Category Archives: Arts

The funniest man on wheels

This story begins as a nightmare. Brian Shaughnessy walked in for surgery on his spine when he was 24 years old. He never dreamed, nor was he warned by medical staff, that he might come out of the surgery paralyzed from the neck down. By the time the anesthesia wore off, Shaughnessy was a quadriplegic.

That was 27 years ago. Since then, Shaughnessy has not lived a “normal” life. He obtained a master’s in theater and a law degree. He has excelled as a student, playwright, performer, attorney, and advocate for people with disabilities. He was raised in Minnesota but now calls Hawaii home. He married a beautiful woman from China – an oncology nurse — and became a father when the couple adopted Amadeus, now 8. He became a widower when his wife died of cancer in 2007, four days after his father passed away. If tenacity was money, you’d think Shaughnessy would be bankrupt from having to fork over so much. Instead, he’s one of the most empowered people around, in or out of a wheelchair.

A couple years ago I saw Shaughnessy perform at a Minneapolis comedy club. He rolled his wheelchair up a ramp onto the theater stage wearing a black and white cow get-up. “I’m a Moo-slim,” he said by way of introduction. Many chuckled but few in the audience were accustomed to hearing stand-up from a guy sitting down. By the end of the show the chair is forgotten and so is the fact that the comic happens to be a quadriplegic.

This summer Shaughnessy is performing his one-man show “The Squeaky Wheel SQUEAKS!” for fringe festival audiences across the country. The show, like his 2005 published memoir, The Squeaky Wheel – An Unauthorized Autobiography, gives a snapshot of his life told with honesty and self-deprecating humor.

He’s currently performing at the Kansas City fringe festival through August 1, followed by performances in Minneapolis, Boulder and Chicago.

By early September he will have given about two dozen Squeaky Wheel shows.

“I do it to tell cripple jokes, to allow a ‘cripple’ to joke and… its pitch black,” says Shaughnessy. “I like the feedback and the challenge. I also may get seen by the guy who’ll make the movie.”

Shaughnessy dedicates a portion of the sales of his book to the Open Door Foundation. The foundation provides legal assistance through the Disability Rights Legal Center and artistic opportunities through VSA (The International Organization on Arts and Disability) Minnesota. He also co-founded the Open Door Theater in Minnesota – a theater by, for and about persons with disabilities.

Brian Shaughnessy performs his one man show The Squeaky Wheel SQUEAKS! at these summer Fringe Festivals:

July 9-17 Washington, DC

July 23-Aug 1: Kansas City

Aug 5-15: Minneapolis - St. Paul

Aug 18-29: Boulder

Excerpts from DC Theatre Scene review of “The Squeaky Wheel SQUEAKS!”, July 11, 2010

“Brian Shaugnessy is a Hawaii-based author and playwright and boy does his squeaky wheelchair squeak and also spark – striking a thousand points of hopeful light both on stage, from the printed page, and in person afterwards over an impromptu late lunch as well.”

“Minnesota-born and 52 years old this year, he is also an actor and director, attorney and entrepreneur, widower and father, and quite possibly the funniest man on wheels.”

“By all means, see this show for its simple and un adorned first-person story-telling, a soliloquy from the soul. It is tearful and funny, minus any sentimental back-patting. I consider it a “must see.”’



You don’t know that the last time you skied will be the last time you ski.

Had I known I’d never ski again, would I have done different things? Yes. I would have skied more, taken no breaks at all, taken more risks, and skied more at night.  I would have tried that enticing jump.

We were at Keystone, a resort I knew so well I no longer carried a trail map. Gerhardt and I were still happily married and ready to play in the snow. The temperature was around freezing with sunshine bouncing off eight inches of fresh powder from the night before. Gerhardt and I picked our way over to the Outback, Keystone’s most remote, most rigorous mountain. I zipped down the backside of Keystone Mountain on the Mozart run like a pro. At the bottom, I took a moment to look back up the steep slope. Even the year before, Mozart caused me to pause. Since then I’d learned, do not stop. Keep the ski tips pointed downward and move. The slick snow took care of the rest. Stopping used a huge amount of energy; whereas, slicing through the powder created a rhythm that started beneath the skis, vibrated into the feet, scurried up the legs, rotated the knees, pushed through the thighs, and settled somewhere 20 inches above the head. I was a marionette and the mountain was the puppeteer. Once I established the beat, I danced in the snow. I walked on this shaved water. My skis floated through the weightless fluff and took me exactly where I told them. 

I’d married a Swiss; therefore, I had to ski. More than a decade had passed since I first strapped planks on my feet. Never very athletic, I was proud of my achievement. We skied at least four weeks each winter. I attended ski school with gusto and took many private lessons with big male instructors who only picked me up when they were certain I could not get up alone. I had to become passably good. I had to get fast because I was tired of being left behind when we skied with friends. I became fearless, so I progressed from hating cold weather to training for ski season beginning each autumn. I owned the latest curvy shaped skis with robotic-looking bindings for my heated boots.

Besides having the latest and best equipment, I also took the sport as a fashion statement. My colorful wardrobe was made of the best windproof, water-resistant technical fabrics, and often had fur-trim.  

More by Diane Hoover Bechter: The Cane Mutiny

At the lift line, Gerhardt waited for me. “You’re getting good schnuggily. I watched you. You remember how you struggled last year? Well, not anymore.”

He kept his arm around my shoulders on the cold lift ride to the top of the North Peak. Off the lift at the top, I flipped down my goggles and kept moving. To my left was my beloved Starfire trail. We had time for a couple of runs before heading to the Outback Summit House for lunch where we would meet friends and our kids.

The spindrift blew sharp crystals cutting my bare cheeks. I snapped the front of my parka, throwing its hood over my head knowing I’d fling it off halfway down the run. Starfire offered a few scattered clusters of trees at its beginning only to give way to a freeway of snow. 

Beginners didn’t ski the Outback. Although the North Peak doesn’t have the hardest runs, it takes some time and effort to reach and no small amount of gumption to turn left off the ski lift into the sheer space of Starfire, an intermediate run marked with blue signage. For a moment, my ski tips were suspended while my body caught up to my equipment. I leaned forward into the void and had an Icarus moment. I was certain I could fly. I had many Icarus moments when I skied. They are one of the reasons I stuck with the sport. The twin supernatural feelings of walking on water and flying were orgiastic causing my brain to slosh with endorphins. 

After a little play around a few struggling trees, I flattened my skis, pointed them straight, held out my arms, and yelled. The sound was carried back to Gerhardt by the wind. He skied up to me, gave me a devilish grin, made a couple of turns then, pouf, he was gone. I wouldn’t see him again until I reached the lift. On the steepest part of Starfire, I held my breath and with effort kept my skis flat. Instinct told me to turn to break my speed. Experience wanted the Icarus feeling. I got it many times, and I had the entire afternoon with Elk Run in the Outback ahead of me.

I awoke to another surgery the next day.

Later, my sister tried to convince me to use handicapped skiing equipment and services. I desisted. I did not want to be dragged down a slope. I preferred my memories of fully functioning legs.

Diane Hoover Bechtler lives in Charlotte, North Carolina, with her husband, Michael Gross who is a poet with a day job, and with their cat, Call Me IshMeow. As well as writing short work, she is looking for an agent for her memoir, which is about learning to live with brain disease. She has an undergraduate degree in English from Queens University where she graduated summa cum laude and subsequently earned her MFA.

She has had short work published in journals such as The Gettysburg Review, Thema, Literary Journal, Pangolin Press, Bewildering Stories, Everyday Fiction  and The Dead Mule, School of Southern Literature.

Artist takes life-affirming action after cancer

Connie Allen was 43 when she discovered a latent talent. “I woke up one morning and did a portrait,” said Allen. No one was more surprised than Allen, who had no formal art training, to find that she could paint and draw. “It was like a gift that was all of a sudden given to me.”

That was about 30 years ago. Since then, Allen, a Maine native and mother of three, has won numerous awards for her artwork, including the 2008 Oncology on Canvas competition sponsored biennially by Lily USA.

Allen has turned to her art as a creative outlet during tough times and as a way of helping others. Allen was diagnosed with colon cancer six years ago. “When I was told I had cancer it was like I was hit on the head,” she said.

Next came surgery followed by chemotherapy. “Soon I realized I could be cured,” Allen said. “I decided then and there to use my art ability to help others with cancer.”

Cancer was her “A-ha!” moment, Allen said. “People shouldn’t wait until they have cancer to appreciate their lives,” she added. “Life is so exciting when you almost lose it.”

Allen says she now gets up every day with a goal to do something for someone else. After her recovery she began teaching portrait drawing to middle-aged women and men. But she didn’t stop there.

Recently retired in Florida, Allen also teaches art to adolescent girls jailed at a juvenile detention center. “I don’t care what they’ve done and I don’t ask. I love these girls.” She teaches them how to draw – something she was never exposed to as an adolescent – and said several have shown real talent. But turning them into prize-winning artists isn’t Allen’s goal. It’s all about turning them on to the creative process.

She also uses her art to help abandoned animals find homes. The interest generated by her animal portraits has generated income for the Titusville, Florida Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA). She donates her portraits of “hard-to-place” animals to the shelter, and says proudly that six animals have been adopted because of interest generated by her paintings.

Dogs hold a special place in Allen’s heart. Her dog “Daisey” was nearly 11 when Allen was diagnosed, but Daisey stood strong during her master’s months of illness. She died the day before Allen’s final treatment.

Related: Art competition seeks artists touched by cancerDaisey was the inspiration for Allen’s winning Oncology on Canvas pastel called “Daisey and I.” Allen summed up her whimsical piece with a tribute to her devoted companion:

“What a sweet, mischievous, wonderful joy she was in my life. We were the best of friends for eleven years. She was always there for me, waiting along with me, for all of this to be over.

“It all happened so fast I was stunned. Before I knew it, I was having surgery, then a schedule being mapped out for my chemotherapy treatment.

“And there was Daisey, waiting for me.”

Connie Allen encourages other artists with cancer and caregivers to submit their work to the competition. The deadline to register is June 10.

Farewell, Mikael the Mime

Mikael Rudolph, a mime, actor, dancer, teacher and political activist, passed away Fri., Feb. 26, at his home in Minneapolis. He was 51.

I first met Mikael several years ago through his social activism (he co-founded Impeach for Peace) and only later did I come to know him for his creative talents. He won his first battle with cancer and made it the subject of his soulful, funny one-man play, “Cancer My Ass! which debuted — or “de-butted” as Mikael called it — in Minneapolis one year ago.

Related: Mime uses humor to put cancer in its place

For Mikael, “All the world’s a stage” was more than a line from Shakespeare. It was his approach to life. “That’s who I am,”
he told me last year, then looking as fit as a fiddle. “I always process my own issues and problems through friends. I don’t isolate.”

The second time cancer reared its ugly head six months ago, this time in the form of therapy-related acute myelogenous leukemia, he fought it with the support of loving friends and both traditional and alternative healers. When I visited him in the hospital I sensed him searching our faces as if looking in a mirror to see how he was doing. Mikael lived not to simply act, but to interact.

His friend Angela, who lived Mikael’s ups and downs these past months, said he was not afraid to die and “knew it was his time…He wanted to go and we all know when Mikael decides, that’s what is going to happen.”

Thank you, Mikael, for your unwavering compassion for the people of Iraq and those in need in this country and everywhere.

The Cane Mutiny

I was reluctant to use my cane even after I bought it. I figured I might need one eventually so I chose a plain black adjustable model from a seniors’ site on the Internet. For two months, it gathered dust in a corner. Then I named it Citizen Cane and gave it a coming out party before leaving for my Mayo trip. The nature of my spam changed after that Internet order. My number of Viagra ads doubled, and notices for disability insurance popped into my junk mail. 

Email from a fellow graduate student: I noticed your struggle with walking on campus last January. Use the cane and look great doing it. If anyone can make a cane stylish, it is you. If anyone can make a limp attractive, you can.

I had a heart-to-heart talk with the cane before I left. “I’m taking you on this trip with me and I’m counting on you. The men in my life have let me down. You’re the last one standing.” Citizen rested against the wall.

I continued, “I see you are the strong silent type. That’s probably good. I don’t want a lot of chatter right now. But I need someone to lean on and you are chosen.”

I stared at the black pole in tears. “Don’t let me down. I feel pretty good about you. You’re stable; you have a job and a purpose. We should make a good team.”

I began using Citizen around the house. I was surprised at the added stability a third leg gave me. In geometry, I had learned three points make a plane. So, I told Citizen:  “You have helped me create a plane. A plane is similar to a platform. A platform is a base. I have a base to build on so let’s get going.” I fell in love with Citizen knowing he’d always be there for me. 

I gave people with canes room to move. That’s what I needed – room to move. Citizen Cane would signal the crowd to part and allow me space. The cane would be useful in more ways than just walking. How right I was. Citizen worked as a weapon. He reached to press the buttons that opened doors automatically. I wedged Citizen in closing elevators. I propped hotel doors open with him. I could join a parade and twirl Citizen like a baton if I liked. 

I banged Citizen against the side of an overdue electric cart as if whipping a horse for speed. That incident took place at the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport. I was being taken by cart to the next plane.  I spoke to the driver, “You were not there to pick me up. I arranged transportation to the correct gate when I made my reservation. You being late does not mean I have to be late. Step on it. Mister, I’m on my way to Mayo Clinic. This is not how you treat a sick woman.” Flakes of black paint chipped from Citizen’s side while I knocked him against the cart. “I have little to lose if I decide to throttle you and I’m thinking about it.” Bang, bang with the cane. With Citizen’s help we made it to the plane with two — maybe three —  minutes to spare.

In learning to use my cane, I had its height adjusted and practiced letting it stabilize me without putting a lot of weight on it. Using a cane correctly doesn’t come naturally. It is held in the hand opposite the weak side. For me that meant holding it in my right-hand. I practiced moving smoother. Cane forward; bad leg forward; good leg follows. 

The black pole increased my developing old-lady look. I thought some Queen Elizabeth-style ungainly purses with handles and a moth-chewed mink stole would complete my attire. I made note to search out these items.

At the Kahler Grand Hotel near Mayo, wearing nun’s oxfords, I surfed the Internet studying men on

A short burly guy watched over my shoulder, and asked me what I was doing. I told him. He was single and had never considered Internet dating. I shared how it worked. We chatted for a few minutes in a casual friendly way. He wore his hair cropped close and was clean-shaven. His clothes were those of a laborer: dirty flannel shirt and jeans dotted with paint spatters. I saw that it was nearly midnight so I began gathering my stuff to go to my room. The man helped. I had learned to accept a hand whenever it appeared.  After we got on the elevator, he said, “Gee, you sure are pretty. I’d really like to sleep with you. Would you like to come to my room and talk (only he didn’t say “talk.” He used another 4-letter word)?” The elevator stopped. I shouted, “No, I would not.” I shook Citizen at him. “You go to your room and I’m going to mine.” I pointed the way out of the elevator with the cane. I reported the incident when I got to my room. I might be the wounded antelope, but he was not a lion. 

Email response from a male writer friend upon hearing about the elevator incident: D, You should have held out for a sword cane. Seems guys work a lot less on pick-up lines these days. In my single days (pre-1984 when dinosaurs roamed) you would never have asked a girl to go to your room and f*** on less than 20 minutes acquaintance. We were civilized.  — Best, Chad 

At my CAT scan the next morning, I told the nurses what happened. The older woman chimed in, “Well, honey, that boy was not from Minnesota. Mothers raise their sons better here. A Midwesterner would have stared at your pretty little feet (I wore black Mary Janes), glanced up for one second, and been too intimidated to even say hello. I bet that guy was from New York.” She said the last part as though it were a crime. I didn’t tell her my boyfriend was from there.

My journey to Mayo was very demanding. I had exceptionally painful tests such as the spinal tap — so many tests they were lined up like a cruise itinerary on the river Styx. Ah, that was it. Mayo: the cruise. “Straight ahead is Diane’s sub-cortical white matter. See these splotches. They are treacherous. Stay away from them. Don’t go in there without a cane.”

Not a fallen woman yet: I wrote on my computer what eventually became a post for my fellow students. I’m staying upright. Few curbs here. Got my cane retrofitted with a strap and a hook to hang it from counters. The Mayo is a wonder. It is huge. Doesn’t take a village. Takes an entire city. I’m gaining weight despite miles of cane lurching. I’ll have to invent cane aerobics.

Diane Hoover Bechtler lives in Charlotte, North Carolina, with her husband, Michael Gross who is a poet with a day job and with their cat, Call Me IshMeow. As well as writing short work, she is looking for an agent for her memoir, which is about learning to live with brain disease. She has an undergraduate degree in English from Queens University where she graduated summa cum laude and subsequently earned her MFA. She has had short work published in journals such as The Gettysburg Review, Thema, Literary Journal, Pangolin Press, Bewildering Stories, Everyday Fiction and The Dead Mule, School of Southern Literature.

Art competition seeks artists touched by cancer

Adult artists touched by cancer are invited to take part in the 2010 Oncology On CanvasSM Expressions of a Cancer Journey competition and exhibition sponsored by Lilly USA, LLC, in partnership with the patient advocacy group National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship (NCCS).

The competition is open to U.S. and Puerto Rico citizens who are newly diagnosed with cancer, survivors, caregivers and professionals providing cancer patient care.

Submissions can be watercolor, oil, pastel, photography, acrylic or mixed media. Prizes ranging from $1,000 to $10,000 will be donated to the winners’ cancer charities of choice. Some of the artwork will go on a nationwide tour with showings at cancer centers, hospitals and patient advocacy group events. Other opportunities to promote the art in ways that benefit cancer patients are under development. An oil painting submitted in the 2004 competition called “Long Day’s Journey into Night” has been reproduced on silk scarves to benefit NCCS’s programs.

The artist, a relative of a cancer survivor, described the painting: “Fear, devastation, alone - all words describing the beginning of a woman’s cancer journey. I have chosen to portray the middle leg. Their world is still upside down. Night is the cancer that engulfs them. The woman is the moon. Hope is represented by the glimmering stars and greenery. The woman’s courage and desire to fight is shown because she has thrust the cloud of isolation aside and exposed herself to be able to accept help from others. The ‘others’ - family, friends, medical personnel, are the trees reaching through the darkness to comfort, cry, cheer and encourage the reluctant traveler.”

Registration forms for the 2010 competition will be accepted through June 10, 2010, but earlier registration is encouraged. Artwork submissions must be postmarked by June 30. Go to for registration details and see more art from previous competitions.

The first Oncology on Canvas competition took place in 2004 and drew nearly 500 entries from 23 countries. Submissions became part of a worldwide touring exhibit that began at London’s Royal College of Art.

Climate humor: Ask and ye shall receive

Yesterday Michael Cosgrove lamented the lack of dark humor and satire surrounding the climate talks at Copenhagen. He suggested it might break the tedious and non-productive nature of the meeting and also engage the public as the current tug-of-war between politicians, scientists and demonstrators has not.

Today Marian Kamenský, a political cartoonist in Slovakia, sent this observation on the talks in his “Kopenhagen” cartoon.

Illuminating Health Care for All

“Jeff’s right that when it comes to our health care grid, America resembles a developing country,” commented George Trone, PhD, managing editor at The Yale Journal for Humanities in Medicine where the poem was first published.


We are misdirected on the health care issue, confused by the facts applied to all sides of the great shell game called the health care debate. It seems simple enough:

  • Decide that all are entitled to health care (apparently they are, if you look at existing social programs, the county hospitals and the emergency rooms of countless other private hospitals.)
  • Decide how to pay for it. Don’t get lost in the debate over what it costs, the numbers are too confusing and we are already paying for most of it anyway in dollars or in human consequence. Don’t place the burden on the strong backs of caregivers, they are already in debt, tired of the debate and worn down from years of grueling and expensive education.
  • Decide how to control the costs.

There is one simple model that stands out to me; our utilities grid in states with Public Utilities Commissions. The grid was put in place largely by the government, everyone has access to it and the cost and profits are controlled by the public utilities commission.

The publicly traded companies which dutifully send us our electric bill each month generate a fair profit for their share holders and there are mechanisms in place to aid those who can not pay. There are no exclusions for preexisting conditions, no better grade of service and no $100 million dollar bonuses.

Illuminating Health Care for All

Perhaps you have one on your keychain but
I only carry a flashlight when forewarned the basement will be dark,
The power off, a storm coming, know I will be exploring
boarded up buildings
Or experiencing the wonders of nature by starlight,
Otherwise I am confident all will be well;
When I flip the switch to on
There will be illumination.

I expect dark corners to disappear,
Hobgoblins and shadows to hide when
I flick that switch
After all,
Uncle Sam and I, or least my grandparents,
Paid for the thing,
The whole enormous grid I mean.
Tenement to Tennessee roadhouse
Every nook and cranny’s connected.
If one can afford a wash machine or wide screen HD TV
By God the power is there to make it function.

Life being imperfect, or at least
The machines that supplement life here in America,
Act as though it’s meant to be that way,
Imperfect I mean,
So hospitals and big business have automatic generators.
My computer has battery back up and surge protection,
Hope yours does too.

I expect not to have a heart attack opening the utility bill,
Palpitations perhaps,
Due to the fluctuating price of fuel oil, the cost of the war
And the resulting state of the economy but
I live in a state with a Public Utilities Commission,
Put my kids through college with dividend checks from the reigning power monopoly
And the cost, taxed by all governing entities,
Is bearable.

My mother however,
or someone you know, have seen or not seen on a street corner or exit ramp
With or without the sign saying “Homeless, Feed me”,
Or, “Why Lie, I Need a Beer”
Has no health care.
They are off the grid so to speak.

We provide flashlights of course.
Small, weak beamed devices of limited life span
with government issued batteries possibly
from the day-old store or re-issued from the overstock in Iraq.
Some are powered by the love energy of volunteer workers.
Limited, dim and short lived
But flashlights none the less.
Emergency rooms, free clinics, Head Start, a list of programs that change
With the current budget,
All intended to illuminate the path
To better health for those off the grid, or those who just plain
Can’t pay the bill.

Electricity and health care.
One expected to function every time we flip the switch
For as long as we pay the bill,
I imagine it’s the same for the other.

Jeff McCallum is a poet and author of Somebody’s Bright Balloon, a collection of poems for cancer patients and caregivers. McCallum maintains a web site here, and can be reached at jeff at wordstone dot net.

…And to Forgive….Divine

Slid from the street into the subway on a black rainy morning to join the other black-clad human statues placed respectfully apart. Two minutes later all thrust together like chickens into the green train with no noise except the turning of newspaper pages an occasional smoker cough and an i-pod’s squeaky bleat. And the clatter of steel wheels on silvery rails.

Christopher hung onto the strap, swaying with the dancing train. The green-hatted woman facing him was reading the back page so he read the front page. A prison riot in Brazil – twelve dead. Yet another warning of imminent terrorist attacks. Cybercrime is up. Why do people read the papers? His gaze shifted to a badly dressed woman with blue-painted (blue!) fingernails and a tacky hairstyle. He looked around him. Oh, the young boy looking glumly at nothing with sleep-glazed green eyes, standing next to his mother who was holding his hand. They looked like they were on their way to a funeral. God, some people must live very happy lives, happy families I-Don’t-Think-So.

To his right he noticed a young woman wearing a thick dark overcoat. She appeared to be deep in thought. Maybe she was just bored. You never know what people are thinking.

The train pulled into and out of yet another station, the station before his, and Christopher watched the pretty-as-hell black-coated woman put her hand into her coat looking for something or maybe adjusting her bra-strap. She looked uncomfortable. Suddenly, the driver braked a little too hard and Christopher was thrown to his right and his briefcase banged into her knee. “Ow!!” she exclaimed. She glared pointedly at him and quickly pulled her hand from her coat to rub her knee. “Please forgive me,” he said with his winning charming bright-and-beaming blue-eyed smile, hoping to pacify her. Her beautiful doe eyes looked into his then her features softened a little and, although there were no words, she smiled slightly and nodded her head in a you-are-forgiven way that made him feel better. She had beautiful black hair and fine olive skin and a long graceful neck and no necklace. The train pulled into his station.

Off the train and into the wet street melting into the stream of people flowing like lava towards the large office building where he worked. In the lift, crawling up the walls, he thought about the pretty-as-hell young woman he had met on the subway. Someone had drawn a pretty butterfly on the elevator mirror with a red felt-tipped marker.

On the train she was thinking of him and his lovely blue eyes and polite manner. He was very attractive. Her knee hurt. She could hear his soft voice. She pictured his blond hair and remembered what she had been doing when his briefcase banged into her.

But she had whispered “I forgive you.” She had at least forgiven him.
She felt relieved to know that he was not there any more, so she put her hand back into her coat and the old man opposite watched her looking for something or maybe adjusting her bra-strap but no that wasn’t it at all her hand was searching feverishly and she was sweating breathing hard wild and petrified eyes and then she found it and she drew her breath sharply and held it hard and her body stiffened and she was scared so scared and she looked around her and thought of blue eyes and dying and said it was now because her bomber’s forgiveness had been granted and given so she closed her eyes and pulled the cord….

…And she, the green-hatted woman, the old man, the blue-nailed woman, the boy, his mother and the rest of her forty-six victims all ceased to exist in one shattering and eternal instant….


Poem: Pre-existing Conditions — Jeff McCallum

Pre-existing Conditions


Cultures where the aged and dying,

The toothless and slow wander off,

Trek as purposefully as their unstable gait allows

Toward the wilderness, the elephant burial ground

To leave us unburdened

Are dead, aren’t they?


Except for America.

We are Sparta at end life.

Our failing are removed from the roles,

Cast from the life raft, marked as pariah.

Tales of the fabulous and famous suffering these indignities

Distract us from this war or that

As we are lifted to Olympus on the pages of super market tabloids.

Our consciousness tickled, our conscience fails to make the connection,

To penetrate the molasses thick

Slow swirl of the amber filter the media whores

Smears like honey over the dry bread of our lives.

They hide a hundred, a thousand,

A lost tribe of Joe the plumber, Joyce the beautician,

Alice the single mother of three

And Bill, the veteran of some war or another

Because they are irrelevant to Sparta.


Katrina, a long five minutes of fame for the tribe of the nameless

Isolated in the remote reaches of forgotten

Removed beyond memory and follow-up.

911 claimed its victims

The war began, and her victims disappeared,

Returned to their rightful place out of line.

We send more humanitarian aid to the faceless

Of some other nation, spend more on airport security than

Shelter for the disenfranchised.


Pre-exiting conditions exist as a statistic, leave perhaps millions

Out in the reign of the insurance gods,

The cold of anonymity a grey shawl on their shoulders

And if they are tired or different or poor

Some reason or another

Is casually assigned to their condition

And our conscience

Which warrants no response.

Let the tireless hands of Mother Theresa continue

She’s a volunteer after all.

Jeff McCallum is a poet and author of “Somebody’s Bright Balloon,” a collection of poems for cancer patients and cargegivers. McCallum maintains a web site and can be reached at jeff at wordstone dot org.

« Older Entries