a literary journal published by the Black Earth Institute dedicated to re-forging the links between art and spirit, earth and society

Section header: Witnessing/Voicing Wounds

Sean Thomas Dougherty


Dear Editor, who Wrote Thank you for the Chance to read your work. Unfortunately, we can’t use it at this time.

I used to help take care of this guy named Danny who was obsessed with time. He liked to collect clocks. He had a row of clocks on the bureau by his bed. He liked to set the alarms and have them all go off and drive staff crazy. It was amazing how he did it because the clocks were set for a dozen different times and somehow he synchronized the alarms. Danny had Down Syndrome and lived at the residential house I worked at on an on-call basis. Danny was barely five feet tall. He had lived on his own for decades, worked as a bagger at the Giant Eagle grocery until they phased out bag boys. Did you ever wonder what happened to those people after they went to mostly self-serve check out? What was Danny to do? He loved shoes. He had a closet full of shoes. Danny was small, and it turns out he had figured out he could crawl through the ventilation system of his apartment, like a ninja. He would crawl into the apartments next door and take shoes, maybe one at a time, take shiny things like a jewel thief, or a mina bird. But after he was laid off, he grew sad and fat and one day he got stuck in the vent between his apartment and the next. The neighbors heard him yelling through the wall. When the paramedics arrived and dislodged him, it solved the great mystery in the complex that had plagued its residents of the magical disappearance of missing things. When the police arrived, they found in his apartment hundreds and hundreds of shoes, fat laced Adidas, red high heels, children’s slippers, old lady bunny ears, and a box full of jewelry, the real stuff and the costume all mixed up. It was the shine he had taken too. He didn’t care about the cost. I can’t remember if he was charged or not. Danny was far from dumb. He surmised long ago what he could get away with. He calculated the figures, he managed the odds. He liked wrestling paraphernalia and had the costume of Hulk Hogan and an actual belt that some wrestler had given him when he went to the Sports Arena for a minor league wrestling extravaganza. D had learned early on that having Down Syndrome could get you stuff. He was the consummate hustler. He was always trying to get $5 off me. Loan me $5 so I can get some food. These people here are STARVING ME. When I first met him, he asked me, do you know who Sharon Stone is, she’s a friend of mine. I said, yes, she’s a movie star, she was terrific in Casino acting alongside Deniro. Deniro the bum, Danny said. She carried him the whole way. He said, she calls me all the time. I looked at his regular staff who just smiled as if to say, here we go again. He said, ok she calls me every Christmas. I looked at other staff who were no longer listening and didn’t look up from their cell phones. Danny took my hand and walked me to the bookshelf in the common area and pulled down a giant picture book. It was a book of celebrities with portraits of people with Down’s Syndrome who had impacted their lives or were friends or family’s members of them. He flipped the pages and there he was with Sharon Stone. Turns out Sharon Stone had been his baby sitter when he was a kid. She had written in the text, Danny taught me so much about being confident, he was even then a trickster full of kindness. Danny beamed. Danny was starting to get dementia. He was starting to forget. People with Down Syndrome can get dementia early. He was only 49. I had to remind him what day it was, the small details were leaving him. One day I arrived at work and he appeared in the common area in full wrestling regalia, like hulk Hogan shrunk to size, leather tasseled jacket and championship gold belt around his waist. How do I look he asked? I said, you look like a superhero.

After decades of having a job, of having a license, I found out the final reason Danny could not live by himself was not his trickster ways but was because of his dementia. It is always the little forgetfulnesses that do us in. One day before leaving to go shopping he had started to run a bath then forgot to get in and left his apartment. He didn’t turn the water off. The water reached the top of the tub and overflowed and kept on going like something from a State Farm Insurance commercial, before it flooded the apartment and ran out into the hall. The fire department came and broke the door down and shut the water off, but the apartment was ruined. After that his case manager said he needed to live in a home, he needed someone to care for him. In Danny’s room at the residential house was a row of clocks, each set for a different time. When I looked at them, I wondered what elegies arrive for us with every passing minute? Danny, your clocks are all set at random different times, doesn’t that drive you crazy. He looked at me and said, no they are set for every time zone at sunrise and sunset around the world. We’ll I’ll be. Whether this was true or not I did not know. He was a trickster. He liked to make up things. I never got the chance to check if it was true. I think at the time I was only half listening, trying to surreptitiously find another resident’s size 10 sneaker that had come up missing in Danny’s giant pile of shoes.


Dear Editor Who Returned My Poems and Said They Weren’t Taking Submissions but Didn’t Tell me When to Submit

To whom or what do we submit anyways? I find a bottle my wife had hidden. There is no shame in this. I imagine her sneaking into my daughter’s room to take a swig, those mornings the girls are screaming and punching each other. My oldest daughter has Asperger’s and can throw a fit that has no end. Though she has gotten better at controlling them as the years have passed. I talk to her about the anxiety, the roll of sound and voices that push her to thrash herself around the floor. I tell her I used to have it bad, so much they gave me tiny pills to help. I said it made the voices quiet and go further and further away. Then I tell her I learned how to push them away by myself. I told her they aren’t real. I told her only this is real, and I rubbed the top of her head. I told her the things we tell ourselves often aren’t real. I told her start to tell yourself some things good. She says, ok. She says she deserves a time out. She walks away and immediately begins to torment her sister, telling her she eats poop. But an hour later she freaks when she cannot finish a math problem and begins to howl, but only for a moment. And I think perhaps she is starting to listen, she is starting to realize this world is full enough of things to hurt us but the one who can hurt us the most is ourselves. Her mother says no when I ask her if she is drunk. The bottle I found in one of her hiding places is missing. She says she had to go to the store to buy snacks for the girls. She must go

somewhere to get what she needs.

~
I work with a man with a brain injury who suffers from anxiety. P is small and overweight and has wounds on his face from where he picks himself. The first time I saw him have an attack, I told him his laundry he had left in the laundry room I had folded but put into another man’s room. Both wear lots of camo. He rolled his eyes then let loose a litany of undirected profanities, motherfucking this and that, he was so angry. Later a staff told me this happened before, and his clothes had gotten mixed up. I wondered if P was picturing his clothes mixed up with the other mans. He did not think how his name was written on every tag. He was picturing not having any clothes. He was thinking too, how do they not know my clothes? He felt invisible. He walked outside away from me cursing and lit a cigarette. He had learned to walk away. The wave passed. Days later I sat with him on the smoking benches outside and told him, I am proud of you. We spoke of how he was angry at me. I said but you walked away, that is a good way to at first handle it. He said yes, I need to let that big wave in my head come crashing down, and he lifted both his hands high over his head then let them fall. Then I can become calm. He took a drag on his Newport, watched the cloud of smoke hang in the autumn air. But I was mad at you for a long time, he said. That will pass I said, that is the residual anger in your muscles. it can last long. The trick next is to learn how to walk away in your head, you are getting better. I want to get better he said, I don’t want to be that wacked out dude with my hoodie pulled over my face telling everyone to get the fuck away. He pulled his sweatshirt hood right around his head and scrunched his mouth and eyes up and crossed his arms. He looked like an angry injured elf, I start to laugh so hard I fell sideways on the bench. He paused and asked, why are you laughing. I said, that is funny, didn’t you know how funny you can be? He beamed, I didn’t know. I said, now that is something to work on. Let yourself be open like that. Your physical gestures are magnificent. He looked at me as if I was completely daft. Then said, my whole life I have always feared people laughing at me.

~
Who isn’t? There is nothing close to shame. But then we learn how absurd it all is anyways. My wife is doing a load of our youngest daughter’s laundry. She must be the most functional drunk on planet earth. She folds our daughter’s tiny shirts so perfect, each one lined exactly on the edges. She doesn’t hear me in the hall. I watch her stand and look at the piles of perfectly folded clothes. She doesn’t move, admiring her work. She works slow and precise. She told me once she is always scared of failing. Who of us doesn’t constantly fail? But the miraculous is all around.

Outside the light itself is failing, the grey sky of November. I submit this anecdote as evidence. The early dark is on its way. Our daughters are outside kicking leaves, when the oldest pushes the youngest down taunting her. She grabs her big sister’s legs and pulls her on top and they begin to roll and punch. They are both howling, rolling and wrestling, saying eat this leaf, eat this leaf like poop, shoving leaves into each other’s mouths, pushing each other’s faces into the cold dead grass, calling for help that never comes, I let them go, I let them fight and learn what a struggle love is, and then they are still, worn out exhausted, laying their arms out wide, side by side, staring up at the dark that settles over them like a blanket of blown leaves. And then they begin to rise, just barely off the ground. They hover there, like two oak leaves held for a moment by the rising wind.

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Sean Thomas Dougherty is the author or editor of 16 books including The Second O of Sorrow published in 2018 by BOA Editions. He works as a care giver and Med Tech for various disabled populations and lives with the poet Lisa M. Dougherty and their two daughters along Lake Erie.  
http://seanthomasdoughertypoet.com

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