Patti Masterman


A Catalogue Of Insomnia


Just before I turned nineteen
I cut off my long, long hair
And Grandmother became ill.
It seemed like there had to be some connection
Though I could never pin it down
Did cutting my hair weaken her body?
My childhood was ended:
Was it time for her to leave?

I was very close to her all of my life
She raised me from babyhood, in the day times
While my parents managed their business.
She tried one day to warn me:
'I'm not going to live forever, you know.'
I just stared at her like some shameful demon
Had entered the room, and said nothing
I shivered and blocked out what she said-
No admittance.

Of course as soon as I was working,
Too distracted to pay much attention
She became ill, and came to live with us,
After that first wee hours run to the hospitals emergency.
She survived that, but the worst was still coming:
At night she was suffocating
Sleeping in bed with me
I say sleeping, but she didn't:
She sat up on the edge of the bed, hunched over
Trying to breathe, as I watched in a sort of paralytic, insomniac stupor
With asthma, I knew what it felt like-
Except that in time an asthma attack would go away.

I was dead on my feet at work that month
There was no sleeping for me
Nightly human struggle to keep breathing
There was no relief, no release in the nights
By day she always seemed a little better
My mother never saw her in the nights
I realize now my mother would have been worse off than me:
She could never tolerate people suffering, or hospitals
Maybe my martyrdom in the nights
Had some saving grace at least?

My Grandmother changed overnight
Into a silent zombie; long nights of suffering
Days of silence and not eating
Everybody knew what was going to happen
We almost had gotten used to the idea
Almost had pushed it out of our minds-
And then, we were surprised all over again
Death has that way about it:
It never wants to come while anyone is watching.

The house emptied out finally
And forever, of Grandmother
It filled up with bushels of flowers
If I forgot for one minute she was gone
The flower smell was there to remind me again
I grew to detest and fear that powerful smell:
It was the smell of suffocation and never sleeping.
Absence smells like chemically preserved flowers
In the hothouse of private hell.

It must have been after that I changed:
I realized there is no safety net, no sanctuary
You can run but you can't run away
You can't hide, and pretending doesn't work
In a world where the people you love
Are consigned to death from the very start
And you are the powerless observer
You can never trust anyone or anything again
And it doesn't matter how long you try to stay awake.

Submitted: Sunday, April 11, 2010
Edited: Monday, July 11, 2011

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  • Rookie - 240 Points Ray Quesada (10/13/2012 1:50:00 AM)

    Death has that way about it:
    It never wants to come while anyone is watching. - - - this is really so true. For some reason while i was driving home late tonight, suddenly it occured to me, while weaving too fast on a curvy back country road, whoa, I forgot about death there for a second...and this is just the time it could have snuck up on me and got me! ! Great poem patti! -RQ- (Report) Reply

  • Freshman - 1,559 Points Diane Hine (3/21/2012 7:24:00 AM)

    What a terrifying experience for a young woman to have to live through. Hopefully, we make the end easier for the dying and their loved ones now. The memories must still hurt. Deeply moving. (Report) Reply

  • Freshman - 1,559 Points Martin O'Neill (1/21/2012 2:31:00 AM)

    A poignant vignette of a tough time. I had childhood asthma and I know the terror of breathlessness. This is real stuff. (Report) Reply

  • Rookie - 411 Points Smoky Hoss (7/9/2011 11:37:00 AM)

    Perhaps it is because I only slept about two hours myself the last two nights, but this poem has truly touched me. It is so fascinating, and often fearful, the way certain smells and memories coexist, and in many ways control our emotions. Superb and deeply honest thinking throughout this wonderful poem. (Report) Reply

  • Rookie - 411 Points warner treuter (8/17/2010 6:58:00 PM)

    A poem which tells it all like it is - except no one tells any answers because they can't believe it's our diet doing this (most of the times) to people. I had a light case of asthma which got worse until I was using the chemicals on the machine which I could feel was scrubbing my lungs to death. I quit any food I suspected and then when I quit my beloved coca-colas I got over it, seemingly completely, in eight months. Not saying your grandmother didn't have a worse case, only that wrong foods and especially any soda pops are only ok for the young who are too young to feel anything but the good, the great, tastes, that can in the long run destroy them. Most of our health issues can be cured or helped by diet but doctors steer away from this because the AMA would regard this as not part of their job if they gave any personal opinions as a regular part of their therapies, also it is controversial and gets into the holy realm of economics. So, the doctors specialize in pharmaceuticals, which all too often slow the mind as well as the body.
    All the not really good for you sugar is turning into what is worse for you, corn syrup, because the syrup is cheaper. Price-signs in grocery stores are becoming more misleading, everything is becoming tricky. We must look out for ourselves and no longer be fully trusting because big business is NOT looking out for any of us but only to the bottom line.
    I had a problem with Gerd and found they can give you a pill to shut down the digestion. Ok, but sometimes I still woke up choking to death, convinced I would never catch my breath. Can't get much more scared than that. Especially happened when I ate late at night. One day I went without my beloved bread for 3 days and was surprised to find I felt better, so I went without bread until at ten days I noticed my body feeling changed. I experimented and found, sure enough, the problem is totally gone so long as I don't eat bread. It's estimated by some health practitioners that up to 30% of people for some unknown reason have become gluten intolerant which means no wheat, the worst offender, barley, rye or oats. With some people it might only be wheat. My point is: why don't the doctors tell people to try this before putting them on a lifelong regimen of pills? Perhaps because the AMA thinks this is mixing medicine with conjecture.
    Ergo, doctors are a 2ndary source of help. Primary, nowadays, must be yourself.
    I have an empathy for your grandmother and all people like her. (Report) Reply

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