We hope 2013 has started out well for you. In these fairly early days of the new year, we're thrilled to bring you the seventh issue of Beguile. From autobiographical poetry and a memoir excerpt, to a story whose author puts himself in the skin of a witness to a bizarre historic event, the written work in this issue explores how we see our lives, and the lives of others. Artist Sharon Watts completes this issue's biographical theme, with her collages featuring found objects that she assembles to create new stories, and to recall stories of her own. We hope you enjoy these life stories, and we hope that your own life will be full of health, happiness, hope, and inspiration in 2013!
Happy Reading and Viewing,
Alysa Salzberg, Editor-in-Chief
The Beguile Team
In this issue of Beguile...
In an excerpt from her memoir FOCUS, Ingrid Ricks shares a troubling vision from her life.
Steve Sherman takes us back in time to an unusual event on a remarkable ship, in Death on the SS Great Eastern.
It's our immense pleasure to feature three collages by versatile artist Sharon Watts. About her life and art, Sharon writes, "I am an illustrator with a background in fashion and children’s books, and also an assemblage and collage artist. My art websites are www.sharonwatts.com and www.dirndlskirt.com. My writing can be found at www.sharonwattswrites.wordpress.com/
I am finishing up adding visuals to a memoir of my art student years in NYC (the early 1970s) entitled Hell’s Kitchen and... which will most likely be self-published in 2013. I still ‘heart’ New York, but the one I’ve saved in my heart all these years is the one I love best.”
As for the inspiration behind the collages featured in this issue, she explains, "I cannot let go of innocuous packaging that once protected something quite ordinary. Other things find me as I walk down the street—trinkets fallen from cheap charm bracelets, scraps of paper, glass, or metal--objects with former lives, however humdrum. I assemble them, working with my own encyclopedia of symbolism reflecting memory, emotional connectedness, miscommunication and loss--all under the umbrella of how human strength co-exists with human fragility. The Illuminate series reflects the theme of protection and includes souvenirs of religious cards from my travels."
We'd like to say a HUGE "Thank you" to all of the contributors to this Issue! Thank you for your patience, support, and most of all, your wonderful work.
And now, without further ado, prepare to be beguiled!
by Heidi Baker
single syllable sentiments
love, blessed, life
solid matters, my opinion
details of a single moment
in a walking meditation
one mile at a time
no beat holds me steady
the sun, a promise
carries my frame
accompanied by a fragile silence
a link to grace
i am neither free
a smiling whisper
holding the cord
ABOUT THE POET
Heidi is a nomad who has been writing since she could reach the keys of her mom's old manual typewriter. She has a passion for capturing the beauty of a single moment and getting to the heart of what is real. In October 2012 she published a collection of poems titled Love Story: A Walking Meditation, which is available for both Kindle and Nook.
ABOUT THE POEMS
One might call Love Story: A Walking Meditation a recent-history lesson in verse, or simply my record of time passing in a world of spirit cloaked in matter, a world of beauty (even amid challenges) I can touch only when I am still, present, seeking nothing but a way to relate the miracle that is everyday life.
by Sharon Watts
Chapter 1 of FOCUS - A Memoir
by Ingrid Ricks
There was something wrong with the machine.
For the past five minutes, I’d been staring into a large, box-shaped medical device, waiting to have my peripheral vision checked. The eye doctor’s assistant, a thin, blonde woman with a chin-length bob and caked-on makeup, told me that all I had to do was press on the clicker I was holding whenever I saw a white dot flash anywhere inside that metal box. Simple enough.
Except that after pressing my forehead against the headrest for so long I felt a crease forming, I still hadn’t seen a flashing dot.
“When are you going to start the test?” I finally asked the woman, still pushing my forehead against the headrest. I needed to get it over with so I could pick up my five-year-old daughter from her Montessori school and get her to a children’s music group audition twenty miles away.
“It’s been going for a while,” she replied. She was young—no more than twenty-three or twenty-four. I couldn’t see her face now because of the box I was staring into, but I imagined it was blank and a bit dazed. She was probably thinking about where she was going to party that evening, and the idea that she was so checked out she couldn’t even properly administer the test irked me. I jerked my head away from the box and shot her an annoyed look.
“Well, it’s not working then, because nothing is happening.”
I stepped out of the way so the assistant could check it out for herself. She positioned herself on the stool, pushed her forehead against the headrest, and gazed through the small window into the box.
“It seems to be working fine for me,” she announced a minute later, pushing herself away from the machine and resuming her testing position. “Why don’t we try it again?”
Her words jarred me. And something about the way she said them felt like a thousand tiny needles all jamming into my skin at once. She didn’t look at me when she talked, but I could tell it wasn’t out of complacency. She suddenly seemed very attentive and serious—and I liked this version of her even less. For the first time since I had heard the words degenerative eye disease the day before, panic shot through me. I took my seat in front of the metal box and picked up the clicker.
“Ready?” she asked.
I waited for the flashing lights. Nothing. My stomach was a tangle of knots and they were pulling so tight I could hardly breathe. I jerked my forehead back from the headrest a second time and stood up from the stool.
“It’s just not working,” I declared, trying to keep my voice steady.
“I’m going to get the doctor,” the assistant mumbled. “Why don’t you just take a seat in the chair?”
My body found its way into the black reclining patient chair. I could feel my hands shaking but I couldn’t stop them. I didn’t want the eye doctor to see me cry but I couldn’t keep the tears in. The meaning of his quiet, serious words from the previous day were suddenly taking hold.
The eye doctor walked into the room and put his hand on my knee. He didn’t speak for a few minutes; he just left his hand there while I sobbed. He was about my age—somewhere in his mid-to-late thirties—and only twenty-four hours earlier, we were joking and swapping stories about our toddlers. Now, he was patting my leg and comforting me like I was a toddler myself.
“We already knew this wasn’t going to be good,” he started out slowly, carefully choosing his words.
What do you mean, WE? I wanted to shout back. It’s true he had told me that the spidery pigment he saw when he looked into the back of my eyes resembled something he referred to as Retinitis Pigmentosa. And when I Googled the foreign-sounding words later that evening, some of the symptoms—such as night blindness and loss of peripheral vision—matched what I had been experiencing. But the information I found online also said it was a hereditary disease and, as far as I knew, not a single person in my extended family had anything like this.
What’s more, the information I found said that people with RP were legally blind by age forty, but at thirty-seven, I had perfect 20/20 vision. Then there was the final bit of information that had made me turn off my computer—the part about losing all remaining eyesight by your mid-fifties. I reminded myself that the eye doctor had told me he was only guessing at the RP diagnosis. Clearly he had made a mistake.
“We don’t have to do this today if you don’t want to,” the eye doctor continued in a gentle tone. “Either way, the end result is the same. I need to send you to a retinal specialist.”
He pulled a stool next to me, sat down, and handed me tissues to catch the flood of water escaping my eyes. It was humiliating to have him see me like this, and in a desperate attempt to end my blubbering, I bit my lip so hard that it started bleeding. In my mind, I debated whether the test was even necessary. The doctor already knew the answer and at this point, I knew it too.
“Let’s do it,” I said after finally calming down enough to speak. “I want to know where I’m at.”
“Are you sure?” he asked. I could hear the hesitation in his voice and sensed he was already bracing himself for my next meltdown.
“Yeah. I’m sure.”
The eye doctor left the room and the assistant appeared a minute later to administer the test. She avoided looking at me. It was clear she wanted this over as much as I did.
I pressed my now-swollen eyes up to the peephole for a third time and once again held the clicker in my hand. After about ten minutes the test was done and the assistant left. A few minutes later, the eye doctor was back with my test results—displayed in the form of two 8 ½ x 11 sheets of paper.
“These two pieces of paper represent your field of vision—which in a healthy person is ninety degrees in each eye,” he explained in the same gentle, quiet voice I now knew to associate with bad news. “The area in black ink is the area where you’ve lost your vision. The unmarked area represents the vision you have left.”
I stared at the two pieces of paper he had placed in front of me. They were both covered in black ink, with an untouched circle in the center of each and a sliver of white that looked like a big smiley-face underneath each eye. The top of one sheet contained the words Left Eye. The other sheet was titled Right Eye.
“So what does this mean?” I asked, not sure I wanted to hear the answer. “How much do I have left?”
“About ten degrees in each eye,” he returned, not looking at me.
I had heard all I needed to hear. During my Internet research the night before, I had read that a person with a ten-degree visual field or less in each eye is considered legally blind.
“I have to go now,” I managed. I jumped out of the chair and sprinted to the door. There was no way I was going to let him see me lose it again.
I held back the wailing sobs until I reached my car, locked myself in, and laid my head against the steering wheel. I had experienced fear plenty of times in my life. But it was nothing compared to the terror that was now gripping me.
I don’t know how much time elapsed. But it suddenly hit me that I needed to pick up my five-year-old daughter, Syd, at her Montessori school. I was supposed to take a twenty-minute drive on a busy interstate to get her to the children’s music group auditions she had been asking me about all week. After that, I needed to battle the freeway traffic back to the rural town where we lived so I could pick up my other daughter, Hannah, who was about to turn two, from her daycare. Then I needed to stop by the grocery store, pick up some food, head home and make dinner.
I had to pull myself together. I had to think. But I was in such a fog I was having a hard time remembering how to breathe.
What was I supposed to do?
All I wanted to do was curl up in a ball in the back seat of my car and go to sleep so I could wake up and discover that this was all just a bad dream.
I kept my head resting against the steering wheel for a few more minutes, unable to will myself to move. Then it occurred to me to call John.
I grabbed my phone and punched in the numbers to my husband’s cell phone. I got his voicemail.
“John. I’m going blind,” I sobbed into the handset. “I’m practically already blind.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ingrid Ricks is a Seattle-based journalist, author, marketing consultant and teen mentor who leverages the new world of digital publishing to give at-risk teens a voice. Using her award-winning debut memoir Hippie Boy: A Girl’s Story as a teaching guide, she recently co-launched WeAreAbsolutelyNotOkay.org, a nationally recognized mentoring/publishing program that helps at-risk teens find their voice by writing and publishing their personal stories.
Ingrid’s essays and stories have been published in Salon, Ladies’ Home Journal, The Advocate and a variety of other publications. Her books include Hippie Boy: A Girl’s Story, FOCUS, and A Little Book of Mormon (and Not So Mormon) Stories. You can learn more about them and her at her website, ingridricks.com.
ABOUT THE MEMOIR
More than anything, my journey with my degenerative eye disease has taught me that no one is immune to disease or death, life can change in an instant and all we have for certain is now -- so we better make NOW count. I wrote FOCUS, in part, because I want to put a human face on devastating diseases and the struggles people face. But more than that, I wanted to share my story in hopes that others who are feeling stuck in their lives will realize that it's never to late to go after their dreams, change relationships that aren't working, and create the life they want for themselves."
by Sharon Watts
Waiting in July
by Heidi Baker
on our front step, alone
cicada song, coffee, hazelnut chocolate
the air is wet and heavy, at dusk
i’m in love
lawn to mow, laundry to fold, bushes to trim
i left a list on the passenger seat
grey clouds, pink tones
nothing moves overhead
our house is an empty shell
every letter matters
i’m a walking meditation in this heat
i could weep, let flow a river, if I stayed awake all night
Death on the SS Great Eastern
by Steve Sherman
The following letter was taken from a diary presumed to be written by Augustus Cary, Ninth Mate on the SS Great Eastern.
The entries appear as letters to Miss Margaret Stevenson. Since no original letters are known to exist, it can not be known whether these are the text of actual letters, or simply a literary device used by Mr. Cary when writing in his diary.
Besides this diary, the only other known example of Mr. Cary's writing is a treatise on growing cranberries, published in the annals of an agricultural organization in
September 6, 1859
My dearest Margaret,
I remain aboard the Great Eastern, still moored near Shoreditch. We did not begin our maiden voyage on schedule, as there is still much left to complete the ship's fitting out. Several crews can be seen above and beneath deck, installing equipment needed to sail a ship of this size. The gangplank sees a never ending line of men carrying kitchen and dining supplies, beds and other furniture for the cabins. Above this procession, workmen can be found everywhere pounding hammers against rivets to make a chorus of echos in this iron ship. Amongst this din of metal against metal, other men hang chandeliers and arrange furniture in the passengers' galleries and cabins.
We are scheduled to begin our maiden voyage tomorrow. I wait anxiously for that moment when this great vessel will commence moving me closer to you. At nearly every spare moment, I think of you. I reckon that by now you have safely arrived in
and are assisting your brother in his general store. How I long to join you! Detroit
Captain Harrison called me away from my usual duties today for a most unusual and ultimately disturbing watch. Captain Harrison informed me that I was to escort Isambard Kingdom Brunel, the renowned engineer who designed the Great Eastern, as he inspected his creation. The captain advised me to exercise the greatest tact and care, as my charge would possibly be quite ill. I was instructed that the company had hired photographers to take some portraits of Mr. Brunel. My charge was to escort Mr. Brunel safely around the ship.
I met Mr. Brunel by his large black carriage as it drew up near the gangplank. A slim younger man of sallow complexion and a worried manner exited the carriage first. I briskly walked up to this man and introduced myself. The man was Mr. Wakefield, Mr. Brunel's apprentice. A rather short older-looking man slowly climbed from the carriage, wearing a top hat whose height seemed near one quarter the man's height. I was to surprised to see such an aged and feeble man, as Captain Harrison had instructed me to expect a man about fifty five years of age.
I steered the gentlemen toward a low and clean platform built on the grimy pier. The platform was full of company investors and directors who had been invited to view the ship's final preparations. Mr. Brunel was introduced as the father of the Great Eastern, a great inventor, and the finest example of an Englishman to be found. The photographer took several pictures of Mr. Brunel among the other gentlemen, all looking from side to side to take their view of the massive ship. The ship formed a massive escarpment of steel above the men standing on the pier.
After a short time, I lead Mr. Brunel and his apprentice across the gang plank and up the series of grand staircases that rise from the hatch to the deck. I attempted to control the pace of this journey, as I did not want to exert stress upon a man so sickly in appearance. However, Mr. Brunel insisted upon pushing forward at a respectable pace. We neared the deck after walking up four staircases and across two hallways. The apprentice made an odd comment, comparing the ship's lower decks to the Labyrinth of ancient
Crete. Mr. Wakefield seemed to be a fellow of rather sour disposition. His master, although visibly in poor health, appeared to exhibit more a more hardy enthusiasm for the day's activities.
I directed my charges to a camera on set up deck near the mainmast. The photographer arranged Mr. Brunel before the mast and stooped under a short black tent to operate his contraption. As the photographer worked his machine, Mr. Brunel fell to the deck and remained still. Reckoning he had been stricken with some dreadful type of fit, I whistled for my crewmen, four of whom returned with a stretcher and thankfully a sober demeanour.
We carefully placed Mr. Brunel's paralyzed body on the stretcher. I dispatched the smallest of the crewmen to hasten dockside and find Mr. Brunel's driver and have him pull the carriage to the freight hatch near the ship's aft. I thought it best we avoid the gangplank, where men of society and passengers might witness this unfortunate scene. We completed our trip through the ship without incident.
Not two minutes after I returned to the deck, I was summoned to the Captain's cabin. The captain had already received word of Mr. Brunel's collapse and questioned me at length. He appeared satisfied with my account of these events. He sent me away after only the mildest harangue.
As we depart tomorrow, I will gladly say farewell to
London, whose stench I will soon exchange for the scent of 's verdant plains. Beginning tomorrow, each day the Great Eastern will bring me one day closer to the day we shall once again be together in America . America
Until that day, I remain forever yours,
, Brunel, and the Great Eastern Cary
Isambard Kingdom Brunel is still considered by many to be the greatest engineer in the history of the world. He was chosen as history's second greatest Briton by BBC viewers in 2002. Brunel died shortly after his visit to the Great Eastern .
Brunel is the third man from the right in this photograph. He suffered his stroke about an hour after this photograph was taken.
The SS Great Eastern's maiden voyage ended prematurely with a boiler explosion off the British coast near
. The Great Eastern laid the first two successful transatlantic cables. No other ship was large enough to hold the cables. Hastings
Augustus Carey was Ninth Mate on the SS Great Eastern. He completed the Great Eastern's first successful transatlantic voyage before emigrating to
. I married his great-great grand daughter. Detroit
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
I took up blogging as part of a self-structured program to overcome everything I learned about writing from twenty years of drafting actuarial memoranda. I post at Zoomers.ca and Open Salon. I live in
and play clarinet and baroque recorder until some one complains about the noise. I work with a cat rescue organization, so I have the kitten for you. I am one of the only bloggers I know who likes math and juggles. Sacramento
ABOUT THE STORY
My wife's genealogical research unearthed marriage registration for Augustus Carey. He referred to himself as “Officer on the Great Eastern Ship” in the blank for "occupation". That one line started me on a mission to learn more about the Great Eastern and its story. I was able to use an article Carey wrote later in his life as a model for his writing “voice”.
On My Wooden Bench
by Heidi Baker
to market at dusk
brown-speckled bananas, organic mints, time
she’s locking patio furniture with a hundred-foot cable
so humid, clouds, those pink chalk smudges above
cicadas, tire spokes, boys’ foot steps
i inhale pastel petals in wooden crates
solitude lifts my breath
if you were here, i would offer a sip of ginger ale
by Sharon Watts