E/OR - Living Amongst the Mangled
By: RD Armstrong
Genre: Poetry, Trade Paper, 6X9
Publisher: Lummox Press (PO Box 5301 San Pedro, CA 90733-5301) www.lummoxpress.com
Publishing Date: Mid-November 2010
Retail: $15 + shipping (which is included in the price)USA - $18 Can/Mex - $20 World - $25
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check out to Lummox
and send to Lummox Press c/o PO Box 5301 San Pedro, CA 90733
TWO SHORT REVIEWS
“Mostly one feeling this collection gives me...is that Armstrong is creating meaning for himself as he goes along; the book, as microcosm, is the mirror of the macrocosm, the man Armstrong and the human, me or you, is using the medium of words to create a reason to be, a locus, a place to exist, in what we all know is ultimately nothing, but who cares? And yet he does not deal in comforting illusions, the words are responsive to the physicality, and the confused social and ideological take on that, around him, and they take responsibility for the fidelity of memory.”
David McLean (from a review of Fire and Rain, Vol. 2)
Though this is a review of the second in a series of books by RD Armstrong, it can be generally applied to his style of writing, a style that is autobiographical, not simply confessional.
“Working from the sweat of life, Armstrong is a
talent that plants itself in your mind with his rough-and-ready voice of
delicate lyric and refined narrative. He is a poet who does not creep from
behind but is full-frontal in his twist of a line and his blue-collar
sensibilities. To not recommend the work of RD Armstrong to new readers would be
sinful and sad, because here is a poet with a voice that will challenge even the
most hard-ass critics of poetry.”
B. L. Kennedy
ABOUT THE BOOK
Armstrong, who often goes by Raindog, says the title E/OR is a pun and a tip of the hat to those who insist on calling him that (because of his similarity to the donkey in Winnie The Pooh); while the subtitle is based on two poems towards the end of the book.
In this, his fourth book of poetry in this series, Armstrong explores what it means to be poor in 21st century America…trying to survive a bad economy, bad health and the repercussions of numerous bad decisions made in his younger days. Written in four sections, it begins in 2008 with “Long Beach on 40 Ounces A Day” – detailing the dubious joys of a drunkard’s life. This might be mistaken as the ravings of another pseudo Bukowski wannabe, save for the fact that it quickly evolves into “Bad Moon Rising” – Armstrong’s telling of his experiences in a county hospital, where he was an unexpected guest for two weeks (where he learns that he is a Type 2 Diabetic with Peripheral Neuropathy in his feet). This section is told mostly in blog entries and details in a no-holds-barred style, the harsh realities of life at the bottom of the pre-Obama Health Care System. Armstrong shines a bright, unsentimental light on a facet of health care that receives little attention in the mainstream media. In the third section, “Business As Usual,” the reader watches Armstrong as he attempts to pick up where he left off, which, of course, he can’t because of the unforeseen effects of Diabetes on his stamina, mental health and susceptibility to infection. He thinks he’ll just get back on the horse he’s been riding for the past thirty-five years and head off into the sunset. But the economy kills that dream and leaves him to his own devices, trying to find his place in a world where an old handyman is about as useless as a horse-drawn carriage. “Minding My Ps and Qs” is the final section, and again, Armstrong doesn’t hold back. Nor does he slip into a maudlin self-examination of his sorry state, as is so often the case in this type of poetic musing. Instead, he turns the light on himself and illuminates the stories behind the scars, without being overly dramatic and self-indulgent.
X ray of my right foot showing "Charcot Foot Condition"
My Secret Life
Believe it or not
My secret life is
Not so hot
Sure I meet
The women and
We engage in the
Chitter chatter the
Blah blah blah
All the shit that
Makes it happen
But to be honest
It means nothing
They want to talk about
Their shit, their ex-
Husbands, their affairs
For them it’s an escape
A little fun before
Returning to a life
They’ll never leave unless
They have to
So we share the guilty
Pleasures of our secret
Low life and then we go
Our separate ways
I’m tired of being celibate
Like a fucking priest
Even a priest gets some
Every now and then
Just ask a choir boy
The guy on one
Side of me says
The best thing about pain
Is it tells you
You are still alive
While the woman
On the other side says
On a scale of one to ten
How is your pain today
I cannot think
There is a roaring fire
And I’ve lost
My ability to
The Sisters of Mercy
In the hospital, the bulk of the work gets done by the nurses and at Rancho* there seemed to be an army of nurses and nurse’s aids scurrying about delivering trays of food (at least that’s what they called it), checking vitals, taking blood cultures, checking blood sugar, administering Insulin and changing Ivs. That’s the technical side of their job. Some did their jobs well; some gave the minimum effort knowing that there was very little the patients could do about it. Nobody did a crappy job. I guess they left that up to the doctors, who were seldom seen and usually with bad news.
The guy next to me in bed B had been in the Ranch for twenty-two days. He’d come in from a homeless shelter (his home being in Mexico) and they kept telling him he would be going home soon. Unfortunately he was going back to the shelter with one less foot. He told me that he hadn’t seen his primary doctor since the third day of his stay. I knew then that I was very lucky since I was going home with both my feet and I had seen my primary doctor three times in a week and a half! Man, I was walking on air (but it could have been the meds talking)…
But back to the nurses. I don’t think I ever saw an anglo nurse the whole time I was in the Ranch. There was one lady I thought was a nurse, but I was told that she was an instructor. She had the look of someone who was continually surprised. When I was asking one of the nurses about her, I said you know the white lady with the look of surprise and for emphasis I palmed my forehead from the eyebrows up, like I was astounded. Oh, you mean the instructor! She was here, helping you? I said yes and the nurse looked at me like I was a snitch, planted in the ward to report on her and her colleagues. So I said that the white lady wasn’t sure what to do with my bandage and I had to tell her how to do it. Hearing that, the nurse seemed relieved. So was I, because you don’t want to piss off the ones who are sticking you in the arm looking for veins to tap into for your IVs, or who are manning the nurse’s station when you wake up at 3 AM with a raging fever and a pain in your knee that’s off the scale from zero to ten.
Dylan said, you got to serve somebody, and at the Ranch I learned early on that you serve the nurses and they, in turn, serve you. I also learned that if you kept a sense of humor about you, you’d get a lot better treatment than you would if you were grumpy or angry. Granted, it’s not always easy to joke when you are terrified, but my mama always said you get more flies with honey than you do with vinegar. Of course, I’ve always thought that nothing draws flies better than a big old pile of crap, but that’s just me.
I think I spent the first few days in a state of fear, but I eventually got used to the routine. I began to learn the ropes and saw how the operation worked. The nurse rotated through in eight hour shifts. There was the morning crew, the afternoon crew and the night crew. Then there were nurses who did specialist work like the white haired Asian nurse who took blood cultures and changed my IV location a few times. I was told by several nurses that I was a “hard stick”, which meant that it was hard to find a good vein location to either put in an IV or draw blood from. I guess the veins sometimes roll out of the way when they stick in the needle. I told the white haired nurse that I was a hard stick and she said that she’d have no trouble, and she didn’t, at least not the first time. The second time was different and it took her several tries to find a vein. She joked with me as she tried over and over…don’t tell anyone about this or my reputation will be ruined. I said, slip me a few extra graham crackers tonight and your secret is safe.
Under any other circumstances I would have made a more suggestive remark, but in the ward, for the most part, I was not moved by the surrounding feminine pulchritude. I suppose being in a gown with your goodies on display every time they have to pick up your leg to change the dressing kind of takes away the nastiness of it all. Towards the end of my stay I got a little horny, but I never got randy.
My nurses, well they weren’t mine, but I didn’t mind sharing them. My nurses were either Asian-American or Pilipino or Afro-American or Latin-American. Most spoke Spanish very well. Unfortunately I did not. I spent a lot of time asking them to repeat themselves. They were courteous for the most part, which made the job of being their patient reasonably pleasant. They put in the minimum amount of work and I kept up a brave face.
There were a few exceptions. There was the night nurse who would come in while I was sleeping and adjust the blankets to make my night more comfortable. Sometimes she’d come in before her shift ended and while she was changing my IV she’d apologize for some ruckus the night before. I always told her it was fine and not to worry. I wanted to hug her for being so kind to me, knowing full well that she was going above and beyond her call of duty.
Then there was the afternoon shift nurse, Cris, the only nurse whose name I learned while I was in there. She and I had shared some hellish times together; she was there when the doctor sliced my knee open to drain the infection, and she was there when my IV had pulled out and a thin trickle of blood was snaking down my arm. She had changed my dressing and wiped away the oozing gore that seeped out of it the first few days. Through it all, she had been polite and formal, always addressing me as Mr. Armstrong. And when I suggested we should get married, she gently put me in my place, informing me that she was happily married with a ten year old son. I suggested that she must have adopted him since she was far too young to have a ten year old, she, of course, laughed and said she was older than I thought.
Such is the patter when one is dancing on thin ice.
Cris is the one who was surprised that I would be listening to Pavarotti. She’s also the one who I told I was a poet. When I gave her the only poem I wrote while I was in there, she read it next to my bed and later posted it in the nurse’s station, for all to see. She could have just as easily tossed it, but she did not. She was my Florence Nightingale. She’s the one who told me not to come back except to visit. “I don’t want to see you as a repeat customer.” For my part, I’ll do my best to keep her happy.
*Rancho Los Amigos, the County hospital I ended up in (nurse Cris told me that a few years ago they were doing around 25 amputations a day !).
E/OR – Living Amongst the Mangled is available directly from Lummox Press. It is also available through other online booksellers.