Trailer Park: The Sessions


I recently came across the trailer for the upcoming film The Sessions, which looks promising. It features a strong cast, starring the excellent John Hawkes as well as Helen Hunt and William H. Macy. The plot of the movie is strange but fascinating–The Diving Bell and the Butterfly with a sprinkling of The 40 Year Old Virgin, I suppose–and, accordingly to the trailer, based on a true story. My curiosity piqued, I did some research. What I found was more powerful and profound than the premise for an unusual sex comedy, albeit a touching one, as the trailer might suggest.

Paralyzed from the neck down since childhood due to polio, Mark O’Brien was confined to an iron lung for much of his life. Nevertheless, he attended the University of California at Berkeley at the age of 28, receiving a bachelor’s in English literature before being admitted to the Graduate School of Journalism there. Using a stick in his mouth to type, he became a journalist and a published poet.

    Linda would’ve been
    a pretty girl
    to touch, to hold, to kiss, to take to bed.
    She would’ve been

    Her pale, perfect skin, her Tudor court face,
    her strong, fleshy legs, drove me into
    ecstasies of despair.
    See, she’d talk with me as tho I were a human
    instead of her savagely crippled employer.

    Maybe I just got in Linda’s way,
    as she glided thru crowds of lives
    and she couldn’t leave me lying there
    dried out bubble gum stuck on
    the underneath of existence.

    Here, in her absence, I feel the chill
    of a dead universe
    curse myself for ever believing
    that I could be loved
    that I could have her

    But the worst of it is
    if she materialized right now by me
    and my computer
    I would kill this poem and tell her
    how much I love her.

A short film about his life directed by Jessica Yu entitled Breathing Lessons: The Life and Work of Mark O’Brien deservedly won the Academy Award for Documentary Short Subject at the 69th Academy Awards in 1997. In the film, O’Brien meditates on God, love, and loneliness. In reflecting on his disability, he shares powerful and universal insights into what it is to be human, fraught with fears, insecurities, and anger at an unjust word. The film, 35 minutes in length, can be seen in its entirety here. I strongly recommend it.

I’d like to get ahold of some of his published poetry, which seem to be out of print. If anyone knows how I could do so, please let me know.

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