ysabetwordsmith: Cartoon of me in Wordsmith persona (Default)
[personal profile] ysabetwordsmith
This poem was inspired by discussion with Ameerachia. It belongs to the series Diminished Expectations, and it's a sequel to "Tranquility."

WARNING: The following poem deals with disability, PTSD, poverty, and other touchy topics. If you're sensitive about such things, think carefully about whether to read onward.


Lotus is scrounging in the dump
when she sees the Diminished girl
trudging slowly up the slope.

The clotted white flesh
is unmistakable,
and she's walking on
large human hands
because she has no legs.

She is lucky enough
to have a mouth and ears,
but no eyes or nose,
the rest of her face no more
than a blob of dough.

Lotus may be given to dreams,
even while awake, but she is not
the kind to turn her back on anyone.
"Come and sit down," she invites.
"My name is Lotus."

The girl pauses,
blindly turning her head
toward the sound
of an unfamiliar voice.

"Misery," she says,
her voice as short
as her body.
Many of the Diminished
are named for some virtue,
or in this case, vice.

"I'm gathering paper,"
Lotus explains.
"You're welcome to
sit and talk while I work."

"Misery does not want company,"
the girl replies, although
she does not get up and leave.
"The things in my head,
you don't want them in yours.
They do enough damage
where they are, without
spilling them on anyone else.
So I don't talk about it."

What it was, Lotus did not know;
the horrors that happened
to the Diminished were
many and varied.
They were nightmare fuel
that could burn all night long.

"Well, there are other ways,"
Lotus said. "Can you write?"

Misery gave a disdainful snort.
Most of the Diminished
had little if any education.

"What about drawing?"
Lotus tried again.
"You have hands.
I have charcoal and paper."

"Paper is precious,"
Misery said.

"This paper?" Lotus asked.
She nudged a crumpled sheet
against the edge of Misery's hand.

The girl took it, and although
she could not see the stains
and the fading print,
she could feel the creases.
She fingered a grease spot,
so perhaps that was tangible after all.

"Here is a piece of charcoal,"
Lotus said, handing her
a stick with a burnt end.
"Nobody will mind if you
scribble your bad thoughts
onto that paper."

"You won't look?"
Misery said,
her voice tense.

"I won't look,"
Lotus promised.
"I'll go over there
and collect more paper."

So Misery sat in the dump
harshly dragging a burnt stick
over a piece of used paper,
growling under her breath.
She used the edge of her hand
as a guide because
she could not see to work.

Lotus peeled pieces of paper
out of the garbage,
stuffing them into her bag.

When she noticed
that Misery had stopped drawing,
she headed back that way,
her feet crunching over the rubbish.

"You said you wouldn't look!"
Misery snarled,
hunching over the page.

"I'm not looking,"
Lotus assured her.

Misery uncurled a little.
"Now that I'm done drawing,
I don't know what to do with it,"
she said. "I don't want
to leave it where someone
might find it and get hurt."

"Fold it up and put it in my bag,"
Lotus suggested.
"We can dispose of it later.
Here, I've brought you
another page."

Misery eagerly traded
her folded-up drawing
for more paper.

So it went
until Lotus' bag was full
and Misery's head was
as empty as it was going to get
of what horrors she had witnessed.

"Why are you digging through garbage
for paper?" Misery wondered.

"Come and find out,"
Lotus invited.

The two of them walked
back to where Lotus lived,
a drab little shanty
that left much to the imagination.
She had a roof, though, and food,
and a mattress covered
with colorful quilts.

"I'm making new paper,"
Lotus explained
as she unpacked her bag.
"I need to tear all of this
into tiny bits to soak
in a bucket of water.
Would you like to help?"

"Yes," Misery said.
Lotus gave her back
all the folded pages.

Misery's big strong hands
made quick work of them,
shredding the paper
into confetti.

Lotus packed them
into the big bucket
and poured dingy water
over the mass of fluff.

When all the paper
had been torn up,
Lotus brought out
an old broom handle
and put it in the bucket.

"Now we churn the pulp,"
Lotus said, and Misery
cocked her head to listen
to the slosh of water.

Before long, Misery
held out a hand,
and Lotus let her
take over the churning.

Misery wielded the stick
with such vigor
that some of the water
sloshed right out of the bucket.

"It's all right if you get wet,"
Lotus said. "You'll dry."

Misery churned the pulp
even harder then.

When the paper had been
reduced to fibers
floating in gray water,
Lotus said it was time for supper.

Misery had not been expecting
food at all, but Lotus insisted
that she had been helpful
and deserved to eat.
There was plenty of rice
and even a bit of dried fish
to flavor it with.

After supper, the two women
used mesh frames
to lift pulp from the water
and turn it out onto drying racks.

Lotus would not let Misery
touch the new paper while wet,
but she offered instead,
"Would you like to stay the night?
It will be dry by morning."

"I still won't be able to see it,"
Misery said glumly.

"There are other ways,"
Lotus said.
There always were.

So Misery curled up
under warm rag quilts
and slept on a mattress
for the first time in ages.

In the morning the paper was dry.
Lotus peeled it carefully free
and handed Misery one thick sheet.

Misery traced her fingertips
over the rich texture of the surface.
The paper was crisp and flat,
faded now to a pale silvery gray,
waiting for words or pictures
to be drawn upon it.

"Today is a market day," Lotus said.
"Would you like to come along
and see what we can get
in trade for this paper?
There might be bamboo shoots
or bitter melon or radishes."

Misery fingered the paper again,
washed clean of everything it had held,
and agreed to go with Lotus.

* * *


PTSD can be contagious to family members, counselors, or other bystanders. Being around someone with hyperarousal, or hearing about traumatic events, can itself be damaging. There are ways to cope with compassion fatigue, which is one of the spreading effects.

Art therapy can have cathartic effects that relieve stress by helping people work through trauma without having to verbalize it. Although most often practiced with painting or other visual arts, any kind of art or craft can work. The version in this poem was somewhat inspired by the Combat Paper Project.

Learn how to make paper.

Read about Chinese vegetables.


Date: 2013-10-01 01:46 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
YES. This is great. For a short piece, there's so much in it, and it's a gem. Thank you very much for sharing. It was exactly what I needed to read right now.


(no subject)

Date: 2013-10-02 02:32 am (UTC)
thnidu: "ND" disarmament symbol, and "Fiat Pax" (let there be peace) (peace)
From: [personal profile] thnidu
washed clean of everything it had held,

(happy sigh)

(no subject)

Date: 2013-11-09 03:47 pm (UTC)
technoshaman: Tux (Default)
From: [personal profile] technoshaman
Yeah, this. I don't know why I needed that, this morning of all mornings, but I did.

(no subject)

Date: 2013-10-02 03:43 am (UTC)
mdlbear: the positively imaginary half of a cubic mandelbrot set (Default)
From: [personal profile] mdlbear
I like this. The series, like the sculptures that inspired it, is rather disturbing. But there's nothing wrong with that.

(no subject)

Date: 2013-10-01 06:13 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] baaing-tree.livejournal.com
I enjoyed this, and look forward to seeing more of this series!


Date: 2013-10-01 06:16 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ysabetwordsmith.livejournal.com
I'm happy to hear that. Feel free to request more. Fishbowl's open today, although I'm currently writing you a golem poem. I'm willing to double up if I have time.

(no subject)

Date: 2014-01-21 11:16 am (UTC)
purplecat: Leia, Rey and Rose from the Star Wars franchise (ladiesbingo)
From: [personal profile] purplecat
Another commenter has already noted the clever use of the thematic link of washing clean the paper and washing the bad thoughts from Misery's head. I hope the two women manage to trade enough for food.

craft as metaphor

Date: 2017-04-23 04:16 am (UTC)
callibr8: icon courtesy of Wyld_Dandelyon (Default)
From: [personal profile] callibr8
I hope that someday we will see more of Misery, and Lotus. This was deeply moving and inspiring.


ysabetwordsmith: Cartoon of me in Wordsmith persona (Default)

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