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Breath & Shadow

Fall 2016 - Vol. 13, Issue 4

"Before the Diagnosis", "t6", and "Love Letters Series Poem V"

written by

Heather Ace Ratcliff

"Before the Diagnosis"

i used to think that the

iron scaffolding of my ribcage

was strong enough to guard

the bruised filigree of my ruby heart -

until i heard the buzzing prescience

and learned how it felt when the tubercle slipped from the vertebrae and i was exposed.


i used to think that the

curved arch of my iliac crest

would reach high enough to enclose my lungs so no one could catch me breathing your

name in my sleep - until i learned to anticipate the crackling pop of bone grinding

against the acetabulum just before i stumbled.


i used to think that the

white picket fence of my clenched teeth

would keep thoughts of the end

trapped below my calvarium

until i felt the

grinding stop of a condyle

caught and locked open, forcing me to speak.


i used to think, before.




i have grown used to the clicking

and clacking of my bones as i

walk down the stairs or

sit down at my desk or

even as i take a deep breath, just to compose myself.


i have grown used to the black and green bruises blossoming across my shins and thighs, spreading like blood in a pool of milk, marring any bare patch of lunar-translucent skin.


i have not grown used to the pain

(i will never grow used to the pain)

white-hot and flaring across my eyelids, moving so fast that the salt of my tears hits my lips before i even know that i’m crying.


"love letter series, poem V"


i used to offer my words to men in supplication, shuffling on my knees outspread palms

full of delicate punctuation hope so translucent you could shine moonlight through it


now i thrust them up to the sun

syntax blazing like a california wildfire burning hard and fast enough to leave behind only a dusty cloud of bone-ash and me.

Heather Ace Ratcliff is a former mortician and a current word-slinger. She has Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, III. She’s a disability rights advocate and a status quo exile. She lives in Northern California with her pack of three wild beasts (or small chihuahuas, whichever you prefer.) Say hi on Twitter!

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