No Known Cure
They say there is no cure,
but you can treat it.
Remission at some point is more than just dying in pace with the seasons.
Now maybe when they take my guts out and line them up just right
they’ll find a secret in the ulcerated curves and swirls some kind of
prediction in my cleaned-out hollows or an echoed prayer floating
in the rearranged emptiness an answer lost among the body’s
special sort of living light or just another moonless night
for everyone who’s next.
- For Lili Boulanger, after Faust et Hélène
At the Premier Grand Prix de Rome, you played the piano
and fell from exhaustion. But next year you lived and
The dead can’t speak or praise the lord
And near to death are broken hearts But
young hearts broken by their world, by
nature’s whims, or will of God will
burn eternal burn with useful anger,
kindle snapping, glowing brightest.
We’re told to pay our metastatic Mephistopheles. You played
piano on the devil's teeth an ode suffused through smiling fire
that sears on every night, one hundred years and ever on,
singing Sie ist gerichtet und
Sie ist gerettet
Southgate, Apt. 4D
My father slept in bursts like gunfire, batted dreams away with
twitching fingers that clenched and scrunched. Cigarette butts burned
holes through blankets he locked himself in plaid and feigned relief
through weekend naps in range of shafts of sun between the blinds.
Ash escaped a grizzled muzzle when he choked awake
in cracking coughs and phlegm, and tarry-lunged
Calming, he breathed slow to the site of his kids
absorbed in the floor, in TV, in their coloring books with
six, nine, twelve years, thirty years outside the lines.
In bleary slip from couch to a chair he’d pick up
a clipboard, a cold mug of coffee, another pack of
Camels. He’d hammer out a new cartoon, heaving
dusty sighs for the middling wakened life, only
drifting swiftly off again at the mercy of burning
Storm, in his thousandth awakening, met only with yawns.
Shift those legs, arise exhausted, scuffle
to the couch again, times ten, painlessly
snap, stare down the television: one more
episode, then it’s off to bed.
Somewhere long ago, he stood drunk in a jungle,
said his prayers, and shot for the sake of sleeping his
BEHIND THE PAIN POEMS:
Backstory for No Known Cure
I wrote the first poem, “No Known Cure”, after my determination for total and permanent disability. I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease when I was 15 years old, and deemed legally disabled by 23; much of my twenties were spent in the hospital, where I’ve undergone nearly 30 surgeries. My doctors and I have put in a lot of work to keep this illness under control - entire years have gone by where I’ve enjoyed remission or pure chaos. However, I was fortunate to remain healthy enough to get through my undergraduate studies, where I was optimistic (if not a little naive) about the nature of this disease. In this poem, I try to demonstrate the highs one can feel after a successful operation, or hearing the news of going into remission. However, as with many people I know who suffer from Crohn’s, there is no small amount of doubt regarding their prognosis and even the most optimistic people have moments where they break, as illustrated by the final line. Still, I think this poem is positive overall and I hope anyone else dealing with this very visceral disease can relate with what it attempts to convey.
Backstory for F&W Nocturne 1911
The second poem is dedicated to the French composer and pianist Lili Boulanger.
At 18, she began developing symptoms for what we now know is Crohn’s disease. Her biography details the tremendous amount of pressure she faced as a gifted musician. Lili had perfect pitch and came from a relatively wealthy background, but everything was upended when her illness took over while participating in France’s most prestigious music competition at the time. Her work lives on as a testament to her genuine genius, but I was always impressed with how she persevered before eventually succumbing to symptoms of Crohn’s at 24. She worked all the way up until she died and left behind an incredible legacy in spite of this.
The final line is from one of her most famous pieces, an opera based on the famous story of Faust. The German lines from the original Faust by Goethe (“Sie ist gerichtet / und / Sie ist gerettet”) are often confused due to word similarities and can be translated to “she is condemned / and /she is saved”, which in my poem references both the fate of the opera’s female lead and Lili Boulanger herself. What was originally an ironic mistranslation fascinated me considering Lili’s personal story, and I feel that by having her work be remembered well over a century after her death, she is saved despite having been condemned to a life of chronic illness.
Backstory for F&W Southgate, Apt. 4D
My final submission, Southgate, Apt. 4D, is named after our old family apartment. It is about my father, Storm Robinson, who was a cartoonist and draftsman by trade. By all accounts he was a great parent, but he suffered terribly from post-traumatic stress disorder after serving two tours of duty in the Vietnam War. It is a chronic illness as bad as any other and I believe its effects greatly contributed to his own death at 62. This poem shows a typical day in the life on our weekends together, where he often worked late into the night and tried to nap during the day, but never could quite get any relief from his nightmares.
Past a point, my brother, my sister, and I all learned to ignore some of the day-to-day effects of his mental illness, but it must be said that he tried his best to keep it under control and was incredibly perseverant despite living with the aftershocks of war. Heavy cigarette smoking was a small respite to everything he dealt with. If he had lived longer, I feel he would have gotten much better help for his problems, but unfortunately, he was never provided the appropriate assistance despite his contributions to the United States military. Ultimately though, he provided a good life for all of his children despite shouldering so much trauma, and through poems like this I can better square away a part of my childhood that we never were given the chance to address.
Alex J. Robinson is a writer and disability rights advocate currently living in New London, Connecticut. He previously served as editor-in-chief of his university literary magazine, Eastern Exposure. He loves art, music, reading, his fiancee, and his pet rabbit Vivi. His Instagram is @alex.j.robinson.
EDITOR'S SONG PAIRING:
Nocturne (Lili Boulanger) - Boulanger Quintet