Monday, January 11, 2010

for venita (4)

for venita mcnair lennox

memories of u...

that cold morning in
when u, unmoving, camped
sphinx-like (though not as
enigmatically silent) on the
house-fronting sidewalk; &
yr bags packed & parallel
the white & indifferent
picket fence.
yr normally mellifluous voice
amped up to ultra high frequency
shrieks of outrage.

"i want to go to new york i
want to go to new york i want ..."

& inside, pacing the floor
like a king's knight errant,
a chess piece out of control,
our belt-wielding, thundervoiced
daddy, looking very unlike the
power incarnate that he
was. his face, shades blacker
than usual; the color of rage,
of indecision.

jesus, what noise u made!

daddy had said no! had put
his awesome foot down! mama
was wringing her hands in the
kitchen, (i was hiding somewhere
making myself very small, very

jesus, the deaf must have heard u!

& as u hoped he would,
a desperate gamble on yr
part, daddy gave in to yr willfulness
– his first capitulation.
he drove u himself to the
we didn't see u for a time...

those stormy years in pasadena...

u were married then. with
yr house directly behind our
own, our backyard, the battlefield
when yr house failed
to contain yr wars.
poor david. one would have
thought that u were goliath.
(though no heaven-guided pebble
would have vanquished u.)
our house shook regularly from
the impact of plates, lamps,
knives, anything throwable
which crashed against yr

& a good thing for david
that yr aim was so bad.

no human being could be
the vile, grotesque, misshapen,
abominable, & ugly things
u called yr husband.
if our right reverend daddy
heard u (& i'm certain he
did), he commended the matter
to the lord, having long ago
given up trying to straighten
u out...

those dark uncertain days...

when mama retreated behind
walls of catatonia; when daddy
soldiered in a distant place,
u came, like a rushing wind,
to mother us, bringing with
u that parade of men – norman,
the artist, jimmy, the hipster,
bob, the business man.
they never seemed to go home.
i would meet them in the morning,
sometimes sleeping in yr bed.
such was my devotion to u
that i never even once slipped
a hint of such goings on to
daddy. & i was always blurting
out some injustice in those

u slept alot then, were always
tired. funny how people thought
u were pretending...

& then nephritis, an inside
thief, stealing piecemeal right
under our noses, succeeded
in stealing yr kidneys with
everyone watching. almost
robbed u of yr life.

i would sit with u in a succession
of hospital rooms,

watching u watch yr body
fluids bubble & ooze through
the surgically implanted bovine
shunt in yr arm & thigh,
through the latex umbilicals
into the machine which
laundered yr urine.

i marvelled at how u worked
through this tragedy, how u
so quickly adjusted, made the
best out of this terrible circumstance.
u learned all u could about
yr disability (u refused to
call it an illness), consulted
with doctors & surgeons,
kept abreast with new developments.

soon, u were almost
as knowledgeable as the specialists.
after the first transplant, u
banished yr own morbid thoughts,
of being kept alive through
the agency of another persons'
death, of having inside u
the vital parts of a stranger.

u wore well the bodybloat,
the puffy face of steroids
policing the body's immune system,
warding off rejection.

u were comforter & avenging
angel to fellow patients.
u spun a web around them
making them family. u
organized them, advocated for
them even protected them from
the maladministrations of erring
callous nurses, or inept, indifferent

u voiced in no uncertain terms,
the patient's tensionfear of
death, of becoming different
with no chance return, no
chance of being at the mercy
of sadistic hostile coverts,
who masqueraded as health
care workers. who could not
& did not care.

u demanded the same attention
for yr patients as u did
for yourself & as u gave.
pity the brusque, the hostile
the condescending nurse.

pity again the rough-handed
doctor, or the obviously stupid.
yr retributive justice was
swift, bone-breaking, legendary.
nurses physically beaten,
chased out of wardrooms.
Intravenous fluids, their needles,
& their bottles, serving trays,

& half-filled bed pans were
hurled at, rained on fumbling
interns, incompetent attendants.
u patiently explained once to
an arrogant resident how to insert
the needle into yr shunt;
that it hurt unbearably when
it was not inserted in such
a way.

he paid u no mind. &
he hurt u

& he will never forget how
u stuck yr pearl handle
twenty-five automatic into his
mouth, cocked & fully loaded;
a handful of his hair in yr
talon-like grip; how it took
the entire medical staff, &
the local police to talk u
out of blowing off the backside
of his head.

& i remember how u would
cry rivers when any of the
patients gave up & died...

those years when u overrode
constant, insistent pain,
malignant poverty, &
soul-freezing depression
to nurture me through psychic

u made formal introductions
on my behalf to spirits. &
they used u for a time to
speak to me, to guide my first
faltering steps on the path
of inner awareness.

these were the days of preparation,
readiness, & reckless
experimentation – & waiting
for the one who might come to
teach me

u dragged me from seance
room to psychic fair, from burntout
spiritualists to light

u supervised me through a
psychic par course, through
various developmental stations:
psychometry, palmistry, clairvoyance,
clairaudience, automatic
writing, trance, tarot, numerology,
& astrology.

what a marvelous tarot reader
u were. those pasteboards
would jump from the deck,
would arrange themselves as
if by prior agreement.

& when u read for me, it
seemed that u became a direct
mediumistic conduit for my self
to come through, so unkempt
& cluttered my own channels.
when my own small gifts were
made manifest, u encouraged
me to use them & make them
soon, my own teacher appeared...

that november day in '71...

when i, a fledgling astrologer,
saw what looked to be, among
my charts & calculations,
a portent of daddy's demise.

i reached for the telephone
to call u (though u &
i rarely needed telephones)
& it rang just as i touched
the receiver.

"what's the matter with daddy,"
u asked, (before i could utter
a meaningless hello), "i've been
seeing something strange in the
tarot, recently."

& we discussed our findings.
we agreed that u would fly
up, talk to the elder members
of the family, prepare them
for a difficult year for daddy.
i would alert the younger members.
my god how they mocked us,
silently & aloud. we were
branded mad, alarmist, irresponsible --

until daddy died a
month later...

those years when our love for

each other flowered. such
a love between siblings is rare.
perhaps we have loved each
other through many lifetimes.
there was no cost too high,
no distance too great that would
keep us from seeing, from being
with, from sharing with one

we partied together, read for
each other, turned our
collective forces against demons,
of all shapes & sizes.
brother & sister together,
an alliance of first daughter
& first son in riotous romp
& frolic in & between worlds,
for ten breathtaking, gloriously
uncertain years...

& those last days...

when yr endless reserves
of exuberance dried up,
when yr unfailing fight for
life fizzled. & u withdrew,
refusing to eat, to communicate,
u even shut me out for a time.
when i penetrated yr barriers
it was already too late.

u had embarked on yr final journey
before any of us could stop
u. not friends, not family,
not me.

when i met u on that hospital
bed, a shrunken totem of
yourself, we had our last

"joe, i'm tired."

i begged u to fight, even
threatened to hold u here
against yr will. all to no

"i'll hang on until the family,
those who are coming,
get here. tell them to
hurry, baby, i'm tired."
they came. all but one.

the 'phone that final morning rang
with foreboding. yr doctor,
his voice choked with tears,
told me that they were keeping
yr body alive. i asked if

there was any chance for recovery,
but i already knew that answer.
he said "we can keep the body
alive indefinitely. it's yr

"turn the machine off," i said.

& i cried rivers...

i miss u, tee.
i miss the presence of yr
body in this space. a hand
to hold, a cheek to press against.

i miss yr infectious laughter
& terrible rage.
it's not, though, that i have
not felt u in the years since
u left us.

yr love is a tangible thing,
reaching from beyond the grave,
is closer than memory, & has
never left me.

& my own love embraces it,
envelopes it, binding us,
erasing the barrier between
yr space & mine.

© Joseph McNair 1990-2009


  1. I feel as if I know her. Thank you for sharing this!

  2. It is still hard for me read this. I lost my sister nearly thirty years ago, but she remains large in my spirit.