Breath & Shadow
Fall 2020 - Vol. 17, Issue 4
"A Burning Sword"
I am at a conference.
“find another person you don’t know,”
“draw a picture of your favorite animal and write down three good words about them,”
The room quiets,
The video plays
The chasm of blindness opens
I hurtle toward the fire...
It starts in my chest: a tearing, a tightness, a burning. The more I think about it, the more it grows; tiny claws scratching against the inside of my ribs, slicing through my intercostals as it burrows outwards. It worms beneath my skin, down to the tips of my fingers, the soles of my feet, activating my reflexes; my triceps and hamstrings and biceps jumping at its touch. My arm twitches, a leg jerks and I kick at the blankets that try to hold me fast to sleep. But there will be no sleep tonight.
"Big or Small"
Clothing carpeted the muddy grass in patches for miles. Televisions showed their guts. Roofs stood with no feet and tires with no bodies. I learned about “big” riding home from
summer camp through the carnage of the 1992 tornado, part of the twenty-eight-tornado system that ravaged Ohio while I slept in my cabin in Michigan. I stared out the backseat window as kids mourned a punctured trampoline with shredded blue matting. Victims of one of the forty-four tornadoes to hit the state that July, sixty-one that whole
year. The stuff everywhere gave the town a sense of spread. The fact the storms claimed no lives and few injuries and broke several records drove everyone out and into
their neighbors’ yards, seeking gossip and their missing belongings. I spent my first day home from camp collecting the remainder of my clothes and mementos.
"Come This Way, He Said, And I Followed Him"
through a clearing and along a well-worn path
to avoid descending large black lava rocks
we would have to switchback our way down.
Basalt so slippery a misstep could mean
a broken ankle. I didn’t question the word
short cut. It meant a kind of reprieve from,
a nuanced name for the kind of invalid
I’d become, one who couldn’t, even with hiking
boots, climb down a hill alone.
Susan M. Silver
Sometime in the last century, but neither long ago nor far away, a woman of strange beauty was a familiar presence on Fifth Avenue, both uptown and down. At just over six feet, she stood literally above the crowd like a graceful poplar. Close up, it was
disconcerting to look directly into her black-lined almond eyes, which were as intensely green as those of an Egyptian mau cat, and not without the flicker of vulnerability. Wisteria was her name, and it worked well because of her wistful yet regal aura.
Trees lie fallen, lit by warm Winter sun;
a reminder of where wind, in careless fun,
threw them to the floor with abandoned glee.
And over all the silent scene
a silver shadow hangs;
the blanched sun’s diluted beams twist
between the boughs left standing,
and bend, fragmented,
to dance lightly over the defeated.
"Can I have some ice cream, Mom?" I ask. Mom's gaze flicks at my waist and back to
my eyes. "Sure, if you want to," she says. "But think of your weight" rings in my ears... something she had said yesterday.
And now I don't feel like having ice cream.
One of my first trips after becoming a paraplegic was to visit my brother who lives in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. My flight from Washington had a connection in Charlotte, North Carolina. Now, the airport in Charlotte at that time, 2003, was attractive, neat, and mostly convenient for travelers. All concourses were flat and smooth; however, each concourse began to sharply rise and was carpeted as it led to the central area of the airport. This central area was a large, glassed-in space filled with shops, stores, live plants, and white rocking chairs. From here a traveler could rest, eat, exit the airport, or
continue onto another concourse for a connecting flight. The latter was my task going to see my brother, and all went well. The return flight proved to be different.
"It’s Not All in The Family"
My grandma (my mom’s mom) always seemed old to me. Her short gray hair was permed at a local beauty school. She wore dentures and kept them on her bedside table each night. When she came to our house she struggled to make it up the three
steps outside our front door. She sat a lot - on chairs, in her wheelchair, in the passenger seat of the car, often waiting for us to come out of the house and visit with her there.
My child is disabled.
My whole body relaxes he is.
Joy turns into fear the world will treat him.
He will face so many obstacles, new ones daily.
There’s a Frankenstein bolt
at the base of my skull
my head held stiff
the sensation cores me
grinds my bones
evicts the other senses
abandoned and dried
so light that they might fly away…
"Ode to Oceans Symphony" and "Gentle Woman"
Your waves of steel rumble as they crash against the craggy shoreline.
Not in gentleness, just the continuous booming of your brine.
Thundering, as loud cymbals clashing, they smother all sound.
So deafening is the battle of waves and surf, the silence profound.
Your grey and blue waves smash and tumble over boulders and coral.
I don't know where my anxiety comes from, but too often I feel the onset of it when my heart races and my throat tightens. Even witnessing anxiety firsthand in others does nothing to reassure me that this condition is in any way natural or normal, as it seems just as bizarre in others as it does in myself. The physical signs are universal, ranging from sweating palms to rapid heartbeat to hyperventilation. However, it’s the mental
prison anxiety forms that frightens me. That prison breeds avoidance and irrational thought, telling me to walk by my classroom after a twenty-minute bus ride on top of a fifteen-minute car ride, even though I made it all the way to the door with the day’s homework neatly tucked away in my backpack.
"The Beast Between Us"
None of us thought that it would end the way it did; slow and smoldering. It was supposed to be all loud trumpets, fire and brimstone. Not this slow dying thing or whatever this is.
I said I’d meet you at the train station. I was supposed to leave work at half-past four but I got held after, forgot to text you. I got on the train at Crystal City around five and took the yellow line to Greenbelt, but I was going to get off at Fort Totten and transfer to Silver Spring and you knew that. You had told me you were going to the grocery store to pick up fruits and vegetables for those smoothies you like to make for us. You would put a tablespoon of that spirulina shit in the blender and blend it up with mangos and strawberries and almonds and you couldn’t even taste that seaweed shit.
"The Unwelcome Destiny of Virginia Monahan"
Jennifer Lee Rossman
Gin had always seen the ripples. Not with her eyes or any of the other senses, but she saw 'em just the same. Mama and them called it magic, but Gin figured it was more likely something akin to a snake's Jacobson's organ, like they taught about in her AP biology class.
Whatever the cause, it didn't much matter. The ripples were part of her world. A part maybe no one else could see, but a part nonetheless. And today they were particularly active, less like a gentle breeze on the bayou and more like the chaotic splashing that followed in the wake of Big Oscar going after some fool tourist who couldn't read the NO SWIMMING—GATORS sign.
"There’s No Special Ed at Hogwarts"
Jennifer Lee Rossman
"It’s Wing-gar-dium Levi-o-sa," Hermione says in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, and that's the precise moment when I knew I would never be a wizard.
(Okay, if you want to get all technical about it, I knew I would never be a wizard when I learned there was no such thing as magic. But Sorcerer's Stone reignited a belief that anything was possible. Maybe not actual magic, but still.)
When I fell in love with the Harry Potter books, I was ten years old, my muscular dystrophy was starting to make it hard to lift my arms, and one of the ways my autism manifested was by making me situationally non-verbal: I didn't talk in front of anyone outside of my immediate family.
"When You Stop Caring"
I don’t want the morning to come. I don’t want to open my eyes.
I don’t want to see the sunlight stream in through the slats
of the blinds announcing the beginning of a new day as in nothing like yesterday, as in a brand-new start, while everything I’m feeling is so old and heavy that I can’t walk or even stand. So I lie down in bed, a wingless moth stuck in a spider web with nothing left to do but wait to die. Darkness helps me forget that I am still alive and I should fight.
"Writing to Be Free and Understood"
A Review of "The Resilient WriterWheels: Can't Is A Bad Word"
Back in my first semester of college, I got into the habit of eating lunch by myself in the closest dining hall that made a reasonably good burger. I’m an introvert, so this was fine with me. About three weeks in, a guy named Robert that I went to high school with asked if he could join me. Robert and I had taken one or two classes together in high school, so we knew each other, but weren’t friends. Over the course of that semester we got to know each other, and I learned that this guy who I’d never given a second thought, was actually a very deep thinker and fascinating person. I was reminded of Robert as I read through Erin Kelly’s autobiography.
New on The Bookshelf
Breath and Shadow
In this issue we present two recent publications by Breath and Shadow contributers. Please check them out and help support writers who happen to be disabled.