The Artist Studio

A Journal Of Rehabilitation

Commentary, art, and poetry by Eliette Markhbein, M.S., M.A. Founder, The Therapeutic Arts Program, Department of Rehabilitation Medicine, The Mount Sinai Medical Center, New York City

Drawing and writing came naturally to me while in rehabilitation after sustaining a traumatic brain injury and injuries to my spine, the result of being struck by a speeding car. They eased the physical, emotional and mental pain that were my constant companions and helped me find answers within.

Though complementary, the drawings and poems originated from different perspectives of the topics explored, emphasized other aspects and fulfilled separate quests. For example, “Braced-up” addresses in words issues of self concept and acceptance while the illustration was a life drawing, part of a series of sketches exploring femininity and searching for my own femininity after the accident. As a whole the series illustrate with candor and immediacy universal aspects of disability and rehabilitation, focusing on three periods: succumbing-hoping-coping, roughly a year each.


2005-2006 was the year of reckoning: reckoning with the extent of my cognitive impairments and contending with a person I did not know, could not count on and did not like–in other words the new me in all her splendor. Poems of that year (Writing; Alone; I so miss us) articulate the emotional distress and existential anguish I felt, the physical pain which became chronic, the depression that ensued and the unbearable loneliness, despair and isolation I experienced. I wrestled against drowning forces such as mental chaos, fatigue, lability and fear that was invisible to others.

Write, write, always write
write when you have nothing to say
write when you don’t feel like it

write anyway
write like you breathe
write nonsense
but always write.

Write to escape, to soar
to feel free, to feel whole
to feel peace, to feel love.
Write to shut up pain
the anguish, the fear
the edge of the precipice
the void, the despair.

Write to learn
another respiration
to let the night cradle you
to let your guts expode
your thoughts liquefy
to let FEAR exit.

Tears weigh
the air
you breathe.
You hear
yet do not look.
Despair dims
the light
you cross
you see
yet do not reach.
Crouched – a shadow
Where have the playfulness
passionate discussion
sense of strength
and unity gone?
We walk on glass shards
afraid of each other’s
and our own explosions
locked away in pain
silently crying alone
grieving the light
and graceful dancers
we were not so long ago.
Where have the laughs
tumbling freedom
gentle touch, teasing
kisses as we cook gone?
My body is a casket
dark from fear
tight from despair
frigid from pain.
spent away from home
away from me.
Where have
the rejoicing in Fall
sun-filled mornings,
the lazy afternoon
the comforting arms

You are lost
and so am I
in the maze of my
in the dread of your
Burnt out, listless
we proceed
to where? to what?


2006-2007 was the year of discoveries: poems of that year (Displaced; Braced-up; Rays) express a shattered sense of self, the discovery and the need to prevail over panic attacks and other dirty tricks my injured brain played on me, and the unearthing of new sources of peace, strength and clarity.

Pink antique tiles
bear my weight
night air from
the window
brushes my face.
White linen drapes
sweep the floor
a tablecloth covers the table
empty but for a glass bowl,
reflecting moonshine.
Leaning on the wall
a tall mirror
sends my image
inwards, hurting.
And I stand
in the middle
of the kitchen,
recognizant of the place
the light, the sounds
yet not knowing
where I am
not knowing
my way
suspended, scared,
I have become a Frankenstein,
patched up high and low
and in between.
From neck to feet
braces, braces, braces
holding me up
reshaping me.
Each set of
hard shells,
Velcro straps
and metal hooks,
cutting me
tearing me.
Yet, when I disrobe
and shed my carcasses
your eyes rest
on my curves
and you call me beautiful.
Rays of something better
to come
flash my conscience
like headlights in the night.
A heightened sense
of expectation
lightens my soul
frees my spirit.
Seeds of hope and wonder
a sense of joy and purpose
a trepidation
for a new beginning
flows vibrant in my veins.
A new strength
sourced in peace
and acceptance
rich in possibilities
reveals itself slowly.
What shape, what color
will my new life be?


2007-2008 was the year of growth and fruition: poems of that year (Travel; Florida Summer; Attending) speak of acceptance and integration of my disability; group identification and advocacy; achieving a healthy balance between dependence, interdependence and independence; recapturing a sense of pleasure and playfulness; and reclaiming a social and professional place.

The last poem “Attending” talks about my caring for a locked-in syndrome patient as a Therapeutic Arts Practitioner, a metamorphosis from patient identity towards becoming a healer. As a final note I would like to emphasize that while the series of poems clearly indicate progress and resolution, the issues they describe do not disappear- with time, help and the application of compensatory techniques and strategies one becomes better at dealing with them.

Hello, your destination is
Atlanta flight is delayed
heavy weather down there.
Connections will be missed
layovers will be long
fatigue and despair will settle in.

The wheelchair waits
at the counter,
parked by my side
let’s go before
I explode in tears.
Your hand clutches mine
as we zip through the airport
sobs build up and flood my face.
Panic sets in, stomach, heart
shoulders, down my legs
Thirty second cycles of hell.

You say people will think
I am sad to leave you-
I smile, I am.
Three loops of 30 seconds already.
I kiss your face lightly
your lips softly
you disappear behind security.

Hi, I wear a brace
need to be checked
by a female officer.
Yeah, yeah. Go through.
I ring loud and clear.
Take off your watch
sure, it’s not the watch,
it’s the brace.

Mam, do as you are told.
No watch- I ring loud and clear
Do you have any metal on you?
Huh…a brace?
Please remove it
Can’t- why not?

Ok… Step to the
side, voices criss in the
walkie talkie “female
officer to…”
Now the wait bare feet
exposed to incredulous
suspicious looks
I am not normal
I am disabled
I am not a security threat.
Wheelchairs with gray
haired ladies zoom by
I am not gray haired.
My attendant huffs and
impatience, disapproval
annoyance, boredom.

No curtains, no privacy
I am frisked- humiliated
I want to flee. I cry.
And the sun shines
and the breeze blows
and the trees sway
I will break away
my spirit will heal
I will feel whole again.

Nickel size water drops
percolate on the burning
tar, evaporting at once.
Steam rises fast
volutes of pearly
upward mist
soaking the wind
easing my skin
curlng my hair.
Lemony scent of magnolias
infuse the heat
tall grasses and leaves
green and earthy smells
lay thick to the ground
Oh no! my flip flops float away
go go little boats.
Abstract Drawing for Florida Poem
Mute? Not so,
not by the farthest
stretch of imagination.
Your lips
shape silent words.
I hear them.
They stretch and lift a smile:
They round, soft and gentle:
They pout and tighten:
Your eyes
lovely and deep
shape silent thoughts.
I hear them.
They reflect deep in their pool
variant colors and tones
telling me
your surprise
your sadness
your resolve
your hopes.
ATTENDING Your hands
shape silent emotions
I hear them.
They hold each other
close and tender
listening to the book we
They beat to the music
light and free
telling me your joy
in the rhythm.
I hear
loud and clear
the richness of your
the sharpness of your
the strength of your
Your smile
your thumbs up
when I leave
fill me with gratitude
to share your life a

Additional information about Eliette Markhbein and examples of her work can be found on an ABC-TV interview, and in the online journal, Hektoen: “Trauma on Canvas”.

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