a small sample
Published in Premier Issue of Human/Kind Journal Jan 2019
Awarded Pushcart Nominee
Away and Within
Youth. Idealized freedom, a time of rustic camping among trees, mountain vistas, the breath of earth—when nature held me closest to rapture. Did I consider a Maker? In retrospect, what held more sway was power of away and within; a ritual of trees and sky, and experimentation, when raw euphoria was key to my spiritual experience.
We were, after all, flower children. Once, on a mountain hike near Aspen, when all ingredients were conducive, my heart sang. My senses were heightened in the roar and ripple of creeks, ethereal mid-day mountain-light, and warmth of the baking grasses and stone, thrill of birdsong. In an illusory moment, I only received. Much later, I would learn to return the blessing.
my life within gardens-
was it escape,
or deeper digging?
Growing Cut Flowers
My personal essay and vignettes have been published in many fine literary magazines:
Gravelmag, Wildflower Muse, Portland Metrozine, Contemporary Haibun Online, Haibun Today, 1001 Stories, Memoir Magazine, Halcyon Days, Mac(ro)Mic, The Remembered Arts Journal, The Vignette Review, Modern Creative Life, Borrowed Solace, Winter Street Writers, Amethyst Review, The Drabble, FewerThan500, BellaMused, HumanKind Journal, Spillwords, Soft Cartel, BookEnds Review, and more.
My photo Haiku and Senryu have appeared in "Failed Haiku," "Under the Basho," "Daily Haiku," and other journals.
I took this photo during our first reunion, and the joy is palpable. Karen, my 1/2-sister, cousins Lawrence and Helen Cox, and my birth mother, Leila. Antioch Churchyard, Greenville, SC, where many of our ancestors are at rest.
My loving adoptive mother
August 10, 1922- July 11, 2020
Rest in Peace
Human/Kind Journal Issue 1.4
With a thud like a fall from grace, a horror that deepened like dread, like the truth, there was nothing–my right arm, hip, the length of my leg, my right foot—no feeling, no movement. I regained consciousness with the primitive sense of hearing—the voice of a nurse, the rasp of a pager, the call of an intercom—and the smell of the cotton sheet that covered me.
I flashed on my head pain in the rear seat of the tour bus with my husband and friends. The bus jolted us onto the road from a gravel lot in a picnic ground. Out of cell phones’ reach, in the western Pennsylvania Highlands, the bus driver called the emergency on his radio. Semiconscious and dead-weight in the policeman’s arms, he carried me up the aisle and down the steps to the ambulance. I felt and heard the roaring gust, and dimly saw the helicopter land. The technicians lowered the gurney, and rolled it across the grassy, rutted field at the E.M.T. station. Through the din and storm clouds, I was on board to a West Virginia hospital without my husband. They said he would have to find his way to Ruby Memorial Hospital. The last I heard; the transmissions of pilot and crew, and I was over and out.
“A hemorrhagic stroke,” the petite neurologist told me and my husband, as she pointed to the MRI mounted on the wall across from my bed in step-down ICU. The shading on the image was the left-sided bleed that suffocated my brain cells; the blood and toxins that caused the neurological injury–right-sided paralysis–hemiparesis. Apraxia caused my garbled speech, an effect of brain damage that prevented me from forming words. The doctor smiled and said, “How lucky you are! You can recover with therapy!” I couldn’t fathom that the major stroke would affect me for the rest of my life.
My passion was to grow plants. Life-affirming work in gardens, strengthened my fiber and restored my spirit. I’d found purpose and fulfillment in creating colorful pictures with flowers and greenery. Would I do the work again; perform the tasks that had become second nature during my fifteen years as a gardening business-owner? How could I pinch and prune plants’ new growth for fullness, lop shrubs’ branches to find form and shape, kneel and weed in the fragrant soil; plant and stake perennials? Would I again stride out to a summer border; red handles of pruners that were the hallmark of my trade visible above my back pocket?
With a nasogastric tube for nourishment, I began passive physical therapy on my back. I struggled to verbalize. A speech therapist directed me to recognize and name childlike images on flash cards.
All but immobile after two weeks, I rocked side to side on a stretcher in the ambulance, transported after hours with my husband by two moonlighting med techs to the Easton, Pennsylvania rehab hospital near our home. Sometime after midnight, the Chief of Neurology admitted me to a two-bedded room.
In the morning, I embarked on months of physical, occupational, and speech therapy, in a regimen of neuroplasticity. (Oxford Living Dictionary: “The ability of the brain to form and reorganize synaptic connections, especially in response to learning or experience or following injury.”) The nurses, therapists, and my husband helped me measure my progress. They reminded me that life still held meaning; that incremental changes proved that my neuromuscular system was re-learning. They would not allow me to languish. My native determination and fortitude must work in tandem with the team. I needed to muster courage. “You can do it. You must do it! Start now, or lose the chance!” But my frail spirit faltered, and I crumbled in a battle with self-pity for what I had become. How could this happen to me?
“How do you feel about the weakness?” the clinical psychologist asked. After a few sessions, I refused to see him. How could he know what it’s like to lose everything? When my devastated, angry tears stopped, I admitted that if I were to walk again, I must make the effort. And I would either stretch, move, reach, throw, and use my fingers, or give in to a sleep that healed my brain but weakened both body and resolve. The choice was mine to fight the temptation to remain passive, or to try and try.
One early morning in bed, I was elated that my toes could move! A breakthrough! My right foot followed on my journey to walk again. The weeks crawled by, I did the work, and my foggy brain kept healing.
At last discharged to our home, my speech improved, and I progressed from wheelchair to left-sided walker, then to a cane. I began to read and write again for pleasure. My left fingers fly across my laptop keyboard. I’m fortunate to have had the outpatient therapy I needed, but I’ve never gotten back the full use of my right hand.
Fifty-eight when my life changed, I’m still the same person, only different. Not a flimsy flower, ten years on I still haven’t gardened. Sometimes I waver; stumble on snags, but each time–with fortitude–I regain my footing.
"Without Music" is in two anthologies by Scars Publications and Cc and D link here:
and the Anthology on Amazon '2020 In A Flash'
Quartet of Poetic Forms
She Couldn't Say
By Mary Ellen Gambutti
"Remember, she couldn't answer your questions without revealing everything. If you hadn't searched for her she would have taken all her secrets to the grave."
Your words stung. Our only chance the year before she vanished—in and out of our lives. Could I be grateful for all that came of it? The rarity of our meeting? Mute about my father--maybe she strained to remember—the truth ever elusive. Her life of neglect and desperation well known to you; abandoned as a toddler to her own poor parents’ shack. And I—longing for my own truth—flew to you both. Sister, you suspected there were others, but she couldn't say.
worn wooden bench—
pink crepe myrtle
bright above her sadness
a role model for impatience
Mom dreaded cooking and gardening
so I learned both from her mother
never a good listener,
hearing aids now
"Don’t forget to call me!”
but she rarely
picks up the phone
My personal Essay, Hurry Back is Published in Portland Metrozine
Please read here:
Memoir in Progress
I write to find the truth in my experience. In my new book, I trace my life as an adoptive Air Force officer's daughter in the 1950's and 1960's, and my search and reunion with my natural family.
Mary Ellen Gambutti