit me so hard the way it did. It was very shortly after the Sagamihara massacre. It was a few months after my first episode of respiratory arrest due to a dislocated first rib wandering into my trachea & carotid artery – my first emergency visit. One of Jess’s last blog posts ended with an image bearing the text ANTES DE MORIR QUIERO VIVIR, the translation of which she directed towards a colleague in a postscript. “P.S.” she said: “Before I die, I want to live.”
This poem is for Jess.
Cradle the seed in your hands.
Cup the spark. Oh old gods please
do not let this brightness gutter.
Let me constellate filled with
brilliance insangelous let me be
stars let me be the last fading heat
of sinking sunset gilt and honeyed.
Let me luminate let me soften
and melt like glowing wax
let me linger in warm embrace
of soft-lipped women let me live
diaphanous. Let the wind fill me
let me rise inexorable let me burn
without burning out eternity
ephemeral. Let me blossom
and billow like feathered cotton
over fields of sunflower yellow
jewelled birds in calypsonian half-heard
melody. Let me sink saltwater
gentleness inevitable in stygian tides
let me form shadows in fog let me
tinge melancholy in the curl
of your mouth. Let me flourish
seed of pomegranate gleaming seed
blush of rosy dawn tranquillity
hush of echo resonating primordial
thief of fire. Let me grow into myself.
Let me deepen. Let my soul brew sweet
fermentation beneath dappled almond
and cherry and laurel and brambling
tangled aconite and stinging nettle.
Oh old gods if ever you had hearts
let my heart beat and continue beating
let me ripen before I wither please—
Let me live before I die.