My Guardian Angel (for Simone)

thPhoto taken from the WEB

My Guardian Angel

I remember taking that dreadful one-mile walk thirty-seven times. Most of those mornings were sunny. Though, in my mind, they were the gloomiest, murkiest, and haziest of my life. I remember the building, modern in its outward appearance, and the uninviting smell once I entered. I remember the patients that sat in the lobby who greeted me with cheerful smiles. But I quickly learned that behind those forced, almost customary gestures of kindness, lingered specks of doubt that could never fully wane. I remember the array of colored candy in the glass jar on the counter next to the magazines about all things cancer. I remember the nurse calling my name and taking that long walk down the bright hallway filled with medical certificates and degrees and pictures of former patients on display. I wondered if all the plaques and certificates were supposed to somehow ease my anxiety, and if the pictures of former patients who had come back to offer thanks to the doctors were supposed to give me hope that this moment in time would eventually cease to exist, someday. I remember the darkened room where a large machine sat in the center, and the chill of the slab that was attached to the large machine, and that god-awful mask, perfectly molded for my face.

Every day that I endured radiation treatment, I clenched the side of the slab with my left hand. Somehow, this ritual brought me closer to my guardian angel, Simone. She lost her battle with cancer a year and a half prior to my diagnosis, and in witnessing her rapid deterioration, a part of me died with her. The other part endured a similar fight seventeen months later. Simone did not have many material possessions in this life, and the few she had were kept in a black backpack as she traveled from residence to residence. She did not have a ‘home’ in the typical sense. Sure, she had children and grandchildren and nieces and nephews and sisters and brothers, and a host of friends and others she affectionately referred to as family. Simone and I connected when I was thirteen over a similar passion for books and tastes in music. I enjoyed how our casual conversations about the most mundane of things always turned into deep-rooted debates about life in general. She never judged me, just listened, and offered her suggestions. There were no proverbial walls, constructed by my utter distrust of people.

Simone was a cook at a small café in downtown Long Beach. And though she loved cooking at the café, she loved cooking for her friends and family even more. She cooked for her family on most every holiday. She had a gift for arts and crafts, always making homemade Easter baskets for her grandchildren, nieces, and nephews. She made the best homemade cheesecakes of all-time, too! Every year on my birthday, I sat and watched as she beautifully crafted a special one just for me. Her main ingredient was love, always love. No ulterior motives, no hidden agendas. Just love!
She taught me many lessons before and after she died. But the one that will sustain the tests of time, “You are not your condition!” She always said that. She never made excuses for herself, or allowed anyone to feel sorry for her condition. Simone was many things in her life: a mother, a grandmother, a sister, an aunt, a friend. But she was my guardian angel. I held her hand thirty-seven times on that cold slab, donning that mask, that uncomfortable mask. And I always whispered to myself, “I am not my condition!”

by Charles Banks, Jr. (Poet/Writer)

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Between Dusk and Dawn (Writing as Curiosity)

Photo taken from the WEB

Photo taken from the WEB

 

 

BETWEEN DUSK AND DAWN
 
If I should die
In the hours between
Dusk and dawn when
The silence of howling sea breezes
And melancholy of chirping crickets
Prevail—
I will sing a song of contentment
While sipping from a hot cup of tea
In my grandpa’s old rocking chair
By the open window.
 
© 2014 by Charles Banks, Jr.
Writing as Curiosity

Burdens Q & A (with Charles Banks, Jr.)

Burdens Q and A
with Charles Banks, Jr. (Author of Burdens)
 
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1. What was the inspiration behind this particular project? There were a myriad of themes for Burdens. At its core, this chapbook of poetry is about loss—loss of identity, of naivety, of self. I think the speaker in this book is struggling to make sense of recent events. Black Angel is trying to use past experiences to make sense of his current frame of mind. For a lack of a better term, he’s become a zombie of sorts.
2. How did this particular project come to fruition? For the past five years, you have written primarily as Curiosity. In fact, your last three books have been penned as Curiosity. So why shift over to Black Angel for the first time since 2008 for an entire body of work? In hindsight, I wanted to explore who Black Angel’s voice was in poetry before I committed to another project. I was working on another piece of writing, and a couple of months into the process, the vision in my head did not match the writing. I was telling a different story than I wanted to. This particular writing told a far deeper story of lament and anxiety and discomfort.
3. Discomfort? In what way? Meaning a sense of being unsettled. It’s well chronicled now that I had cancer last year. I can’t think of anything else that would make one any more unsettled than a life-threatening disease. In the last year, I have tried to objectively, emphasis on ‘objectively’, analyze my life. I’ve learned some new things about myself. And I think some of those newfound realizations manifest themselves in Burdens.
4. How did you decide on the poem sequence for Burdens? Well, I like to focus on the beginning and end. Meaning, I like to choose the first and last poem initially, and work in the guts in between. I felt the most impressionable poems, the poems that wholly encompassed the book’s theme were “Bedside Vigil” and “Finale.” It’s interesting because “Bedside Vigil” was the last poem I wrote for the book, and “Finale” was the first poem I wrote.
5. How difficult is it to write about such an emotional, human moment in time like you did in “Bedside Vigil”? That was probably one of the easier poems to write. Though, it was difficult to determine how much detail was too much. I had a difference of opinions with my editor about specific details. She wanted more! But I wanted the focus of the poem on Tony, his fading grip on life, and the narrator and his early deterioration into regret.
6. How real is the moment you wrote about in “Finale”? It was very real to me. I’ve never spoken to someone who had contemplated suicide before about the experience. I can only reflect from my perspective. I wrote that during radiation treatment, which was the greatest test of wills in my life. I was mid-way through a 37 session treatment, and had lost a significant amount of weight. I went from 200 pounds to 126 altogether. I was depressed! The radiation had damaged my taste buds, so I stopped eating. I did not drink water either because it tasted like lead. So I ended up at the beach one night. I don’t remember how I got there. In my frailness, I walked two miles at 3 in the morning with a knife and a suicide note in tote, and I sat at an empty life guard’s post. And for that short window of time, I contemplated the idea of dying. At that moment in time, I did not want to live.
7. Why do you think you did live? The pros of living outweighed the cons. My life felt incomplete. I can say that because I was 24 at the time. I mean, whose life is really complete at 24? My narrative would be incomplete if I had died on that night. So I made a conscious decision, in the wake of the most unconscious moment of my life, to live. Sometimes, the act of living is a choice. I chose to live.
 
*Carla Westbrook
for Spilt Ink Poetry
 
Art by © 2014 by Fernando Gallegos
Art by © 2014 by Fernando Gallegos

Announcement (3/24/2014)

Announcement:

It brings me great disappointment to have to announce that I learned on Friday morning that my cancer has returned, this time in my right lung. As of now, the only method of treatment is chemotherapy. I want to first thank everyone for their support in the last year during my first battle with cancer. I will remain persistently busy with work at Spilt Ink Poetry, diligently helping poets publish their work, as well as attending college. I look forward to releasing Spilt Ink Poetry’s Inaugural Newsletter in April, as well as working on the (re)publication of Melissa Medina’s first book of poetry. I am also collaborating on an erotic chapbook of poetry with Elizabeth Castaneda. Further, I have also signed on as an editor for Melinda Cochrane International Motivational Magazine: Summer Edition, 2014.

As I mentioned, I will remain actively involved in publishing, and I will reign victorious in my second battle with cancer. Thank you all again for your continued support, friends, family, poets and poetry lover!

Respectfully, Charles Banks, Jr.

 

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Beauty of Butterflies

I remember walking in haste
One sunny day in May,
As many of us often do—
Unattached from nature.
It was chance, I guess,
Or fate, I assume—though
I’ve always relied on the empirical,
That I stopped by this particular garden.
Rich in flowers and bushes,
It was like having an optical orgasm.
I fixated on a group of butterflies,
Five or six, resting on a bush with
Strange flowers. They were striking
Shades of red and purple and orange.
I found a connection with them.
“Maybe I am a butterfly!” I thought.
Maybe cancer is like the lifecycle of a butterfly.
Maybe my life before cancer is like
The caterpillar before the butterfly.
I remember smiling for the first time
In ages it seemed. I had something
To look forward to, life as a butterfly perhaps,
Colorful and vibrant, after the cocoon of cancer.

© 2013 by Charles Banks, Jr.
Writing as Curiosity
Published online at Cadence Collective: Long Beach Poets.

Never Fade Away (Writing as Curiosity)

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Never Fade Away
Never fade into the abyss
Never drift in the breeze like a falling leaf.
Always rise above avalanches of distraction
Always drift with direction.
Never fade like the last rays of daylight
Never drift on a broken sailboat in shallow waters.
Always shine brightly in the imminence of darkness
Always captain your ship during treacherous storms.
Never fade with the most impossible of ambitions
Never drift on your disbelief.
Always cling to your hopes and dreams
Always savor each victory like fine wine.
Never fade and never waver
Never drift and never fold.
Always shine and always stand sturdy
Always have purpose and always win.
© 2013 by Charles Banks, Jr.
Writing as Curiosity

Bedside Vigil (Writing as Black Angel) Excerpt from “Burdens”

BEDSIDE VIGIL

I sat vigil over Tony’s bedside
for sixteen hours before he died
on Christmas Eve, five days before
his nineteenth birthday.
Nurses came and went, checking his vitals,
propping his pillows, asking if he needed
warm blankets or the window opened.
We traded cancer stories and laughed about how
the hospital food reminded us of radiation treatment.
I went through 37 rounds
and had been cancer-free for nine months.
He went through 28 twice before the cancer
came back and took over his entire body.
When I got to the hospital, Tony was frail,
pale-skinned, and frequently lost his breath
in the middle of a good memory.
He died just before midnight,
as the Christmas carolers sang from down the hall.
I remained at his empty bedside
long into the silence of morning,
sitting vigil over what could have been me.

© 2014 by Charles banks, Jr.
Writing as Black Angel
Excerpt from Burdens
Published by Spilt Ink Poetry

 
Art by © 2014 by Fernando Gallegos

Art by © 2014 by Fernando Gallegos