top of page

Hungry Lions

—Elisabeth Weiss

Hungry Lions


If you view families as homeostatic systems, you will notice that after one family member is ill and recovers, another will often get sick. Think of it as a tilt a whirl at a carnival, the old yin and yang sucker punch bringing you to your knees. You are not alone after all. And you never will be. Not only is the world not random. You are attached to your family of origin in ways both creepy and out of your control.


To extend this metaphor, I am reminded of my oldest son who was a rebellious punk at age thirteen. We sent him to Outward Bound in the Mahoosuc Mountains in Maine. Besides trekking on a 48-hour solo in the forest and writing a letter to their future selves, the kids, bound with elastic bungees, had to cooperate and move as an amorphous whole to set up camp. Families are like that, you either set up tents and start the fire or you freeze at night on the mountainside.


The rebellious punk was only five when we moved to a small Rockwellian New England town. I might as well have landed on Mars. Right away I set out to study the natives' habits from the window of our local coffee shop. Fit townspeople in their athletic caps and Patagonia fleece jackets ran or walked their black labs or golden retrievers. These people weren't genetically disposed to depression. This could be the sister city to Garrison Keillor's Lake Wobegone. Later, when I found out that there were over 50 AA meetings in town per week, I felt glad there were some groups I couldn't belong to. As a resident, I hoped God would let me move up the ranks of normal and I would miraculously soak up the runners' vitality, the sailor's bravado and finally understand the protocols of New England etiquette, kind at a calm distance.


With two small children in tow I went everywhere looking for signs of life. We tried pulling the golden ring on the carousel at Salem Willows and threw mussel shells into the dirty harbor for hours while dories headed out toward the foggy outline of the Misery Islands, never far in the distance. These were the years when my husband worked two and a half jobs and illness required me to spend many hours shipwrecked in bed. On better days, I would bed down at five with the children beside me, a pizza dinner and storybooks spread out like maps to a better world, all of us nestled, all of us at lost in the supreme loft goose down covers I piled around us because I figured if I could do nothing else, at least I could keep my children warm.


"If everything is rational, how uninteresting" William Epsom once said, but I doubt he ever had to ride in an ambulance with a parent or worse yet, watch them ride off in a strait jacket in an ambulance alone. Do you wave goodbye? "O, she'll be fine," a psychiatrist once advised my father, "it's the people around her who will suffer" and he was right. The world was perilous when our father took us for a visit to the Staten Island Zoo after Sunday School. My older sisters and I were like the otters, always going down long, dark slides and then floating, holding our breath.


We scuffed our white patent leather shoes on the rail outside the lion’s cage watching them pace around a piece of raw meat the zookeeper had thrown between the bars. At night, the hungry lions entered my dreams. I came in from play and discovered them at the front door. I knew these hungry lions were within me, but I walked in anyway, wishing I had the strength of ten thousand lion tamers.


ELISABETH WEISS teaches writing at Salem State University in Salem, MA. She’s taught poetry in preschools, prisons, and nursing homes, as well as to the intellectually disabled. She’s worked in the editorial department at Harper & Row in New York and has an MFA from The University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop. She’s published poems in London’s Poetry Review, Porch, Crazyhorse, the Birmingham Poetry Review, the Paterson Literary Review and many other journals. Lis won the Talking Writing Hybrid Poetry Prize for 2016 and was a runner up in the 2013 Boston Review poetry contest.

bottom of page