I’ve seen this. we’ve seen this.

the patient is actively dieing. in the process of drawing her his their last breaths. on a trajectory toward one destination. with only that end.

she, he, they: mouth in a round. with or without oxygen.

the lungs, like lungs on an accordion, themselves like the lungs of a living creature with a pulmonary section, if that’s what I mean, if that means what I think I want it to mean.

air pushing lungs pushing muscles pushing flesh

the being inside

sentient or not

I don’t know

I can’t say we because I don’t…

how I see dead people:







my friend’s son is dead. his son also my friend

the obscenity of his death is everywhere

the embedded smell of motel curtain cigarette smoke

the carpets’ mold and creep

the dust layer on everything you never see

the fuck you universe

the won’t leave you

the gum on your shoe

the why the what the fuck

the fact that this young soul has left its body

my eyes, rasped.

two nights’ sleep interrupted, punctuated by images my dream self believe he’s made, paintings we believe are his.


I deleted the very long string of his sibling’s texts. five years back they go. went. had gone.

I’d held them as evidence. a smug sort of see? this is what matters to them?

and maybe it does or maybe it doesn’t or maybe it’s how they can say they’d like to be here but can’t for reasons that no one questions. the reasons are real. no one doubts them.

still. one grows weary.

this morning they sent another, asking after his wellbeing. (he’d left voicemail, wishing them a happy new year). …

not a trophy

photo of two legs; short black sock on the left, longer one on the right
photo of two legs; short black sock on the left, longer one on the right

that time between marriages

that time you scratched an itch so badly

it bled

you had decided to drive, you drove. not forever, but from far enough away.

we undressed each other. tore off our clothes but not. but yes, with alacrity, if that means what I want it to mean.

I found your belt. you, my bra. the short distance from the floor to the bed. not even a trail. not enough for a pile. just clothes. shed.

so quickly, then, after, you dressed, we dressed, each in jeans, your two shirts, my jumper, our black…

with apologies to Mary Chapin Carpenter. and Fionn Regan

(what came before: May)

dear C

monday: mid day

here. I’m here, hidden in plain sight.

wondering if I’ve scarred you for life, said the wrong thing, had a bad smell, if something shiny or frightened caught you, strayed your attention, your intention. stayed your hand.

I don’t know.

monday: 18:15

what was it you said about coming home to an empty house at night being the most depressing thing?

the knot and clench in the gut I hadn’t remembered: when you described it, the feeling was a dusty abstraction, an…

The big nurse strides into the room, draws aside the curtain on the clickety shower hooks, announces in her outside talk to the back of the room, praise jesus church voice : He had a shower today! He wouldn’t but we told him Janet’s coming. and he had a shower. with glee. The puppy peed on the paper! Good job, puppy! Hallelujah, thankyoujesus.

as if he wasn’t sitting just there in the chair next to me. in front of her face.

instead of his having almost 75 years, as if he only had four.

instead of, as if he was…

Here’s some shit. A person receives a phone call at his long-dead father’s house about a job in Ithaca opening for another person at a college on a Friday.
The house and the phone are no longer his, theirs. But the call had come, several weeks ago. You weren’t there. You didn’t know about it. You don’t know everything.

The person has gathered three instruments, his hat and coat and gloves, three button down shirts, two pairs of disposable underpants, a shaver and its power chord, a book to read and possibly a toothbrush, possibly not.

The person will not…

a friend’s child is dead. who can breathe?

my own dreams, for [what feel like] hours, endless loop, perseverating to remember the two four-digit alarm codes to the office where I worked for 19 years until I didn’t.

the child’s age, give or take.


carnage in syria, the Times reports. who can breathe?

the president a lethal buffoon. worse.

how did people in Hitler’s Germany imagine it could end?

or Pol Pot’s farms. or any of it.

all the lives, their pieces stacked one by one by one

endless loop until it isn’t.


philip tried to leave. often. repeatedly.

to be clear, in the photo is not philip. to be clear.

philip tried, not once, not twice, but three times to leave.

he asked us to help him. he asked p, me, and yesterday, shannon, who’d come to say hello. he’d asked us often. repeatedly.

yesterday he offered us one hundred and then one thousand dollars to walk him out. although when we asked where his family might be, where he might go, he told us they were in jail for stealing his money.

(later I wondered how he’d then have given…


Patricia walks, feet lifting from the heel, stomach forward. her stomach leads, she follows. into a room. into rooms, into everyone’s rooms, particularly those not her own.

Patricia has the vocal capacity of Ethel Merman, Peewee Herman and Adolf Hitler. She has pipes on her, a temper and a world of unseen. and words.

Who has she been? Where was she before she was here?

Late this afternoon, she walks into someone else’s room. someone else is there, in his room, as she floats in. An archaeologist can trace her dinner in vertical tracks down the front of her…

Janet Isserlis

adult educator, literacy worker. living beside dementia, anger, despots and love. trying to write myself out of the hole in this world we’ve dug ourselves into

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store