The Falling Sickness

Essay and poem by Charles Bane, Jr.


Of all the gifts a poet can be given, epilepsy is the richest. I fell when I was four. It was kept hidden by my family; my father had it scrubbed from my medical records.

But my life was already deeply private, because I was a child poet and followed up an old, rusted way until I saw, in the same place where sparks and convulsions start, a vista I was too young to describe. I was enfranchised a citizen, of its creation everlasting. I saw its sleeping stars. No matter how many arrows I fire until my last poem, I can’t capture all its range, But every poem before and after is a generating seed, traveling in its sky.

That is why I am grateful for my epilepsy; the population of words is not privileged. When Emily Dickinson, who was confined by her epilepsy wrote that hope is the thing with feathers she meant poetry. She meant that a soar of poems should bear away the dispossessed and- always- give them voice. When I seizure, the rent is unpaid. My only car halts on the interstate,and others hurry by. My legs convulse and danger comes. If I’m in a restaurant, the adjoining table stares, unwelcome, at a stranger.

But not my beloved wife. When we met, I told her that I’d fallen down a stairway, and now sometimes I’m anxious or unsteady. “The disease of kings”, she simply said.

How long since we changed the oil?

When I seizure, I’m confused. I

never told a soul until I met you. I was

afraid of small towns; by force

of will I begged sometimes to be

excused. Grand mal. you said, it

sounds so lovely; it sounds like

a painting Sargent might make

of Venetian canals. Let’s walk

starling, you said, and if

you drop, I’ll stop mid- flight

to dip in foam.

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