Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Writing Wednesday: Chapbook: Vertigo Verses

April, Robert Lee Brewer and Writer's Digest will be "hosting" the Poem-A-Day Challenge.  One year when I participated (either in April or November, I forget which) I completed a collection of poems on what it was/is like for me to have cervical vertigo.  I've shared some of these poems but this is my first time sharing them all.

This is perhaps the most intimate thing I've posted in this blog in a long while.  Enjoy.

Vertigo Verses

Table of Contents
In Search of Metaphor: Ways to Describe Vertigo
Irregular Rhythm
May Cause Dizziness
Warning Label
Bed Ridden
Rhetorical Questions
Around the Water Cooler
just words
An Open Letter
To Tell the Truth
Excuse Me
Touch Me
Home Sick
One More Stand
One Year, One Month, and One Week Later
Vertigo Like Rain

In Search of Metaphor: Ways to Describe Vertigo

you’re on a boat
finally you have your sea legs
            but the ocean is rough
                        and the ship shifts
so that you lose your balance.
                        Now realize,
           the world is an ocean
and there is no calm.

I’ve been on
   this carousel called
       Earth for over forty years.
I do not understand.
   Why can’t you feel
       the constant

at the touch of your lips
my cells spin apart and I
atomized by your love
I hold you tighter 

I’ll lean on you but
Don’t lean on me
Unless you want to fall.

It’s like
     you’re walking on water
     just got off an amusement park ride
     had too much to drink, room spinning
Only worse because it never ends
And sometimes there’s nobody there
To catch you when you fall again.

Irregular Rhythm

Incomplete, the morning falls
into the same irregular rhythm
to which I woke up
two years ago and I
still hold a stillness first thing in the morning
my head secured in my pillow, I wait
in ignorant bliss until I must move.

This is it, the only peace of my day
where I can breathe belief into relief
and think I am free from those limits
that woke me up to this nightmare
unmoved until I must move and prove
the doctors doomed diagnosis right.

My head still held, I can hold onto
the hope that will fall away as soon as I
misstep my way from my bed and out
into another day of endless motion
but for now it is this, incomplete
the morning holds hope until I fall.


From my bed I dictate our needs, recite lists of easy to fix meals
Ticking the ingredients of recipes cooked from memory.

One cup of this, a teaspoon of that,
cook for thirty minutes covered then
uncover until the sauce bubbles.

I remind everyone to update the calendar
at eight one needs to be here and at ten
another needs to be there and at four
someone needs to be two places at once.

Coordinating doctor appointments, follow-up visits, tests,
prescription renewals, and ongoing pointless physical therapy,
I still have to remind someone the bills are due or coming up.

Two weeks later, I find my bird dead in its cage. It’s funny
the things my family forgets when I’m not able to take care of them.

May Cause Dizziness

If I move too quickly, toss
my hair out of my face, shake
my head “no” with vigor or look
both ways before I cross the street
triggers the spinning in my head.

The traffic helicopter flying low
the rhythm of the trance that dances
from my son’s bedroom, the unexpected
ring of my cell phone or knock
on the door will cause the ground
to shift and slip away.

Crane shots in movies, zooming
aerial visions of director’s zeal,
a bird’s eye view of a village,
and walking down the dimly lit stairs
of a theater make me nauseous and
keep me watching DVDs at home.

The weather changes—with rain
comes a heaviness in my head
that makes reading a chore and
wind can make a simple walk
a tightrope balancing act where I
stretch out my arms to keep erect.

The list seems endless and I refuse
not to test the my physical limits.
Practically every prescription and
OTC drug says “May cause dizziness”
which, for me, is redundant.
I keep hoping I’ll find a pill
that makes everyone else dizzy
that returns balance to my life.

Warning Label

Her mother always said she should come with a warning label.. Laughing nervously, as she observed the wild child who fell and rose bleeding but giggling at her own falling. Her mother would have more to fear for her daughter. When sick in bed, the girl’s imagination soared to new heights as the mattress moved with the winds of her breathing and equilibrium days followed her past childhood into adulthood. Never one to have too much to drink, she still bumped her way through days where perception didn’t align itself with the more substantial surface of hard edges and narrow doorways.  One day she tried to walk from point A to point B, hit a wall, and slid to the floor. Her reckless body now a cage, the child raged inside wanting to dance her way out of nerves that no longer snapped. And her mother, now far away, raged at the tears that never fell in warning.

Bed Ridden

Tossing, turning she whimpers and moans through sleep
As I try to cradle her in stillness, holding my ground while she
Misperceives the floating feeling of endlessly falling from me.

Within these four corners I lay myself and there I keep
A vigilant embrace, holding and folding close enough
And still she jerks awake, her world become too rough.

Lifting her from a world that doesn’t shift, I let her grip
Holding onto the only things solid in her life, the slip
Of her world from solid to this endless, boundless trip.

Rhetorical Questions

What if I never get behind the wheel of a car
never have the freedom of the open road
and just stay here, not sure if I can
but never knowing I cannot.

What if the doctors and specialists are wrong
and it’s something else the multiple tests
failed to see that’s slowly, steadily
killing off essential parts of me.

What if Rob gets fed up with my many fears
drops my hand and won’t hold me anymore
when I feel like I’m forever falling
although everything is still solid.

What if my children are likewise damned
bound to get up unable to walk a straight line
genetically doomed to fall apart
just like their faltering mother.

What if this really is all in my head instead
and I’m just making it up as I go along
unaware that all I need to do
is pinch myself to wake up.

What if there is no waking up
and every day I spiral forever deeper into
a new circle of the hellacious dream
that will never release me.

What if there is a cure out there
not yet realized and I am forced to take
responsibility for myself
and my freedom.

What if the only cure is death
and I wake up too tired
not wanting to fight anymore
willing to die for my freedom.


Betrayed by my body,
I am fragiled into leaning upon against
The strength of my children.

Years into decades of praying
To see them grown from
Girl to woman, boys to men.

Is this not the desire of every mother
To see her children capable and able
To stand on their own two feet?

The weight of my need as I lean
Does not cause them to stumble
And all I can say to them is

thank you.

Around the Water Cooler

Did you see her? The way she walked into the corner of the desk?
I hear she’s been drinking and during working hours no less.
Hard not to believe it, the way she stands as she hands off a folder.

I heard her say to someone else how she has this condition but
if you ask me it’s all a bit convenient, how she has to call in sick; although
I heard she has a doctor’s note, which can be forged and I still think she’s faking it.

I mean, give me a break. Who ever heard of someone being too dizzy
To sit at a desk all day? It’s so ridiculous. If you ask me, she’s full of shit.
Here I am having to cover her ass while she goes in for another test.

You know, I heard about somebody famous who said he had it too
But you know I read online and saw some Hollywood report where they said
He was wasted, not sick, which is what I think it is, really, with her so why should I
Buy into her story when we all know how much nicer it would be to stay home
All alone with nobody to tell you what you can do? I wish I were her, able to lie about
Some incurable condition that makes it necessary for me to be home all day.
Living off disability must be nice. She’s so fucking lucky, I wish I were her.

just words

“love is just another four letter word”
you roll away from me on the bed
I kiss the tattoo on your back while
you sleep too deep to be reached

in the morning you curl into me
I have to pull myself away
crawl across the light to escape
dreams left like roses on my pillow

the morning afterglow knows
there are never enough nights
to belie the truth of four letters
that fill the days we spend apart

words with you grow like fate,
faith, belief, promise, strength,
tomorrow, and tomorrow and
it all comes back to I do and yes.

An Open Letter

Dear Chuck;

It’s been a while now. I’ve done my part for the species, and
I’ve been thinking that maybe this is some sort of cosmic joke—
A de-evolution from swimming fish moving to solid land.
This is my hypothesis: this vertigo of mine is a sign
The first step of a new human phase, where mankind
Will return to the water and walk more easily than here
On the arid promise of land’s solidity when it’s evolved
Into something slippery, shifting beneath unsteady feet.
Or maybe if Beagle 2 had not crashed, the answer to my
Discombobulation would have been found swimming
Somewhere on the noxious surface of Mars. Who knows?
It’s all hypothetical speculation and in the meantime I
Keep flying, an ace at avoiding how I can no longer
Acquit myself in a solid world, my gravitational pull
Thrown off its trajectory causing me to crash constantly.
Survival of the fittest suggests that this should not be,
That in another time I would find some saber toothed beast
Feasting in my inability to run away from fate.
Or maybe if I had been born in a less scientifically
Skeptical time, I would turn to another source
Of intelligence to explain these things and not
To the wisdom of man’s higher intelligence.


To Tell the Truth

It gets weary explaining the differences between
Vestibular and cervical, and google searches
Lead to U2 mp3s and graphic novels but
Never to anything close to an answer or cure.

Maybe someday I will come to forgive
Bono and Gaiman for confusing the issue
But that will only be sometime before
I forgive the doctors for not knowing
How to make it all go away forever.

Miss Jackson and Meatloaf may not need me
To come to their defense but I’m the one who hides
Afraid that people will think it’s all in my head
Just some psychosomatic psychosis unable to cope
With the reality of getting old or being sober.

The audacity of invisible illnesses,
Misdiagnoses, and inconclusive tests.
Point a finger of blame where nothing stands,
Where beliefs sway in the wind of judgment,
Where Gaiman humanizes Death to feel grounded.

Excuse Me

So sorry, I can’t come out to play, not today although the weather’s fine
But I’m not feeling very well and I think I’ll stay in bed instead

Kiss kiss goodbye have fun while I curl myself around a pillow and when
The door closes behind you I’ll find the book I haven’t finished reading yet

You know the one I can’t read during our incessant talking or while walking
and I’m not above taking advantage of “oh my the spinning in my head”

(It’s nice to have an excuse, especially one that trips so nicely to reason,
Who would question me when they see how very hard it can be?)

Throwing kisses away, excuse me for taking advantage of my disadvantage
And just one more page or chapter won’t matter just this once so bye-bye.


I am the eye of my own hurricane, the calm
within the tornado’s roar and while my head
soars my feet are planted. Within the shifting
sands of perception the conception of my being
remains unmoved.

With no end in sight, I have become as eternal as
my endless condition, tapping into terrible strength
and tsunamis of tears washing away the frustration.
I scream defiance, raise a fist of resistance to the
endlessness of this.

No diagnostic cause, I am living the effect of
negative results, of tests that cannot define me nor
confine me with a reasons why nor try to find a cure.
Doctors, unsure, fall like rubble beneath the weight
of my demand for answers.

This is me, the still small point inside infinite motion,
an ocean and universe of adverse feelings, living in
ignorance as I, ever vigilant, ignore synapses snapped.
Misfiring nerve endings sending the random wrong
messages create missteps.

After two years of my walking on the water of solid
ground, I’m no longer impressed by a messiah who
mastered the waves for a few moments for I have
walked miles in these shoes and the Sea of Galilee is
merely a walk in the park.

Touch Me

I miss our dancing days
the ways you moved with me.

Now you say you’re afraid
to touch me. Now you let
so much we were fall away.

Still you hold hope as easily
as you hold me every night
so tight that I can’t fall away.

Sometimes, I feel too much
my own weakness when you
doubt my strength or the power

of your untouchable love.

It’s your fear of hurting me
that makes me mistrust most.

Home Sick

You can feel it in the curling of the toes first, sometimes
The way the weight shifts, ball-to-heel, ever so slightly,
Or the ankle curving to modify, contorting to oblige
That roll to the outside of one side of one foot. These are
The subtle signs before the bobble, the imbalanced reach
For something stable. Your arch reaches up for maintenance
As if seeking an answer that will explain how the world
Just dropped, leaving you falling in some mental turbulence.

It almost always begins in the toes, though, the overcompensation
Overthrowing my already good balance into imbalance, arms waving
In tightrope desperation to catch something ephemeral and reaching
The countertop, wall, or something, anything solid. Then pause
To catch my breath. Mindful movements microscopically give
Meaning, as a New York minute shrinks into yesterday.
Today is slow and steady responsibility, consciously choosing to
Not touch upon, lean into, nor need to catch myself before I fall.

One More Stand

It is time to take a stance,
even when you can’t stand
to demand answers to questions
when medical tests turn up negative.

Nothing ventured is nothing gained
With no answers to explain why
you can’t stop swaying on your own two feet
so now is the time to raise a hand and interrupt
the monotone drone of doctors’ diagnoses.

Don’t accept the vague reasons meant to assuage your anguish
Instead, stand and demand an answer as to why why why
you can’t stand against the lying tide of signals in your head,
and make the doctor dread the next appointment,
force him to find some reason and give you a raison d’être,
so you can proudly say “This is the cause, yes this” 
even when you doubt the advice of your hubris,
for who are you to demand anything from a learned man?
Instead you sway where you stand in doubt, jealously
guarding that part of you that would weep.

The more you cry “why?” the less you know, holding
yourself up to a perfected standard even your
all-knowing physician can’t attain as he explains
once again, “The tests are negative. We do not know.”


He hands me a brochure for a tour of Italy,
the perfect honeymoon location, he says,
buys a tent for the next time we go hiking
tells me all the things we will do when
I’m better. Someday we’ll take the dogs
to Alaska and he’ll show me the Midwest’s
infinite sky. But first, he says, we’ll do
things close to home and dance until
the New Year dawns and maybe finally take
our engagement to its logical conclusion.
I adjust my glasses to read the fine print.
His vision’s always been better than mine

One Year, One Month, and One Week Later

This is the fifth doctor in a line of others
who were unable to provide an answer.
He does not know but he holds my final hope
because I refuse to see another;
he is the last one to whom I will
turn for answers. He frowns and I
wonder if fear is etching itself on my face
the same way his brow furrows as he flips
pages and pages of facsimiles of
test results and unanswers I have
accumulated. My fiancé is frustrated;
still he smiles to reassure me.
The swish of pages flipped fills our mutually
bated breath of silence. When the doctor closes the folder,
looks at me before he tells me what, if anything, he sees.
He says a test result taken months ago is wrong,
shows something that should have been explained before,
a reason for my imbalance positively evidenced in
the disparity between percentages. “You see,”
he says, “this shows no response. That’s impossible.
One side shows 100% but the other shows 0% which is,
you see, an impossibility.” I see nothing but
the raging red of bullshit doctors saying nothing,
the tests found nothing, there's nothing wrong.
Impossible to think that the other doctors ignored
an impossibility and my ability to accept this is
wrapped in a stunned silence. My fiancé looks confused.
I’m unused to seeing myself reflected in his features,
so I begin calculating the number of appointments
that lie between me and the impossible lie
of a test that showed nothing, the reassuring
lies leaving me to believe there’s nothing wrong,
leaving me to stand on my own.

Vertigo Like Rain

It won’t go away, so they say.
I pause before I face the day
as if by my will alone
the sensation will now be gone.
In the stillness, I start to pray

”Please, let today be the day “
then move myself into the sway.
Another like every other one;
it won’t go away.

The doctors cannot allay
the fear I live with day to day,
leaving me hopeless and undone,
another nightmare day begun.

It won’t go away. 


  1. You made me cry. It's incredible that you can write so much about the same thing and not once sound redundant. I would buy this.

    1. Awwww . . . well that means a lot to me. That you cried and that you would buy it. The challenge included a lot of prompts that sort of pushed me within the narrow focus on the topic. It was actually fun to see if I could meet the demands of the writing prompt while still writing about the vertigo. Unfortunately, I haven't participated in the challenge, although I've tried, since then because it's become more competitive and I preferred doing it when I was just doing it for fun.

  2. I really enjoy poetry. But my taste is very particular. You know I have the chapbook series from James Franco and honestly, while I really enjoyed a few of his poems, about half of them weren't really my cup of tea and the topics were foreign to me and I found it hard to relate. Your poems on the other hand, much more interesting and moving to me. I don't have vertigo and I can only imagine what a full blown attack would feel like but I do have really bad balance and have moments of head spinning so I can sort of get a sense of what it must have been like the first months and years you spent trying to adjust.
    When I first met Joe, you were still bed ridden so to see how far you come is truly a testament of your strength and will. These poems really give me a clearer picture of what you went through before I met you and Joe, and also how you managed to come as far as you have.

    I mean it, I would totally buy this collection.

    1. Honestly, I forget how far I've come and then someone else points something out that I'm doing that I used to be unable to do and I think, "Oh yeah. I had forgotten." It is humbling, really.

  3. Yikes, I have to admit I could not read all of these in one sitting. There's some powerful stuff here and it's very brave of you to put this out into the world. You go, Satia!

    1. Kathleen, Thank you for reading them at all, let alone trying to do so in one sitting. It's okay. I didn't write them in one sitting anyway. ;)

      But more than that, thank you for the kind words. Powerful and brave? I blush and am humbled. Truly.