What’s going on with Pre-existing Poems?

Hi, folks! Long time no see.

It’s been almost a year since the first mad rush of Pre-existing poems happened. As you might remember, this site was founded in order to express opposition to the American Health Care Act which was introduced in Congress last spring. You can click here for some quick information about the bill. With everything that has happened in the United States politically since then, the message of affordable and equitable healthcare for all has gotten swallowed amidst so many other important issues. I’ve spent most of the past year writing on LGBT+ rights issues, for example. Since last summer, we’ve seen the rise of the #metoo and #timesup movement, as well as the astounding leadership of our nation’s schoolchildren on gun violence and school shootings. In their own ways, all of these major issues are also deeply related to healthcare, which is a part of why I’ve been planning on reinvigorating this site. However, I cannot do it alone.

First and foremost, joining me in this project will be Stephanie O’Connell. Stephanie is a writer based in Pennsylvania with an MA in English who studied with me during our undergraduate careers. We met up last month to discuss in person our visions for the potential of this site, and we realized there’s so much more we’d like to be able to do together toward the conversation of healthcare in the United States and in the world. We’ll both be accessible at preexistingpoems@gmail.com for any questions regarding the site, and all submissions going forward should be directed toward this account as well.

Secondly, I found last year that the burst format, wherein people submitted poems and I managed to get them posted quickly (usually within a day or two) provided for a fun and exciting environment, but that the energy quickly burnt out after about a month and a half of continuous submissions. As the healthcare situation left the news, it left peoples’ minds as an important topic of discussion. What we would like to do is to recapture that initial energy for short bursts of activity biannually. So, while we will be open to submissions year-round, we will publish them in rapid succession during the summer (June/July) and winter (January/February). At the end of each session, we’ll compile a master post with links to everything we posted, like a volume of a magazine.

Our publication guidelines are not changing much, but will grow a little to include more types of artistic expression than just poetry. Last year, we were able to publish an audio recording of a spoken word poem alongside the text of that poem, and I would like to be able to do more projects like that. I’d like to be able to accommodate visual art as well as the written (or spoke) word. The only major guideline is theme: medical conditions and healthcare.

The third thing needed to get Pre-existing Poems going again: you. We need your support and we need your submissions, and we need you to share this site with your friends.

Pre-existing Poems was never meant to be a standard literary journal, but more so a poetry collective of similar-minded artists speaking toward an oft-forgotten socio-political issue through their lived experiences. Over half of what we accepted last year dealt with mental health issues, and people have reached out to me to say that those poems helped them cope with their own mental health struggles. At its heart, Pre-existing Poems wants to be like an online consciousness raising related to healthcare issues. In order to keep being that, we’re going be pushing the format of the site closer to an online journal or magazine, but we’ll still be a place that’s not concerned about artistic skill or perfection in favor of writing and art that is honest and that engages with health issues. We don’t care if you’ve published twelve books of poems or if you’re twelve years old. This platform aims to be an inclusive and exciting place to showcase both our shared struggles and our shared hopes. If you have created something related to healthcare and you’d like to see it here, send it to us.

Thank you, and I can’t wait to read your work,

Maggie Felisberto

Anxiety & Panic Disorders · Depression

Window Shopping

By Nicole Kiss

I’m supposed to choose something
Anything, just not nothing
But I prefer the window-shopping
I get too overwhelmed by the options
It isn’t just tradeoffs or give and take
There is so much more at stake
Pick what you want, but it might break
Then pay in time and tears for your fate

Imagine it’s a bomb that I’m meant to defuse
And I have to decide between the reds and the blues
I don’t want to be put to the test and lose
Just because I was pressed to choose
Now, I don’t care what end I meet
But I know that it affects more than me
If it explodes, we’re smithereens
I can’t carry that responsibility

I mean, I could get in my car and drive it fast
But I know that somewhere I’m bound to crash
From my hand on the wheel to my foot on the gas
I know the weight that each part has
And it sits on my chest, this gnawing dread
Knowing my choices could kill you dead
I don’t care about even a hair on my head
I just couldn’t stand to be the reason you bled

Preparing my whole life to finally live my life
Like a surgeon thoroughly trained for her first slice
But I’m choking on the smell and gagging at the sight
When it’s face to face, it’s fight or flight
And I realize that running is for the weak
But maybe it’s strong to know when to retreat
You do less harm to those you never meet
And you do more good as the only casualty

Yea, I prefer window-shopping
I get too overwhelmed by the options
It isn’t just about investments and profits
It is about whom we affect with our losses



Nicole Kiss is an explorer of art forms. With a BA in Music and Psychology from Greenville College, she utilizes music, poetry, and drawing to express her struggles with depression, anxiety, and lupus. She hopes to someday pursue a degree in counseling to help others and pass on the creative coping she’s picked up along the way.


If you or a loved one are feeling suicidal, please reach out for help. You can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 in the United States.


Every Step I Take

By Theresa Milstein

I’m a freelancer
To the stars
Running from
Job to job
On my knee—
Which endured three
Three childhood surgeries—
A time bomb
With each step I take—
tick, tick, tick …



Author’s Note: This poem is dedicated to my sister, Kathleen Brown. For years, she lived in fear of not only having time take unpaid time off work during recovery, but whether or not her insurance would pay for it. The Affordable Care Act changed her life. Not only did her premiums go down drastically, but she also was confident her condition would be covered. With her situation on the pre-existing list, my sister is living in fear again.


Theresa Milstein writes middle grade and YA, but poetry is her secret passion. Her vignette collection, TIME & CIRCUMSTANCE, was published by Vine Leaves Press in March, 2017. She lives near Boston Massachusetts with her husband, two children, a dog-like cat, and a cat-like dog. For her day job, she works as a teacher in a middle school, which gives her ample opportunity to observe teens and tweens in their natural habitat.




Are you a freelance worker who is looking for information about health insurance? Under the Affordable Care Act, the process is relatively simple and straightforward. You can check out these different advice guides on navigating the healthcare exchange here, here and here, or you can go straight to Healthcare.gov for as long as the marketplace lasts. If the AHCA passes into law, it will have disastrous effects on freelance workers. You can read more about this here and here.


Brain Cancer Haiku

By Kathryn Erskine

Soaring like eagles
her words of joy, hope, love…life
lawmakers shoot down


Author’s Note: I wrote this haiku in tribute to my friend and fellow children’s author, Fran Cannon Slayton, who has brain cancer.  Her story is covered in a recent NY Times article and she’s being featured in a documentary about the need for affordable healthcare.



Kathryn Erskine is the author of the National Book Award winning novel, Mockingbird, as well as other novels for young readers.  Her upcoming releases include a picture book, Mama Africa, and novel, The Incredible Magic of Being.

Physical Disability · Scathing Political Satire

Stepping Over the Bodies

By Jacqueline Jules

June 22, 2017 Wheelchair bound activists were forcibly removed by police for protesting proposed cuts to Medicaid outside Senator Mitch McConnell’s office.

In shiny black Oxfords,
the senator steps past
the empty wheelchairs
and over the bodies,
narrowly missing
a pink polka-dotted foot
belonging to a woman
breathing through a tube.

The man to her left
wears a green fanny pack
with a chemo pump inside.

They lie in the hallway
outside the senator’s door,
surrounded by dozens,
all wearing cardboard signs
and chanting for the chance
to be deemed as precious
as the unborn babies
the senator has vowed
many times to protect,
in the same breath
as his promise
to disable the care
millions need to survive.


Jacqueline Jules is the author of three poetry chapbooks, Field Trip to the Museum, Stronger Than Cleopatra,and Itzhak Perlman’s Broken String. Her work has appeared in over 100 publications including The New Verse News, Potomac Review, Innisfree Poetry Journal, Little Patuxent Review, and Gargoyle. She is also the author of 40 books for young readers. Visit www.jacquelinejules.com 

If you haven’t read any articles yet about this incident, let me direct you to several. You can read about it on: Business Insider, Independent UK, Mother Jones, Metro UK, and Time Magazine.

Eating Disorders

Observations in the Park

(Haiku for a Friend with an Eating Disorder)

By Lisa DeSiro

i. Just like ducks

Plunging heads and necks
underwater to feed, swans
stick their butts up too.

ii. Unlike us

Sparrows and squirrels
eat all day long; they never
obsess about weight.



Lisa DeSiro is the author of the chapbook Grief Dreams (White Knuckle Press, 2017). Her poems have appeared in many print and online journals, and have been set to music by several composers. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where she earned her MFA in Creative Writing from Lesley University. She works for a non-profit organization and is also an accomplished pianist. Read more about her at thepoetpianist.com.



According to the National Institute of Mental Health, there are three major types of eating disorders: anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge-eating disorder. Eating disorders usually begin to appear in teen years/early adulthood, and effect both men and women, though women suffer from them 2.5 times as frequently as men. If you are struggling with an eating disorder, don’t be afraid to ask for help from your friends and family. If you think you’d benefit from a support group and are in the United States, you can find one through Eating Disorder Hope or through ANAD (National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders).

Autoimmune Diseases · Lupus


By Nicole Kiss

“Fair” is important when you’re fifteen,
And it didn’t seem fair to be in that bed
During Christmas
Or that I couldn’t breathe without a machine
When you’re fifteen,
Your body feels too private for your mother to be bathing
But it’s humbling when she lifts you, naked, into a tub
Like you’re a newborn baby
And there isn’t much to think
Except that you’re in pain
You think through your nerves
You talk through clotted veins
You don’t know you aren’t invincible
But you don’t care that you don’t know
As long as the drugs pump every 6 minutes
And your thumb controls the flow

When you wake to your own screams,
They schedule an MRI
On the dimly-lit basement floor
The woman who wheels you there
Is smoking a cigarette
And leaves you, alone, outside the door
What the resident doesn’t understand
Is that you can’t catch your breath
And the jackhammer sounds are painful
And you panic with that cage on your head
He sighs when you hit the panic button
Three times in 45 minutes
But I am guessing he doesn’t know
What it’s like to have blood clots
Where air should be
And now, maybe, in your brain

The morphine causes fog
So the talk is just a blur
And not “the talk” you should have at fifteen
But the one where “there’s no cure”
And all the comfort you found in “this is temporary”
Becomes a waking sleep
You dissociate for days
And miss your own release
Note to self: don’t watch medical shows
After getting out of the ICU
Because you might find out you almost died
By seeing someone die from what happened to you

And it isn’t cancer
Which is apparently a litmus test for severity
The utmost respect to anyone suffering through that
But this is a chronic disease too, not just a cancer parody
And they can’t see the blood or the scars or the bandaging
So everyone decides that you’re fine
So, they don’t get why you aren’t up for activities, a week out of surgery
And you have to decline
I thought saying “No” was enough
That you didn’t need a “good” reason
And you don’t, unless you have an invisible excuse
Then you’re just looking for attention

When you’re fifteen,
you can’t imagine that at twenty-four
Your body would be such a burden
That there would be paperwork to prove your life is important
But you still can’t get life insurance
And after nine years, you still can’t decide
If it would have been easier if you’d succumb to the clots
If your kidneys had failed
If you had died
People mourn when a fifteen year old
Dies of some random disease
But I think the drama people eat up
Fades when you turn eighteen




Nicole Kiss is an explorer of art forms. With a BA in Music and Psychology from Greenville College, she utilizes music, poetry, and drawing to express her struggles with depression, anxiety, and lupus. She hopes to someday pursue a degree in counseling to help others and pass on the creative coping she’s picked up along the way.

For more information about lupus, you can check out MedlinePlus.com or the National Institutes of Health.