I first met Shannon during a poetry reading shortly after my first book came out some two decades ago. I later reviewed her first collection of verse and stayed in touch through the years with the sexy, sassy, southern and broadly gifted artist. I last saw Shannon on a business trip down south in the 90’s. She was showing signs of some encroaching malady and I heard people whispering “anorexia,” “bulimia,” “drugs” and worse about the quirky, but elegantly well-centered soul who loved Carrie Bradshaw-ish designer shoes–when her face was not spackled with paint.
She was having slight difficulty with her walking, talking and balance and I missed many of the clues as we were then in the midst of pulling off a daring PR stunt to try and rescue her from impending financial hardship. She faced a huge bill for unsold pottery and jewelry shortly after her boyfriend, who ran a large and lucrative rep’ group that also sold her art, “wandered a bit” and quit selling her work shortly after she left him a permanent stray “on account of his infidelity.”
She lamented to me one day that she wished she could rid herself of a conscience so she could hand the bank note, half owned by her ex-boyfriend, back to the vindictive philanderer. I suggested we sell her conscience on EBay with a certificate of authenticity neatly folded inside a jeweled bag she would design. EBay tolerated the ruse long enough for Shannon to receive calls from morning drive shows and newspapers worldwide–the BBC in Dublin found it particularly amusing. I do not remember how successful we were, but I remember how much fun we had during her 15 minutes of fame. And, for the record, I doubt she would have really abandoned her conscience to a stranger for something as cheap as revenge.
Shannon eventually righted herself all but physically. The last note I received from her said she had been confined to a wheelchair and was learning to perform simple, everyday tasks again. But, phone numbers no longer worked and emails bounced back to me. I had lost her and on top of the guilt we wandering expats feel when those we love are far away and in trouble, I feared for the worst–despite knowing that she would be no easy match for the brain tumor the doctors could not operate to remove.
This week I found an obscure reference to her on the 9thstlab Blog. It was poetry about her condition that was written by her while in a hospital in Alabama. The poems are from 2007, but I strongly sense she is alive and fighting well somewhere south of the Mason-Dixon line.
she has always been open, public and unabashed about her situations in life, good and worrisome. so, I wanted to share the work I found, but am hoping that if she reads this that I do not end up the reason for a new sale item on an auction site for IP theft of her poetry ;-).
It is powerful stuff Ms Smith and deserves to be read, as much as you deserve health and happiness.
From the blog:
Shannon Smith is a visual artist living in Birmingham Alabama. Recently she was diagnosed with AVM – Arterio veinous malformations, a rare form of brain tumor. In Shannon’s case the tumor is inoperable. The treatment for the embolism is even more painful than the tumor itself. The combination of illness and treatment has rendered her unable to work in her usual mediums, but she has been strong enough to write poetry about her experience. She is under the care of physicians at the medical center at the University of Alabama in Birmingham – a research hospital and one of the best in the country.
TWELVE BLANKETS FOR MY BRAIN
After the surgeons have
rearranged my head,
they become concerned
about my body temperature
at eighty six degrees. It is strange,
because I do not feel cold, only empty.
Nurses bring one blanket after another
wrapping me up tightly. I feel warm
but trapped and weighted down like
swimming with my clothes and shoes on.
Two more blankets
added to the pile-
Now I am just tangled like
A fish in a fishing net not knowing which way is up
or out. My voice trapped under layers of thick cotton.
And when I reach the numeric definition of normal, I do
not feel different or normal, mostly just trapped.
Tucked in, but no bedtime story.
I picture myself escaping from the hospital;
sliding in my socks on the shiny floors,
running down the halls,
riding elevators ,
waving to other patients.
My blankets alone in a pile on the floor.
LOOKING FOR WHAT IS LEFT
The darkness is back,
hovering over this crumpled body
where waves of pain call home.
The blackness has become opaque now
Not even outlines of the everyday.
Morphine, Fetanyl, Sekanol- hello lovers.
I hide as I swallow nails.
The shutters bang against windows.
It is too late for prayer.
Lightning cracks the night sky
shattering my skull
on the zipper of scars,
one stitch at a time.
Sleep will never find me here.
The warden of pain shakes his keys
at my cage. These are not the tears of heartbreak-
much too salty, much too free.
This darkness is heavy and suffocating
like a fishing net with weights.
If I am here tomorrow,
I will go look for myself
kicking bones out of the way,
to see what is left
Much love from China, SSlola