pearls around the neck • 35
I have more memories than if I’d lived a thousand years.
A heavy chest of drawers cluttered with balance sheets, Processes, love-letters, verses, ballads,
And heavy locks of hair enveloped in receipts,
Hides fewer secrets than my gloomy brain.
It is a pyramid, a vast burial vault
Which contains more corpses than potter’s field. —
I am a cemetery abhorred by the moon,
In which long worms crawl like remorse
And constantly harass my dearest dead.
Ch. Baudelaire, “Les Fleurs du Mal”, Exert of Spleen, 1857
William Aggeler, The Flowers of Evil (Fresno, CA: Academy Library Guild, 1954)
Shalisha’s Spleen is a Sentence
Shalisha was 15.
I took care of her for two years – as a volunteer worker in a psychiatric institution for severely abused
children, who have been beaten or raped.
Shalisha was committed when she was 7 years old. A social worker placed her in the care of this
hospital. He had found her curled up in a ball under her grandmother’s bed; her stepfather had
murdered the poor woman a few hours earlier. A story that the local police solved in the time it takes to
fasten handcuffs around someone’s wrists.
Shalisha would not let anyone come near her from behind: if one did, it provoked convulsions of fear
and rage, and then the nurses would have to restrain her in a white straightjacket, gag her, and isolate
her in a padded room.
It took me 18 months to be able to wash her hair standing behind her. Shalisha wet her bed like all the
little girls who have been regularly raped do. She would wake up, screaming, from her nightmares.
Suicidal, she had to be watched day and night: her suicide attempts only kept coming more often. She
exposed herself and made lewd remarks. For medical insurance reasons, Shalisha only stayed at the
institution for two years. She was “released” into the jungle of this absurd world.
A young African-American adolescent, coming from a broken home, successively expelled from various
schools, temporarily sheltered in a psychiatric hospital and forever ostracized from foster families – a
drug addict, a prostitute, and pregnant by age 15.
Her scrawny body, her arms and legs covered with track marks, was found wrapped up in a blanket
stained with blood and sperm on the south bank of the Ohio River.
She died of an overdose in the ER of a hospital in Kentucky one winter morning of 2002.
She didn’t want it. The child.