blackbird online journal spring 2002 vol.1 no. 1


Tracking the Muse
Dan O’Brien
Ron Smith
Camille Zakharia



Method? Follow the tune. To attempt to dissect is merely to continue humming. Perhaps I’ve been dissecting myself by trying to live through the situation. In Israel, I believe they call it “the situation.” Here, too, in the small country of our family, we may as well call it “the situation.” A war amongst brain cells that bloodies each member of the family.

I’m trying to say it my way, but I’m also trying to make it speak for others.


One scratches away at life or maybe the life scratches away at you, resulting in a story that’s a series of scratches. Or screeches. Or merely colored (and thus visible) breaths.

I’d like to think the style of “Until We Go To Sleep”—choppy, elliptical, somewhat enigmatic—is dictated by content. The choppiness mimics life, or the way we tend to experience life, but it also mimics our brains, or mine, and there’s always the possibility, given the quality of inheritance, that my brain has already been compromised.


He gestured toward my hair, calling it “charge.” He said it looked great and we knew exactly how much he liked it by calling it that. Later, I was pushed toward tears by his many declarations of love. But, I’m fully rational now as I think about his choice of words. Doesn’t “charge” describe vibrant, wavy hair? 

I want to show the world the inherent logic of this almost incredible disease.

Now that we’re at the outer edges of personality, we see who’s who. It didn’t have to be this way. They could’ve gone in their sleep, and from one day to the next. Strong one day, gone the next.

This incremental going is truly fascinating but harsh.


The story or essay—whatever it is—was a way to put the experience in its place, as well as a way to explore this illness, always from the outside. It’s all guesswork with them, until you get beyond the frustration of trying to be who you once were (thus also relieving them of the burden of that impossibility) and enjoy moments, sometimes intensely, simply because they are still alive and able to sense your presence.


I try to be blasé and kind, in restaurants, when plopping bits from the table’s surface back onto my mother’s plate. The message to the other diners is that really, anyone can do this and survive.

Usually it’s just lettuce leaves. Last night it was arugula and pieces of walnut. She shuns dressing of any kind, so really there’s very little mess.


It’s a story with no end, or no apparent end. Of course it will end one day, when they’re both dead but, in the meantime, the daily vagaries create an obstacle course of emotions. Less interested perhaps in these vagaries, I want a normal life, and shut them out when I can, which creates guilt, a useless emotion, thus inviting them in but in harsh, hardly-tenable ways.


Moments carry weight, but time moves forward and we haven’t the strength to hold it back. I’m not speaking of death itself but of the death incurred by the flow of time. Moments die. Or perhaps they remain, remotely kindled, and come to the surface in us when we can no longer bear life without them.


This summer I’ve been studying different languages, a whole smorgasbord of them, though what they amount to will, I’m afraid, always be a smattering. I’ve discovered, along with the desire to learn, a facility. People think I’m crazy to mix Turkish and Hebrew, among others, but when they hear about my parents, they think they understand: creating synapses in fear of the tangles.

That’s a good guess, but I think it’s something else entirely: easy riches. Learn a word and you’ve learned a new word. It’s real but weightless, no burden, though you take it with you wherever you go.  

In the face of loss, new words are like mounds of collected pebbles, beautiful and perhaps useless but then again, perhaps not.  

Still, even something so innocuous as a foreign language means that one’s attention strays from what’s real—it’s a distraction (courted, won!). The people, diminished as they often seem, are still here. Why are you not with them? Why are you writing about them or learning a language they won’t ever share with you when you could be tending to them in some way, holding a hand?

There’s the dilemma, not so different from any other.  end of text

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