you are not



even when you

want to be.


you are surrounded by

a big black hole of


energy–an effigy

spinning at the speed of


the catastrophe you

place yourself in-


: again and again, just

so you can test the





we are all connected (or, the softer side of obsession)

for tjr: today and every day

it happened while i wasn’t looking;
it happened while i was in pretty deep—

trying to climb up and out from that steep
dark that meets me even in my sleep.

but this time, you. you were there, too,
saying, yeah, i feel it; it’s true

but, it will pass. hold on, like the last time;
hold on, and it will lose its power,

and you will

it means every thing to have another
being there to say – i’m here

and not
much else.

it means every thing to have
a hand reaching out, an ear opening,

a heart-mind waiting to
wrap itself around you.

even across the creeping
light-years, miles, blues, trials:

we        are        all        connected
and that has made all the difference.


Painting of Tommy Joe Ratliff by Olivia Santiago

alive & well


i’m still here,
kicking around,

holding up this
sign of life:

head just above
the black-water.

the anger is the
edge of a red knife

held just below the
surface: aching

tension pulled taut
across too many hurts.

i need the momentum to
shove me into the next day.

is there any other way?

when the doctor asks,
how do you feel on a scale of 1 to 10

i ask, does anyone
ever say 10?

i don’t know what
that would feel like.

it would seem almost obscene.

i don’t know if it’s the inability to feel
happiness, or the fear of

fully feeling it, or the panic
at feeling it and then losing it.

there are moments;
tiny pockets of time

in which i revel, marvel,
spin, float, feel high.

i try to sustain, but they
pass: like seasons,

like heartbeats, like hot-air
balloons taking off without me;

like the many mutable things

i’ve learned to appreciate but
not count on.

i watch for their arrival again
over the horizon, like waiting

for morning to come, to
rescue me from the voices:

dark with teeth like
exclamation marks.

if i can just make it to day-break.

then i crash, unable to face the
sharp light, but still here; still breathing.

i’ve even fallen a little bit in love
with my melancholy; with this collar:

it’s what i know, it’s what i’m comfort-
able with—until i’m not.

it’s why i don’t trust people who are always
smiling; the thick fake lacquer over the face.

friends stop coming around,
stop calling. it’s contagious,

this dread. it travels well
despite its heaviness. it

deep and wide.

i try to contain, but the

when i can speak, create, connect,
let the shards out in bits into a

willing receiver, i can
breathe again, for a span;

when i can feel a purpose beyond all
this sleeping, waking, dreading, falling.

why this shell? why the merger
of this shell and this soul?

what is this duo supposed to do?
in this world? in this moment?

to be both alive & well,
in this world, in this moment,

is the most i can ask for;
is a gift.


these words are alive

every thing is light
with dark ness

a liquid gallop,
a brightening of bees,
a lullaby brushing through hair,
a slow-motion shape shifting of bottles in trees.

know your own
loch ness—
its flywheel,
its dread loop;

let it take you down on
your knees into the black-
est blue,
let it turn you,

just for a time,
just for a trip:
to traverse those
shadow field cliffs.

keep feeding it,
that deep flip in the chest,
that steep heart dip between
the legs.

—then— wrest your
self free from
its enchantment, its
encaustic grip.

drop that shit
and run
for the hills,
run for your life.

every one is listening


wrap your self in

your own narrative,

in your own sweet & terrible

story that only you can

weave. others will try

to tell it for you:

you must shut them

up with your own

glory. do not be afraid

of the way you shimmer

& shine when you climb

to the top of that finite hill.

you worked so hard to

get up & out of the valley.

you were the only one there

to see the true darkness;

the hurt;

the despair.

others tried to care

but could not enter.

when you came out

you were a new being,



at times you still feel like a fraud,

like an imposter in this world,

like you are trying to win a

race you have already won.

the real frauds are the ones

trying to take your voice.

stand tall on the sun-soaked

cliff and tell your story—all

of it—even if no one is



every one is listening.

Art by Olivia Santiago

First line and some concepts shared by Barbara McNamee Moody

i can’t believe i drank the whole thing

I wish I were referring to an icy milkshake (even with the brain freeze), a sparkling bottle of riesling, or a lukewarm pint of port, but, no — in the last twenty-four hours, I’ve downed four liters of a mammoth cocktail of dread: sodium chloride, sodium bicarbonate, and potassium chloride.

Some of you know what I’m talking about: the god-awful colonoscopy prep drink.

For many, this procedure marks a milestone of a certain age deemed by medical practitioners as the time to scan for colon cancer. For me, this procedure comes at a much younger age — and as a bittersweet tie to my father who died of colon cancer at 63.

My father was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis in his early 30s, which developed into colon cancer by the time he was in his 50s despite having his colon removed. I am 39. According to my doctor, I am ‘overdue’ for this very intimate scan.

As I rapidly swallow mouthful after mouthful of what tastes like watered down cigarettes stewing in a very salty ashtray — mixed with just enough of a tinge of ‘cherry flavoring’ that I will not eat anything cherry-related for months — I think of my father. He went through this procedure multiple times.

I text my mother to commiserate. She tells me, “Your dad was a trooper — but he was never able to finish the whole thing.”


I don’t think I will be able to either. Not without vomiting, passing out, or otherwise going insane.

I tell my daughter that I feel like Dumbledore in the Harry Potter scene in which he has to repeatedly drink the poison so Harry can get to the horcrux. Olivia unsympathetically huffs, “Mom, Dumbledore was drinking actual poison; he was in pain.”

True. Yet fictional. I keep waiting for some kind of pain to kick in, for some of the possible side effects (nausea, bloating, cramps, death) to occur, but the main aversion remains the taste. And the smell. And the feel of this foul liquid going down my throat and into my very empty stomach.

Over the course of the evening as I alternate between gulps of hell and gulps of Gatorade, I watch the level drop in the beastly container. By the time I turn in for the evening (I’ll spare you the other grisly details, only to say that imbibing the drink was far worse than what was going on at the other end), I’ve finished off three quarters of the solution.

I text-whine my friend, who’s been through this before. “Do I really have to finish the WHOLE thing?” She assures me that I need to fully follow all directions, or the doc may not be able to see everything and I may have to have this whole thing done again.

That’s enough to spur me on to set my alarm for 5 a.m. this morning to finish off the remainder of the rancor before heading into the outpatient center. I sip the last of the solution instead of my usual morning coffee. Sip by sip. Glass by glass.

I think of T.S. Eliot measuring out his life in coffee spoons.

I think of one of my mother’s favorite sayings which inevitably always ends up in song: ‘Little by little, inch by inch; by the yard it’s hard, by the inch it’s a cinch.’

I think of my father.

I try not to think about the violation to my body by a stranger that is about to occur in a few hours.

I text my mother to tell her how much I miss dad and to remind her that he wouldn’t have been such a trooper if it hadn’t been for her loving yet no-nonsense nursing during those difficult years.

Dad follows me to the outpatient center.


The man next to me in the prep room also waiting for a colonoscopy has his same birth month and year. The nurse, anesthesiologist, and surgeon each ask why I’m having this procedure so young, to which I respond with another telling of my father’s condition and recent passing.

As I sit waiting, I think about the time I broke my arm and how dad was with me through the whole experience: driving me to the hospital, calming me, reassuring me that I would be okay and be able to play the piano again, distracting me with his story of his own broken arm as a young boy and how it had completely healed.

As the nurse hooks up my IV, I remember all of the IVs, hospital stays, surgeries my dad endured. As I listen to the man’s wife in the area beside me chat nervously while they await the procedure, I am reminded of my mother by my father’s side through it all.

I find myself in a calm state. Though I am alone, I do not feel alone. I feel surrounded by a peace that only God, and the spirit of my father, can bring.


Post script:  The procedure went well; while I did not lose the rumored (and let’s face it, coveted) 5-7 lbs. (more like 2) from the prep process, and my last view on my way out was the surgeon checking his email right before beginning my procedure, the taste of those saltine crackers upon waking was down-right heaven.