Here’s my advice: dance with the devil you know. I will always opt to take two Dramamines and roll off reality into a chemical sleep, thicker and more confused than I will ever be capable of on my own, than accept the unacceptable fact that I am flying. Like I think I’m a bird. Confusion can be nice. Confusion is softer than fear. I will dance with the devil of confusion until my tendonitis acts up. My poem “Dovetail” details my decision to dive headlong into the confusion I felt when my good friend was diagnosed with cancer. I thought, alright, if she’s sick, then nothing makes sense. That’s fine I guess. To digest this piece of absurdist theater I was suddenly an audience to, I had to let go of my previously held notions of what is normal, expected, bizarre.
I feel certain similarities between my piece and Lynn Pattison’s “Three Months in a Wheelchair.” The speaker of this piece experiences a sort of confusion of purpose; her perspective, further, is that of an outsider—an audience member. She is not Jimmy Stewart witnessing murders through rear windows. She is watching Jimmy Stewart witness murders through rear windows. She’s not “commanding a whaling ship / in a consuming search for a great white.” She’s doing a “pretty good impression of Ahab / stumping across the deck.” She makes and forgets plans. We never see much of what the speaker does. Only what she could have done. There is great distance between the speaker and her actions, her intentions, her expectations of herself.
Similarly, my piece is full of distance and confusion. My subject is unprepared and emotionally unpracticed for what she experiences. So she does absurd things—solitary and foreign things. She pretends she’s a ghost. She eats the stuffing out of diner booth cushions. Pattison’s speaker knows exactly what is expected of her, and she cannot do it. Mine has no idea what is expected of her, so she does what no one could possibly expect. Illness thrusts these women into nebulous space—they are suddenly, in a way humans tend to find nauseating, in roles that are foreign to them, unsettling. Pattison’s speaker predicts she might become attached to this weird space, might be found “months from now . . . still in this chair, dusting my glass unicorn.” Both speakers anchor themselves to flotsam—a capricious guide but steadier, perhaps, than treading water.
Zoe Mays is a librarian in Kansas City. Her work focuses on youth programming and urban farming. She holds a B.A. in English from the University of Montana. Her poetry has appeared in Zone 3.
© 2016 Intima: A Journal of Narrative Medicine