Poets and Lyrics
Julie Ann Ball
Julie Ann Ball is a catalyst for smiles from all who surround her. She grew up in Appleton Wisconson and studied teaching at UofW, Lacrosse. She retired from teaching middle school english and social studies in 2016 after 37 years in the field, 33 of them at the Marshall School in Duluth, MN where she was a founding and influential member of the middle school team. She is revered, respected, and admired by students, colleagues, and administrators alike. In retirement, she lives close to one of her two sons, daughter in-law, and grandson on the Big Island of Hawaii, and continues in her recreational pursuits of writing poetry, watching and listening to birds, enjoying life, and smiling.
the Lake is silent, stark and still
dark ice in the night
a mirror for the dawn
stars fall, suns rise above the horizon
standing still and steady
absolutely cold in January
breathing out, a ghost escapes in steam
and in, an icey gasp betides the day
no room for mourning
morning cracks the night
another day is born
before the last is silenced in the Lake
sub zero snow
does not fall pretty from the sky
on stellar flakes, drifting
and landing on woolen sweaters
and tongues held out for sweet cold
touching, melting on rosy cheeks
and hot lips
sub zero snow glistens
like diamonds against the night
landing in rainbows for sunrise
under east shadows from the Lake
sub zero snow is crunchy underfoot
it takes a breath and a breath
to taste the cold it brings
sub zero snow is bright under sun
blinding the beginning of the day
inviting one more truth
rivers in spring measure time in granite
with anchors. deep set rocks bedded
in glacial midnights, millions of dreams pass
all the raging roiling rapids foam
at the mouth when it meets the Lake
in a pocketful of agates that float and sink
each one a story from a spiraling flood
memories all mixed up with this dawn
rising, swollen beyond a rosey glow
echoes across the hillside
lilies-of-the-valley and lilacs on an early spring
behind thundering midnight, and sudden flashing
into the calm eye of twilight apple blossoms
the splitting of the sky, naked in the night
behind that single so quiet moment, so still
to stop my heart and my breath, that single moment
ripped out of me in rumbling and lightning
echoes across the hillside, promises
heavy with dew scent, sunrise across the Lake
granite cliffs rise from the Lake
a pond of lilies blooms in summer sun
tiny agates show along the path
a thunderstorm rainbow
puffweeds in parachute
American Goldfinch, nesting
and two cardinal families in the neighborhood
who sing a morning alarm just at dawn
the sun drips up from the Lake in prelude
echoing across the hillside
let us lift our heads in prayer
high cathedral ceilings arch overhead
deep in the midnight sky, silky Lights
a silent church organ pipes behind horizon
bass and high C treble acapella choir sing
without voice, without word, from the balcony
lifting a prayer past the top of the sky
past the beginning of the universe
past the end of all time
and a mist comes from the Lake
like a linen sheet, a cover for sleep
love belongs to people whose hearts have been broken
and october sky is absolute blue after noon, shadows long
and leaves are golden coins in puddles at sunset
and moon rises from the Lake, dripping yesterday
the footprints on a path left behind
and october sky sings in the night, claimed from summer
and across the milky way is absolute blue midnight
and silence fills the cathedral overhead
a quiet path
The Lake is warm today
steam rises in thanks to dawn
early sun, newly awakened
is winter Light, a promise
for tomorrow and tomorrow to come
Laura Stratford is a Chicago-based musical theatre writer. She co-founded and served as Founding Executive Director of Underscore Theatre Company, Chicago’s home for new musicals, and acted as the Executive Producer of the Chicago Musical Theatre Festival for five years. With Underscore, she produced over 74 readings, workshops, and productions of new musicals in eight years.
Laura is the co-lyricist and co-librettist of Liberal Arts: The Musical (Underscore Theatre Company), Grounds: The Musical (Midwest Fringe Tour; Theatre Undeclared); Spa Fire! The Children of the One Percent (the EX-Pats), and pr0ne: a hardcore, amateur musical (Underscore Theatre Company), and librettist for The 57th National Mathlete Sum-It (CPA Theatricals; licensed by Theatrical Rights Worldwide) with collaborators Alex Higgin-Houser and David Kornfeld.
Currently Laura has composed nine original songs for season two of the podcast Arden and is the librettist and lyricist for The Bone Harp, a new musical with music by Heidi Joosten.
She is a member of the Dramatist’s Guild and ASCAP.
these are the days
we cried in fear of
anno domini 2016
and our fathers
told us not to
I am twenty-two when the first panic attack hits
Twenty-two and waiting tables
Paid in proportion to stress--
The crazier the day
The more likely I’ll make rent.
Twenty-two and starting to feel faint:
The thick root of my tongue
Swelling in my throat,
The tree of fear
Branching through my chest.
A squeeze around the heart,
My ribs a cage grown too small,
A tunnel retreating
A trick shot
Hitchcock’s Vertigo not vertical.
Close my eyes.
Imagine white light radiating from the walls,
trickling through the brick, down
To the basement where I start my shift, haloing the air:
This place is safe. This place supports me.
Head up the stairs and out the door.
It didn’t work.
I’m sick, something’s wrong, something is
Quit the job, New Year’s day
Fetus-curled, tented under blankets
In the friend’s home I am sleeping in
Since mine became an enemy
My bed an alien land
The emergency lights across the alley
A never-ending shout for attention,
A dare to try to sleep.
Cradling the phone
Begging my father to come, come now--
As if the strength of my need could surpass
The speed of sound, the cost of planes,
The cancelling of plans.
In between the gasping sobs
Wrenched from lungs that everyone keeps reminding to
It’s just that I feel like I’m dying
[I tell my general practitioner
Who clicks her tongue and tells me to wait.]
It’s just that my adrenaline
Has been running like a herd of buffalo
Through the bluffs of my body
For three days straight
And I’m afraid that I’ll be the one
Who falls off the cliff.
Don’t overreact, she says.
I’ll see you Monday.
Try thinking about something else,
My mother advises.
I take a breath,
That breath they tell me will solve it all
Slow, and measured,
Cool air through the nose.
“It isn’t what I’m thinking,”
I explain. “I know I can change that.
It’s the flood of liquid fear
Circling like coolant through an engine.
It’s the constant fight-or-flight
And the tongue swelling up
And the heart gripped in a vise
And the room moving when I don’t,
Which, I’ll just mention
Make it hard to focus
On puppies or whatever.”
I check myself into the emergency room.
my life is not in danger, except
I also know it is:
I will not survive feeling this much longer.
For the first time, I see the option
Of a self-serve ending, not as an end
In itself, but rather, a choice to end pain.
Can’t you sedate me, I ask,
I understand the body, I’ve read up on
The relevant biochemistry,
So knock me out, I suggest,
Let’s unplug the machine and plug it back in.
See if that fixes the problem.
It turns out when you call in the cavalry,
Sometimes the cavalry calls back.
I find I’ve been conscripted.
The price of an urgent care stay is
An intensive outpatient program.
Tell them I’m in the wrong place,
It’s not for me, I’m not this bad,
And they smile their sad smile
Far too practiced--I realize
Everyone says this.
Saying it means I’ll stay longer.
In the asylum
In among the inmates
Sanity starts to look
And worse, I’m one of them.
No journalistic mission here.
Now I’m crazy, which must mean
I don’t know what’s true.
Day by day
Pill by pill
Counselor by psychiatrist by therapist
I rebuild my life.
I become so stable,
I don’t quite believe
How bad it was.
I work in an office.
I quit drinking.
I buy a condo.
I fall in love.
I’m happy, I’m together--
My new mail-order prescription
So I go to the pharmacy
But they can’t fill a mail order
It will take a week to fix this
And I think, “I’m so much better
How bad could it get--”
In three days, my answer.
As the fireworks burst overhead
As I can’t breathe
In my boyfriend’s lovely house
I can’t eat his mother’s
Steak and corn,
I tightly smile and focus
On their stories of neighbors long gone
So I don’t feel
The tongue taking on weight
The clamp to the chest
The water to the eyes
My body screaming, “hide!”
And I burst into tears
As they drive me home, unable
To explain what’s going on.
How humbling to know
After a decade of success,
Stability, new dreams,
I am, at any time
Twenty-five milligrams away
From being right there,
Curled up on my friend’s bed
Pleading with my father
To come now
And for god’s sake
Please don’t tell me