Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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Poem: "Through the Haze"

This poem came out of the July 2, 2013 Poetry Fishbowl.  It was inspired by a prompt from lb_lee.  It has been sponsored by Anthony & Shirley Barrette.  This poem belongs to the series Polychrome Heroics.

Through the Haze

Applied Kinesiology 233 is my favorite class.
Since Mindflare kidnapped me two weeks ago,
it's almost the only thing in my life that's clear.
Everything else has become a jumble of crowd noise,
smoke and mirrors, fragments of memory.

My body seems strange to me, soft curves
instead of lean muscled lines,
flesh a light tan rather than richer olive,
but at least my body -- unlike my mind --
does what I want it to do.

The hilt of the wooden knife
feels cool and smooth in my palm.
My thrusts and punches have more power
than they used to have.  I'm getting better,
more able to fight back now.

My partner reaches for me.  We dance
together, sweat flying from our bodies,
spinning and striking and blocking.
Suddenly I trip over an outstretched ankle,
landing hard on the floor, and --

- - -

-- the pain surges,
rolling like a river, mighty and deep,
bringing me right to the surface.
I shake my head to clear it,
recognizing the practice room.

I've seen it often enough,
mostly from the bench
because the teacher makes me sit out
after falling badly, and that
is usually when I find myself here.

Other than this, my memories are blurry,
life glimpsed in instants of pulled hair
or pinched fingers, stubbed toes and splinters,
moments when the pain sharpens the world
to something I can see and deal with for real.

My left wrist still throbs where I caught myself,
but the ache is more familiar than the form,
slender instead of stocky, skin the color
of milky tea instead of milk chocolate.
I rub my face and there is no reassuring stubble.

After class, I walk through campus like
a dark ghost, anonymous in a blue hoodie.
I see a silhouette on the roof of a frat house --
recall the lecture everyone attended
about not doing that because it's dangerous.

I notice that the guy is alone up there,
and oh, that can't be a good thing.
So I scramble up the fire escape
and sit down beside him, saying,
"Hey, brother, what's up?"

He looks at me funny,
and I remember that my body
isn't what it seems like it should be,
but I can feel  the pain pouring off him
like heat from a fire.  No way I'm leaving.

"Sho what the fuck you care 'bout Dace?" he says,
voice slurring, and I can tell he's drunk.
It's barely twilight.  I can still see him,
skin darker than mine ought to be, wearing
pledge letters for an all-white fraternity.

"Don't like seeing a brother in pain," I say,
which is true.  I've got my own memories
of being turned away from places,
just for this milk-tea permanent tan.
Doesn't take much to piss people off.

I know they won't let Dace in,
know that he won't stop trying anyhow,
and damn, I am out of ideas.
He doesn't look good, sweaty and shaky,
and I wish someone would tell me what to do.

- - -

Let me out.

- - -

The voice is soft and clear,
sounding only inside my head,
half-familiar whisper like
a housemate heard through a wall.
What the fuck is going on?

- - -

Let me out.
I can help.
I know what to do.
All you have to do is let go.

- - -

I reach toward the voice, because one thing
I'm good at is knowing myself, and for a moment
I glimpse loose auburn hair around a man's face.
Slim pale fingers tug gently at me, pulling back,
urging me to let go -- and so I do.

- - -

I lean forward, and this body isn't mine
but it has hands and a voice.
That's enough to work with, now that
I've gotten the other guy out of the way,
the one who reached for me when he needed help.

That leaves me with the strange dude on the roof.
He seems to be getting drunker by the minute,
and I don't like the slow, rough sound of his breathing.
"Hey," I say, "you look like you've had better days.
Do you mind if I ask you what happened?"

"Ish jusht a little hazing," he says.
"I can take a licking.  I can hold my liquor."
Then he vomits over the edge of the roof
and passes out cold in my lap.
Well, that's not good at all.

The vidwatch on my wrist is unfamiliar
but I manage to call the Student Health Center.
While waiting for help, I roll the dude on his side,
wrap my hoodie around him to keep him warm,
and assure him that everything will be okay.

My hands feel hot against his clammy skin
and I wish that I could do more for him
than just hold him and keep him safe.
By the time the paramedics arrive, though,
he's starting to stir, so maybe it works.

I walk home, feeling a little freaked
but also proud for maybe making a difference.
It's hard, fighting through the haze
since Mindflare left me so wounded inside, but
I'm starting to think that this might be worth it.

I think about the other voice in my head,
the one who called for help when he needed it,
and I wish I could reach him again.
I try to leave him a note, but suddenly
I'm so exhausted that I can't stay awake ...

- - -

I find myself back in my room, without my hoodie,
left wrist aching like I wrenched it days ago;
but when I check my vidwatch, it's still Monday
and I remember going to Applied Kinesiology 233
just this afternoon, so that makes no sense.

I look down, and under my hand is my notebook.
It says "Hello" on the blank page.  I'm holding a pen,
but the handwriting on the paper isn't mine.
I throw myself down on the bed and cry again.
I do that a lot these days.  I feel so lost inside.

* * *


This poem introduces the other three people sharing headspace in the Damask collective.  Ham enjoys self-defense; he is a wiry man with olive skin.  Keane comes out to cope with pain; he is a stocky black man.  Clement deals in first aid and other emergencies; he is a delicate redheaded man.  And that's Maze again at the end, who usually fakes being Maisie.  Keane and Clement are the first two to "discover" each other, because Keane has the best intrapersonal intelligence and communication while Clement is highly receptive.

Now that you know who they all are, I'll start tagging names on the speaking parts.  I think that will make for clearer reading, since I can't use fancy formatting in this venue.

As Ham discovers, practicing any martial art helps strengthen the mind-body connection, which is very useful for people with dissociative issues.

Keane finds ways of channeling pain into productivity.

Dace looks like this.

Clement knows how to stay calm, respond to an emergency, and provide first aid.

Alcohol poisoning can pose a serious threat to health and survival.  Know how to recognize and treat it.  It doesn't take superpowers to save a life.  It just takes noticing, knowledge, and a willingness to help someone.

School deaths due to hazing and alcohol are a continuing problem.  Hank Nuwer is a specialist in this field, and one of my author-friends; I reviewed his book Wrongs of Passage when it came out.  What kills people is usually combination of peer pressure and binge drinking.  Roofs are another established hazard, as are vehicles of any kind.  Understand that sometimes people do foolish, dangerous things under (socially or chemically) impaired judgment, and be prepared to intervene if necessary.

A vidwatch is akin to a smartphone worn on a wristband, evolved from watches instead of telephones.  There are also smartphones, which emerged later as an intermediate step in function between a vidwatch and a palmtop or tablet computer.

Journaling is recommended for people with multiplicity.  (The language in this article is not plural-friendly, but the techniques are pretty good and are described clearly.)

Tags: cyberfunded creativity, ethnic studies, family skills, fantasy, fishbowl, gender studies, poem, poetry, reading, safety, writing
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