There Are No Words

Share it now!

2018 Barrett Winner

2nd Place Sarah Williams

Colter Poetry Prize Winner Sarah Williams

Introduction by Dr. Peter Kim, Barrett Committee:

Sarah Williams enrolled as a student in my introduction to journalism course last year, and her talents in writing became immediately apparent. I also had the joy of having Sarah as a student in the Honors Colloquium last fall. Sarah’s intellectual curiosity, thoughtfulness, enthusiasm, and insights are matched by her natural ability to bring out the best in others. Sarah’s leadership and talent led to her being hired as the creative editor of the college’s student newspaper. Observing Sarah follow up on a lead, conduct interviews and research, and draft and edit her stories is truly inspiring. Sarah’s publications in the student newspaper have won top prizes at the Michigan Community College Press Association’s annual statewide competition for two years in a row. Her talents extend beyond journalism. Sarah has also won statewide awards at the LAND conference, winning last year for 2D art and this year as a LAND Student Scholar for academic excellence. Sarah said of herself with her Barrett submission that she is “a late blooming college student who has raised three daughters and has come back to school to increase [her] world view, further [her] education, and continue to grow in a love for learning that extends beyond the classroom.” It is clear from her successes thus far that she has already exceeded that goal. I am pleased that Sarah can add to that success with her award at this year’s Barrett ceremony. In her award-winning poem, Sarah’s tender emotions gracefully fill the lines with meaningful existential musings as she thinks of how her daily routine contrasts with that of her sister-in-law and best friend who also happens to have MS. As the poem takes us through the challenges of someone with MS, inhabiting them, Sarah’s empathy, goodwill, sense of justice, and heartfelt love come through. Don’t take my word for it, please welcome Sarah Williams as she reads from her poem, “There Are No Words.”

There Are No Words

“I fucking hate MS,” she says
on the other end of the phone
as I swerve through morning traffic heading east
on Michigan Ave
on my way to school.

“I’m sorry, but I do.” she adds
though there’s no sense in apologizing
for dropping f-bombs before breakfast
when both of us know well
that there’s no good time
to have MS.

Some days my response is poised
and ready
It’s lightning fast out of the bullpen
because damn it, I’m indignant
and ready to fight the world
for wrecking all our plans
and hijacking all her dreams
and hardly leaving her with even a leg
to stand on.

But there are mornings where I fail
magnificently
at even my stupid little part
and like an idiot
like an amateur on stage
who can’t remember his own few lines
I sit there
awkwardly driving
while shame and fear
wash over me
and no whispered reminder comes
as rescue from the wings
because after seventeen years
there are no words and
I still don’t know what to say
to my best friend.

A car horn blasts
and I’m reminded
that lives as straightforward as mine
are waiting to move on
to drop off kids
and get to work
to the grocery store
or Spanish class on time.

In a sea of agendas I file along
feet able
to hit gas and break
legs able
to do so many things.

I mentally account for the books
I need to read
and the papers
I need to write
what dinner should be
what we need from the store
what my children are hoping
what my husband suggested
we make time to do
this weekend
as he kissed me goodbye
and we walked with ease
to our cars.

All the while, my best friend
is wondering
if today is
a good enough day
a strong enough day
to tread cautiously
down the driveway
leaning her weight into
a shiny, burgundy walker
for balance
turning slowly at the pavement past
one
two
maybe three
neighbors
before heading back
so as not to get stuck
while she’s thanking God for the day
and willing her right foot
to stop dragging behind.

But because it’s an f-bomb morning
she more likely wonders
as she makes it,
or doesn’t,
to the bathroom in the nick of time
if today it will be just enough
to climb down both kitchen steps
without falling
holding for dear life
to the rail
until her blue, slip-on, memory foam Sketchers
safely meet the basement landing
And then it’s
one
more
brave
step
down
to the sunshine chair fixed outside the back door.

“I’m just so angry,” she says
on days
where she can’t find
the strength to say
she’s looking forward to seeing
what God’s going to do
in all of this.

Because we both love Jesus
and we
....we trust him.
But what does that mean
What does that mean with MS?

She tells me that he’s her friend in a way
that even I can’t be
and though it seems irreverent to some
she worships when
she’s able
and bellows something fierce when
she is not
because
he ought to hear the truth
of how his daughter feels
because
she knows that he hears
and she knows that he cares
and we know that he’s able
but we don’t know why
he doesn’t heal.

And at times,
believing in his goodness is enough
to calm the storm
but sometimes
“I just needed an earthly friend to listen,”
she says.

We distract from heartbreak
by talking about the good old days
when we were young and broke
but carefree and easy to please
When a night of cashing in returnables
bought a couple tickets to
the dollar show
and we could split a
Mcdonald’s two cheeseburger meal
or a six-pack while lying
and dreaming
on the hood of my car.

We reminisce to when
my brother brought her home
and declared
that he loved her
all the while not understanding
that that would mean
he would feed her soup
from his hand and
help her to shower and
lift her into bed.

And she,
in her youth,
and her health,
didn’t know
the years she would carry him
though her legs would buckle
they would sometimes be stronger than those
feebled by the bottle
and the exhaustion
and the grief.
Looking back,
neither knew what forever would mean
As is true for all of us,
but more real for some.

And when she married my brother
almost twenty-five years ago
we found ourselves sisters
and then mothers
and friends
our lives changed so quickly
and we learned how to depend
on one another
to keep each other’s secrets
and make the other laugh
out loud
in the midst of pain.

But I didn’t know then
how great her pain would be
at 42 and 46…..I still don’t.
We dreamed in our twenties
of traveling to Europe
while squirreling away tiny paychecks
from long nights of waitressing
and deep cleaning apartments.
We talked in our thirties
about weekend camping trips
just us and a pop-up
with a view at our disposal
and a six pack to drink while lying
and dreaming
on the hood of my car.

Now
in our forties
we make plans
for her house
next week
on Monday
while I’m on break from school.

And it will be enough.
And it will never be enough.
But we’ll be glad to spend time outside of schedules
and the day to day things that my normal life demands
and we’ll talk, really talk….
and we’ll reminisce and laugh
out loud because
well, because what else can we do?
There’s no use trying to make sense of it all
so we won’t waste time
or words
on that.
And after all, there are no words
no words to describe
how much
we fucking hate MS.