Honoring Clay January (Lightning Rod) RIP 2/6/2013
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Lightning Rod
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Joined: August 15th, 2004, 6:57 pm
Location: between my ears


Post by Lightning Rod » October 11th, 2011, 8:02 pm


(The following are extracted segments of letters written to my secret lover while I was recovering from the treatments for throat cancer. The doctors first performed a laryngectomy which is to say that they surgically removed my larynx or voice box and left me breathing through a hole in my neck. They followed this with five weeks of radiation treatments where they beat me about the neck and shoulders with tiny invisible rubber bats that leave no bruises. These battlefield love letters are an account of my wars with giant boogers which have been trying to strangle me for the past month. It is not a very romantic subject for love letters. But what is a good love letter if we can't talk about our innermost fears and monsters? In love letters we seek to gently reveal the ugliest parts of ourselves. It's where we break the news to our beloved that while we may not be perfect, we are at least heroic in our own hearts. Most of all a love letter must want to tell the truth about the contents of our hearts. Warning! these images may be shocking and graphic.)


How am I feeling? she asks. She asks this question of a poet? Naturally, I'm feeling a little bit of every mood, emotion or shade of spirit ever invented by man and a few that I'm working on myself. Most of the time I feel like Frankenstein. Frankenstein is the most pitiable of monsters, he's the lonely monster. He just wants a little love and acceptance. He doesn't have a grudge against anybody but that maniacal doctor who created him....created him to be lonely. Yes, we know that Frankenstein is ugly and this is why the world fears him and fails to understand the real person that he is. Frankenstein is a poet, you see. These gutteral grunts that you hear tearing their way from his throat aren't his real voice. His voice is the voice of all voices. It is the voice given for others to speak. Within this green, pukey-looking dead and stitched together cadaver, this man of pieces and parts, there is a complete man of whole integrity, a single man who has a heart infected by love and a brain big enough for compassion and even imagination. He can even imagine his own perfect companion, his bride of terrible beauty with fearsome eyes from the deserts of the Levantine with shocked desert hair. She gasps and swoons in his presence and pretends to laugh at his jokes. Yes, he imagined her and that she was created just for him to touch and love and cherish. He imagined her until his imagination would hurt the way only a monster's imagination can hurt. So, Frankenstein tries to take his pain pills on a regular incline. There is very little that sleep cannot heal. The monster knows his loneliness and is sorry for it. He would rather be with you.

She asks me how I feel?

Homelife here is getting down to the routine, which is how I like it. The housemates are all comfy and helpful. I feel so much better just having someone walk by every few hours at least. I don't feel nearly so isolated. Becky bought me a present yesterday. It's a pill crusher. I was folding my pain pills and the half-dozen other remedies they have me ingesting into a piece of paper and then flogging them with the back of a wooden hairbrush until the pills were pounded into powder, but this new device lets me drop them in and turn it like a peppermill and grinds them quite nicely. For me, it was the perfect gift.

How am I feeling?

Every morning when I get up, the first thing I do is make some attempt to clean out the hole in my neck that I use for breathing. They call it the STOMA. I'm not even sure what the term stands for, but it sits at the bottom of my neck. If you look down this hole, you are looking directly down my trachea or wind-pipe which connects to my bronchea, the tubes which go to my lungs. Right now there is a pink rubber tube going into my STOMA. It doesn't go down my STOMA but into a small slit or incision which connects my trachea to my esophagus which is directly behind and parallel. This tube runs down my esophagus and into my stomach. A few weeks ago I was eating through this tube but now its only purpose is to keep the little slit that it runs through open. It's just there to prevent the hole from growing shut the way a fresh piercing would close without something to keep it open. This hole will be where they mount my vocal prosthesis. By closing the STOMA hole with my thumb, I force air from my lungs through the prosthesis and out my mouth. The prosthesis is like a little plastic reed that vibrates when air is pushed through it.
But in the mornings, I clean out the STOMA because it is still healing from the radiation and also because it secrets mucous trying to stay moist and that mucous hardens into the most incredible boogers you have ever seen. I have begun making note of just how large and amazing that these wads of slime can be. It's probably only a matter of time before I begin to mount and collect the slimy specimens. Today's was a real charmer. It looked like a particularly robust garden slug. It was moist and slimy and had a skeleton and muscles. I pulled it out by grabbing one of the crustier sections and drawing it forth like a cork made of ghastly gray flesh. I can always breathe so much better after I remove these wads but I am also fascinated by their sheer size and ugliness.
There must be at least a whole cult of Buddhism devoted to the worship and praise of morbid boogers of such extraordinary size and sheer monstrosity. It's like contemplating death or any of the other mortal afflictions whose idols and icons are so wonderously grotesque.

She asks how I feel.

Mostly I'm trying to feel carefully and slowly. The way a blindman feels his way down a path by grasping each pebble with his toes and asking a dozen questions before releasing it to see which way it rolls. You see which way it rolls by listening to it. I feel helpless and I feel useless a good deal of the time. But I do have a goal. And that goal you keep hidden between your legs, my darling. How do I feel? Watch this.........

My special one,
I hope this letter finds you well. I have been having a hard week. I've been literally fighting for breath. As my speech theratist puts it, I'm transitioning from being a nose breather to being a neck breather. That's why the invasion of the booger monsters has caused me so much grief this week. Since I don't have all those juicy mucous memberanes and sinus cavities and spacious reception areas which act like decanter vessels to prepare the air for my lungs, all of those more bourgeois neighborhoods of the lung sitting like gated subdivisions with brutally efficiennt security services who drive slimy squadcars. They be so slick that they can have you in three-point restraints while you are still thinking that they work for you.
The process goes something like this: first I feel around my STOMA and peel away any obvious crust around the hole. Then I apply the saline 'bullet'. The bullet is about the size of a 30.06 cartridge. It contains a cc. or so of sterile saline solution resembling tears. The flexible plastic of the bullet lets you squirt the solution or drip it. I squirt about half a bullet into the STOMA. It is pleasant in the same way that drowning is pleasant. I cough and gasp a couple of times Mucous and saline spray from my blowhole . I feel like a nasty porpoise. After I do this a few times, I feel something peeping out of my STOMA hole.. One more good, wet cough and I can grab the end of the monster with my fingertips. When I pull the huge loogie from my throat, my whole day suddenly changes. I drink a few gulps of cool, tangy air and my head begins to clear and a rush of oxygen courses through my body. It's when I think of you.

Over the past couple of decades of my life, the default setting on this machine has been, "Write." Most of my waking time I spend either writing or preparing to write or making sure I wrote or re-writing. It's the first thing I think about doing in the morning and the last thing before I go to bed. It's what I do and everything else is secondary. Recently, however, a new option has been added to my repetoir of likely meditations and activities. It's called healing and mending. If I am directing devotion toward healing and mending, then I know I'm not wasting energy or getting into mischief, or at least more mischief than I permit.

Hello, my love
The more helpless I feel, the more hopeless I become. I have had the two toughest weeks of my convalescence. There is something so primally terrifying about not getting enough oxygen. I know that you understand. I get the periodic panic 'I can't get my breath' attack but moreover there is a sustained version of that were the gas mixture in your blookstream is just not rich enough and your muscles all cry for oxygen. Especially this old main muscle that pounds and longs for you. You would be so disgusted with me right now, my darling. I can't describe how gross and disgusting a process it is to simply keep the passage clear of these giant snot-snails. After I drag them out I hold them in my hand for a few seconds in a gauze pad. I swear they are like living things sent down my blow-pipe to suck up my very breath before I can draw it. I dread them, yet they fascinate me. Two weeks ago I didn't think they could possibly get any bigger. Now they are bigger and there are more of them. It's like a terrible B sci-fi movie from the 1940's. As I was grasping the evil monster this afternoon, I was weighing it in my hand on the gauze. As it lay there on the pad glistening, I realized that in terms of physical volume, it was about the same size as a cigarette. a wet cigarette, found in the spit-dregs of last night's beer type of short deadly cigarette like a Camel or a Lucky Strike soggy with potential death.

I've been able to do damned little but listen to the television and lie in bed. i wish I could go and start a business. I don't even have the energy to write a book. I would love to just touch you a couple of times a day.
I love you.

As usual, the mental part is the most important part and the most difficult part. Just keeping my spirits up is half of the battle. I've been having some very serious talks with myself lately. Life and death talks. These are fairly straightforward conversations that I have with myself when I"m groggy from sleep, in need of pain medication, or just lonely and bored. They go something like, "Well, is what you are getting back from life as much as what you are putting into it?" I like to keep the answer to this question hovering around 'I'm not sure." or "It's a close call." But more and more these days, the answer seems to keep coming back, "Not no, but Hell No." When I start listing the things that I can no longer enjoy, it seems to go on forever. and I'm confounded to name a few that I can. Then, from there, the question inevitably arises, "Is it worth it to continue?"
About the longest that I can manage to sit in front of the computer is two or three hours. That's on a good day. I have unanswered correspondence.
Slowly I adjust to the recent changes in my routines. These adjustments have mainly kept me in bed for the past three weeks. This always depresses me. My main occupation has been to determine how often I need to clean the STOMA in order to breathe best. While it used to be sufficient to do a major flush once a day, now I'm finding that it is necessary every six hours or so. The first week of the major change when they put the prosthesis in was a nightmare. They gave me absolutely no clue to expect this. On my next session with the speech therapist, she said, 'Oh, yeah, that's normal and it might get worse before it gets better." That was pleasant to hear and she was right. About day-break I woke up needing a breath of air like a drunk needs a secret bottle of gin. I was gasping by the time I made it out of bed and to my chair. i squirt a half-bullet of saline and try to breathe smoothly. This is when I ask myelf if it is worth the effort? I keep a mirror nearby. Squirt some more saline and work it around with a couple of gurgly coughs. I feel the beast oozing to life. I keep the mirror so I can talk to myself, its not because I can see well enough to help me clean up visually. It's all by braille on the battle ground. No, the mirror is there so that I know that I am here.
I break a pain pill in half and drop it in the cruncher. While I inject the medicine into my gastric tube, I can feel the beast gristling to life just under my sternum. One more bullet goes down the hole. This time I lean forward and cough really hard. Sometimes they blow completely out of the hole about the size of a Texas cicada and I grab them in the guaze. Other times, like this morning, it's more like giving some kind of unholy birth and I have to draw the monster forth from its vacuole like a slimy gray infant and flop it on the guaze pad and grasp it as if to smother it the same way that it was smothering me.
Becky left a reefer on my desk as I was sleeping. Little things like that are what give me the excuses I need to keep going. The thought of you is another one.

Sorry I have not written much lately. My bad days have been outnumbering my good days. I just got back from the doctor who says this is all perfectly normal and that things get better. I'm still suffering from the radiation. I have burns and crustiness in my sclap which is directly behind my STOMA. I'm getting such grisly monsters from my STOMA because it is trying to heal. At least I know I'm not having any unusual suffering. He also cheerfully refilled my prescription for pain meds. Sometimes they are the only thing that gets me through. I don't know why I'm so shy about taking them. Most likely it's because I'm trying not to get a habit that is too much bigger than what I think I can endure the withdrawal from. But it's also nice to have a bottle with a couple of week's worth of pills in it. I have another bottle that I have collected with enough horsepower to punch my ticket out of this fairground. I'm hoping I'm too big a coward to use it just because I'm having a bad day when there may be other better days ahead.

Somehow they are becoming less formidable, less fierce. The boogers, I mean. As I learn to wrangle them more effectively, they have become less threatening, less profoundly sinister. Their booger personalities are not as strong. There are more of them. Since I flush the little monsters several times a day, they don't often have the chance to grow to such strangling sizes. I emit them like an industrial product. I spit them in a sputum spray like oil-winged bats screaming from the cavern in my neck.

Of course the only reason that I fight them is for you. Only if I defeat them can I come staggering home to you to set my grail in your mantlepiece my coat emblazoned in your fleur and your kerchief stilI stitched to my sleeve.

I'm still suffering the residual effects of the radiation. It's hard to appreciate how profound an invasion that treatment is, even when you are experiencing it. It seems like such a small thing while it's happening, like an X-Ray or a scan but I am still experiencing strong effects of the treatments even though they have been over for more than a month. I still feel the toxic effects and the cellular damage that they caused.
One of those side-effects is The Boogers. It's why I'm locked in this battle for my own respiration with science-fiction monsters spawned by a freak radiation accident, crawling like bloody scabs from my throat. The doctor assures me that it will only get slightly worse before it starts getting better. I have no business going into battle in my condition. But I want to, my love, I want to take up arms for your standard and live in your stable where you could come and visit me on moist and tranquil nights.

Your Timid Champion
Lightning Rod
"These words don't make me a poet, these Eyes make me a poet."

The Poet's Eye

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Post by Kailashana » October 12th, 2011, 1:41 pm

Hi Lightning Rod. Very appropriate name for you, and thank you for sharing your story.

May I share it with others?

Peace and Love,

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Post by Arcadia » October 12th, 2011, 2:27 pm

Hola l-rod, great to see you posting!! ... & great, sharp, sweet letters, amigo! :D
Kaila´s post reminded me that I´ve been sharing your posts with my friend Daniel (aka Denis in Litkicks). He´s writing since a time now (in Spanish) an amazing book called "Entre comillas". I´ll send you a copy when he edit it (as far as I know he already finished it, but he has been mailing me the book chapter by chapter as if we were in the XIX century... :lol:) ..sure you´ll find in Texas some english-spanish reader to translate it to you! :wink:
abrazote & best wishes with your recovery - I keep lighting the candles-!

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Doreen Peri
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Post by Doreen Peri » October 13th, 2011, 4:52 am

Maybe consider changing the avatar so the cigarette hanging out of your mouth isn't so prominent, though I remember that day well, when I took the photo when we were in upstate New York. Thank you for the letters. I'd love to come again to help. I can't help from here. Despite the grief and dismay and suffering, your letters pull me in and even though I don't pray, I pray for you and for your dream of yourself with your lover. Those were and can be beautiful days. You make. You make. You make beautiful music. I'd like to help you make sense of it all and help you get well.

Click here to listen>
YOU MAKE - by Lightning Rod and Doreen Peri
Our signature piece....

Spoken in Unison at many spoken word events, Our piece. Thank you!


YOU MAKE - Doreen's Part

you make the stars brighter,
the load lighter, the road
like a tunnel surfacing to the sun.
you make the hues deeper,
the blues more pure;
you add endure to the sum that's won.
you make the synapses tighter,
the air crisper in autumn.
you make the picture sharper
and the feelings deeper

to the bone. to the bone
my marrow shakes like jello,
magnetic jello shakin' its way to you.
you make, you make me believe.

you make italian sound like french,
the sound of verbs and nouns
rhyming, interspersed with thyme,
seasoned with prime
numbers multiplied
by two in a key signature.
you make me want to hear
you play piano with debussy.
you make the music
sound like echoed bells
of hello.

you make me oh so oh so filled,
the still night brighter
with the blending of language
on the tongue.
you make me forever young.
you make my days an invitation,
you make brandy from my humble wine,
you make pentecost from resurrection,
you make love, you make love.



you make me imagine
the imaginings of miracles surrounding
the spherical lyrical truths which soothe us with
the caress of a guess of Time.
You make the dispenses of
rhyme prime me with revelry
in the sight of me you have crossed.
my hands are stabbed.
you make me bleed my love.

you make me hard you make me soft,
smart or stupid with a twist of your lip.
you make me like a pot.
I spin on your wheel.
your hands surround me and
slip with velvet friction.
you make you make me come.
you make stupidity stupidly unimportant,
toppled by slippery judgement.
you make pungent scents opalescent
you make me make you make me
wake you sleep me
keep me iridescent.

you make me speak to the
farm animals and the plants
of my vegetable desire,
to be content in your earthen arms
like a continent
drifting, only an eyelash
in a lifetime,
secure in your love.
you make me
a deaf explosion.

I sink into your pillow.
make me, make me,
take me to bed.

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Doreen Peri
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Post by Doreen Peri » October 13th, 2011, 5:04 am

And I cry every time I listen to us recite it and I want to be there to help you. We were/are... so special. I play it over and over some nights. Thank you. I want to help you.

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Lightning Rod
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Location: between my ears


Post by Lightning Rod » October 13th, 2011, 10:34 am

Thank you all for reading. This is not an easy piece. It wasn't easy to write and I can imagine that reading it must take some stomach as well. I tried to deal with the subject of suffering without being too morbid about it.
Thank you, Doreen, for posting our duet. Sometimes I almost forget that I ever had a voice. I wish you were here with me too. It would give me great comfort. When we set our minds on something, it is amazing to see the clever ways that the Universe contrives to make them come true.
"These words don't make me a poet, these Eyes make me a poet."

The Poet's Eye

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