[Rename the Sitcom of Your Life], Body I Name You, and Notes on the Half Life – Poetry

By Liz Meley

Writer’s statement: My poetry professor always told his students, “Name the pain.” I feel that these poems, in their own ways, tries this kind of naming. They emerged from different moments of devastation and discoveries: witnessing the effects of my grandmother’s Alzheimer’s disease and the subsequent unfolding of family history, thinking through the various forms loss can take and how it marks us, and exploring what it means (for me) to shed the stigma associated with mental illness.


Fact 1: Aristotle and Pliny the Elder argued that the full moon agitated individuals with mental illness by providing light during nights which would otherwise have been dark.

Fact 2: On December 28, 2012 President Obama signed legislation removing the word “lunatic” from all federal laws in the United States.

Rename the sitcom that is your life: I Love Lunacy. Love the luminous sound of it. Lunacy nightlights the dark cellar of you, bright and forgiving as your TV. Whisper it over and over. Unlock the music at its center: lunacy, lunacy, lunacy. Hear the moon in it, hear the tide, hear its antiquity blow the dust clean from your injury. Love the narrow hallway of your mouth, which spills lunacy as three cold marbles. Love the narrow hallway of your memory: lunacy smoothed along its papered walls: a brilliant floral pattern. Lunacy in your bedroom. Lunacy in your bloodstream. Lunacy as translucent canopy of your certainty, as the diadem of your dubious dopamine. O Doubt—its sweetness breathes over you. And here you chant yourself closer to the sky. See, far off, the balloon animal of your soul, your center, your stage? This constellation waits for your applause only.



co-conspirator with the pollen
with the junk mail
with the ridged asphalt
melting hot in May

what is this sickness you deliver
nausea folded neatly in the stomach-flap
there is a bad name written there
there is a bad name wanting to get out

I can’t be you and this all at once
the splitting that happens at the mouth

the splitting that happens at the seam of my waking
nausea is a dream

nausea is a beautiful word for what is not beautiful
though the white tiles

though the bathroom door
though the things that lock down well

sing in a kind of pretty way
hand on knob

finger down throat
swelling and the arm goes limp

body I cannot be you
and myself
at once

I am scared for my neglect of you
I am scared you are not smart enough to avenge yourself

I make up tales about you
to make the nausea mean something

I cannot open eyes I cannot close them
I forget what I was grateful for

engraved my tongue



I am always half-living
in a future where
all the things I should’ve felt
more grateful for
have been destroyed.
Appreciation tinged with fear,
a Shadow-thanks.


Your death made every face
turn into paper,
every word
to stone,

or flakes of ice
chipped from a glacier.
Not heavy,


When I have thoughts,
I cannot sleep.

In the room below,
my grandmother sleeps
away more of her memory.

Her disease: slow progression
that stuns me nonetheless

I was reading about saints.
There is one for nearly everything.

An abundance for eyes,
diseases and ailments thereof.

And for horses.
And sufferers of torture.

One saint had a glowing left arm.
He used to write
by its light.

I remember stories
about my uncle.
When he was a boy,
he was left handed,
and the nuns made him
write with his right hand,
the weaker hand.

Family lore goes:
one of the nuns
taunted him
after the deaths of his
best friends.
That summer, one boy
drowned in the river they
played in, while the other
succumbed to untreated
They were twelve
or thirteen.

(There are patron saints
for afflictions of the gut,
for the drowned.)

That fall, his teacher,
peering from inside
her black habit,
told him, “You’ll be next.”

I’ve used this story
to explain a lot of my uncle’s
malicious behavior,
his sort of cruel complacency.
His sadness.

I’ve used this story to understand
the past.

It is a place where children suffer
and grow up to suffer more.

The innocence of the past
is always sullied
by someone learning
how un-innocent it was…

My grandmother,
when she gets confused,
or scared, when she condemns us
for tricking her, holding her
prisoner, she will usually
listen to my uncle,
her eldest, when she listens
to no one else.

I think it’s because he is a man,
and her addled brain registers
the resonant tenor
of his voice,
and his height,
and his heavy step.

He can lift her.

He is kind to her now
when he used to take delight
in distressing her,
with her devout Catholicism,
her fixation on propriety.

How strange for him
to be now
the authority.

Now my grandmother asks
for her mother (long dead)
and, “When can I go home?”

I put pills in a little white cup.
I pour water in her glass
from a plastic pitcher
with a cracked lid.

My grandmother has always
loved ice water.
I think she was born thirsty,
with dry, cracked lips.

She often grasps my wrists
and draws me close to her,
(so close I can see the soft
blue of her eyes)
before saying,
“Lizzy, your hands—
They’re like ice!”

Liz Meley earned an MFA in Poetry from the University of California, Irvine, where she taught writing and read submissions for Faultline Journal of Arts and Letters. She has been awarded fellowships and scholarships to study at Bucknell University’s Seminar for Younger Poets and the Community of Writers at Squaw Valley. Her poems and reviews can be found in Sink Review, Cicada Magazine, The Asian American Literary Review, and Entropy, among others. She currently laments the state of the union from the state of Pennsylvania. You can find her on twitter @lizmeley or on tumblr.


%d bloggers like this: