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Grace Paley writes: 

“My father had decided to teach me how to grow old. I said O.K. My children didn’t think it was such a great idea. If I knew how, they thought, I might do so too easily. No, no, I said, it’s for later, years from now. And besides, if I get it right it might be helpful to you kids in time to come. 

They said, Really? 

My father wanted to begin as soon as possible.


Please sit down, he said. Be patient. The main thing is this — when you get up in the morning you must take your heart in your two hands. You must do this every morning. 

That’s a metaphor, right? 

Metaphor? No, no, you can do this. In the morning, do a few little exercises for the joints, not too much. Then put your hands like a cup over and under the heart. Under the breast. He said tactfully. It’s probably easier for a man. Then talk softly, don’t yell. Under your ribs, push a little. When you wake up, you must do this massage. I mean pat, stroke a little, don’t be ashamed. Very likely no one will be watching. Then you must talk to your heart. 

Talk? What? 

Say anything, but be respectful. Say — maybe say, Heart, little heart, beat softly but never forget your job, the blood. You can whisper also, Remember, remember.”



monarch butterfly

I just saws a monarch butterfly, and it’s not the only one I am likely to see this week. I’ve gone whole summers without seeing a monarch butterfly. This sighting reminded me of a poem inspired by an old friend who has just retired, Grace Paley for a reason I have forgotten at the moment, Chrisse Hynde from  the Pretenders watching the clothes go around,  and Les and Jane who must be the kindest Laundromat owners in the East Interlake.  


for Peter Dueck, Grace Paley,
Les and Jane and Chrissie Hynde

My heart is irregular and incompetent, still it keeps beating
all the time. Arrhythmia is what it’s called, that flutter, 
that irregularity. My friend said “just imagine,
you’re a lucky man, you have a butterfly heart.”

I’m sure his job doesn’t let him use enough metaphors, 
and I enjoy the thought, lightening up. Oh 
so much better to have a butterfly fluttering in my chest.
My heart’s incompetence is the incompetence of my aortic valve.

I swish I swash, my heart sounds like an old washing machine.
Listening, my general practitioner heard the sluice back
using his stethescope. Yes, sir, confirmed the ultrasound. 
Cradling my heart in my hands I urge all this blood

to keep circulating, a deep breath, my life assured
Astride a chair at the East Interlake Klean-All Laundromat. 
I swish, I swash, watchin the clothes go ’round,
beat that.



A Dispatch from the Pain Room

Right now, Tuesday, June  21st, I don’t have a family doctor in general practise assigned to keep track and treat a variety of ailments including polynueropathies, Stage Four Flat Right Foot with a screw loose, an amputation below the left knee, lousy cartilage genetics resulting in severe osteoarthritis, with chronic pain and chronic depression.

I did have a GP and all was well until she returned to Alberta. I thought Prime Medical, where she worked, would allow other Prime Medical doctors to treat me until a new one came into the company, they also have a walk-in clinic; and because they have all my medical files, going back to Gimli and Winnipeg.

My work, my writing one and the same are essential to my good health. I cannot work with too much pain. I have been prescribed Oxycodone in one form or another for over three years, and a very very very low dose, without any signs of abuse or asking for increases. Thirty milligrams, 30 mgs, 15 in the morning 15 at supper. I was able to work on 20 mgs for two years during which time Love & Surgery was published, but by 2021 I needed more, and here’s the difficulty.

“Studies show,” people who use oxy become addicted and use increasing amounts and they OD. That’s the official line but far from the whole truth. Consider for a moment that as I age, the severity of my multiple conditions cause me more pain, and dosage increases could be expected and reasonable needed to maintain established pain levels that are acceptable so I can still keep working. And another thing “studies show,” pain sucks serotonin so depression starts or increases.

I also use other pain management tools and strategies (attached) that help keep my oxy dose as low as possible. I am never pain free, and I will never be pain free again. Big hairy deal, happens to everyone, shut up already is what I project I hear from the unexperienced.

Spit it out. Any prescriptions for oxycodene or similar pain meds require follow-up. Follow-ups can only be ensured if you have a family doctor. Walk-in clinics can’t perscribe oxy for that reason, nor can Urgent Care Centres, Emergency rooms, actually just about NOBODY.

This morning I met with a very nice fellow at the Aurora Community Clinic, not a regular doctor he explained but an “addictionist” charged with writing oxy prescriptions for up to two months when the patient is switched to methadone. I’m not afraid of methadone, but I am tired and afraid of stigma, the humilation of being treated as an addict to be treated for my pain. The methadone prescription pads, only duplicates instead of the triplicates oxy requires, are more readily available. The tick boxes allow FOR PAIN and FOR ADDICTION.

The writer’s appreciation I have for learning new things, seeing and hearing different people, is smashed to bits by the look of the pharmacist and assistants when I show up with my oxy script and my methodone follow-up story. We do those weekly, or bi-weekly. Just a minute, even if the pad says “for pain,” well that hardly ever happens. UPDATE: The pharmacists are coming round, most friendly people, and my first delivery was by Valerie, good person and neighbour from across the street. 

I have several spots in my website and my life indicated that I am different and I am atypical, and la de dah kiss my fancy ass. Believe you me the downsides always outweigh the romantaic notions of difference.

My oxy dosage is 30 mgs, I said that already. Usually addicts are up to 150 or 180 mgs (the max allowable) before they are made to switch. So this is a joke right, because I can’t land a GP within a year of arriving here I have to get my prescription written by an addictionist.

This rips the scab off of not being believed when I told my parents and my doctor of my hip pain when I was 14. This was repeated with the disbelief of my pain when my ankle fusion failed. My doctor could not believe that after only two failures, I would be his third failure out of 300 ankle fusions. If your foot surgeon says you are healing and blah blah blah, and you know he is wrong; but your partner and much of the family believe him, shit happens.

By the time the surgeon had taken a closer look at the CT scans (having relied on X-rays so far)he realized, hmm…yeah I guess you might be right, fusion is only maybe 25%. WEll FUCK! I try not to waste a lot of time and energy being angry, because my cognitive clock seems to be running fast. Now discussions about pain meds changed a bit and a year after my 2019 tour my dr and pharmacist cooled their jets.

For my part I tried CBT oil and THC combinations, which did exactly nothing for me. I was already taking Gabapentin and then my psych meds, two of them the same since 2000. But yes, I will keep trying alternate therapies because I need a clear head to write and to love, and my pain thanks to lousy cartilage genetics and gravity will always get worse. I write against pain with a scream!  

I project my medical files carryt a  great big Red P in a circle for being a “problem” patient. A doctor caught himself once and switched quickly to “complex” after getting as far as prob.

I grew up with the admonish always “to be good for the doctor.” I always thought presenting too well to please the docgtor ran contrary to the whole point of seeing her. I’m sick, I’m not good. What I need is another good doctor like the one that left, and I’m fine if they work for Prime. I was hoping to talk for a bit about the Pain Clinic and my great new hearing aids from Expert Hearing, but I am out of time. I need meds, I need Michelle! I need to get this off my chest for now.






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I listen to music, read, write poetry and prose, and make videocasts, usually in collaboration with visual and media artist Murray Toews. I am a writer with disabilities, or a disabled writer, or a neurodivergent crip writer. You choose the point of entry for your reading;  there are no border guards.  The welcome mat is out. Stomp your feet and leave your shoes on. 

Love & Surgery (Radiant 2019) is my most recent collection of words about love and loss, including my below-the-left- knee amputation, my most visible disability. "Lousy cartilage genetics,"  the surgeon's note. Lucky for me no phantom leg pain. Disappearing cartilage makes for severe osteoarthritis. Real pain is now an everyday companion, but usually held back enough with meds and meditation, to allow for making poems, stories, jokes, aphorisms all true enough, remembering narrators are unreliable and writers make shit up. 

Afghanistan Confessions, poems in the voice of Canadian soldiers, was published in 2014, boy in 2012. Lucky Man (2005) was nominated for the McNally Robinson Manitoba Book of the Year award.