The Grey Sickness
—by Sarah Raskin
I used to think that grey was a cheerful color.
Kittens, squirrels' tails. Blanketing skies over long walks.
Laptop, to display the wares of my mind and the power I thought it had.
A color textured, formed, ever bearing promise of brightness.
I see yellow points, reading lamps with the bulbs replaced
For the very weakest ones, yet still I must veil them.
There are flowers on the scarves I use, the only ones I see now,
Pink ones, yet still my eyes are pierced, and I must turn away,
Turn as if burrowing through rock, to the shadowed wall.
I try to read; how the black bounces on the white!
Faster and faster it spins me into the grey whirlpool.
Three pages, and I reach Charybdis' outer arms;
I know because my finger's in the book; but what else was in it,
I know not. As for Scylla, I am her. I wrap my arms around my stomach,
Perhaps that will still its clamor; around my legs, perhaps they'll move a little
From out my cave. My heads gnaw me with sharp tooth, always.
Surely I must have more than one: three to spin in different
directions, and one to bark and pound and one to shriek and ring,
And the last, toothiest of all, to think about it all
And chew me into grey mash, and never swallow me.
Odd that with all that, I hear a soft footstep
On the leaves outside, that I imagine as dead,
Though they must still be pink and yellow and red
Like the ones I used to pick up and save
(Perhaps for such a day as this, though I can’t now lift
The big dictionary I put them in). A squirrel, maybe.
I think I can hear the rusty tap on the other side
Of this wall squeak as if opened. I stare at the grey curtains
(blue stripes on white, really, but it's too dark to see them):
Do I see a darker shadow moving there?
Fear propels me from the bed at last; I run, even,
To tell that the Angel of Death has come for me.
Climbing back, so slow, my limbs drilling in circles
Like the melody in some discordant counterpoint,
I listen to a countertenor by way of a Nightingale
Sing of being bedded to his tomb, and know I ran in hope.
Vain hope: the grey mouth will not spit me out
Nor any grey-cloaked figure come to claim me from it.
"Wait on the Lord," it's said. Should I rejoice or regret
That still I can remember what it is I wait for?
I've been sick for eleven years and live with my parents in West Lafayette. At the time I became ill, I was 23, living on my own in New York City, and was halfway through a Ph.D. in medieval history. Working gradually, mostly from bed, I completed my doctoral dissertation, defended it via Skype from my parents' sofa, and received my degree ten years after ME first struck. I write about a group of medieval heretics who lived in the shadows and learned to manipulate the structures of authority to survive. Studying them has proved unexpectedly helpful in surviving a different kind of trial by fire. I love my field and I'm still looking for a way to put my training to good use--from bed.
I love literature, baroque music, and the religious liturgies of many traditions. What I miss most, apart from professional engagement, is going to concerts, which I used to do every week. I can't go hear live music anymore and can only occasionally sit up at the piano to play it, so I'm grateful for the chance to take part in a virtual "festival."