Anyway, these poems represent a somewhat difficult time for me. I returned to Eugene at the start of June, and found myself quickly sinking back into despair and depression. I was preoccupied with loss, loneliness, and an acute sense of my own failings and deficiencies. Truth be told, I wasn't dealing very well at all.
Eventually I took some steps to take care of myself. I saw a doctor, who prescribed an antidepressant to me (sertraline). I quit drinking (again), more or less. I started exercising seriously. Thanks to these and other factors, my mood steadily improved and so did my quality of life. Of course, I cannot discount the effect of working through my feelings with poetry, either.
Now, a word on the content of these poems. Death and self-hatred figure into several of them, a direct manifestation of my depression. Others are concerned with sex, which I think is a coping strategy more than anything else. The figure of my ex-girlfriend still appears from time to time in these poems, but only two of them are specifically about her. There are also poems here that strike a hopeful note, which I wrote with the more or less direct intention of inspiring myself to feel better. One cannot cure depression, of course, with a few hopeful words. But words can help. I'll have more details on all of this in the commentary below.
In nearly thirty years of life on Earth,
I haven't learned the secret locked in skin,
though I am firmly wrapped inside, its confines
stretching tight, and bursting from within.
How easily it burns, it tears, it scars
at every shallow stimulus or stress,
yet holds my meat and bones so well together,
lest I split into a shapeless mess.
And how, amongst its other duties, can
the touch of naked skin produce
erotic pleasure? Oh, the sight alone's
enough to let our sober senses loose,
enough to keep us locked within our rooms
for six or seven hours in a day.
With two or more (or even by ourselves)
our skins can keep us occupied with play.
A Sighting of the Anima
Thou art so evocative,
thou archetype of dreams;
I would have liked to know thy face
by any other means,
but in my panicked state I shot
an arrow through thy chest.
I murdered thee: before thine eyes
this crime I have confessed.
I watched thee, creeping through the window,
soldiers standing near,
and begged thee not to let them in,
I begged thee disappear -
then in a fluid motion, smashed
thy heart within its cage,
and woke an instant later, fever
twisting me with rage.
I had to leave our home in ruins,
broken motives on the floor,
and kiss my dear Veronica,
her perfect image at the door.
I had to know she wouldn't wait,
no matter what I'd thought she'd said -
it was the final night that my
Veronica would share her bed.
If only my Veronica
could help me struggle with this grief!
She made the choice she thought was right,
and that is my sincere belief,
But she will never hold me close
and warm my body with her breast.
The game was fixed, and I have lost
Veronica despite my best.
Social Media for the Youth
This is what we have in common -
each of us has seen a murder
caught on video,
and tried to share it with our friends.
If they made a horror movie
called "The Youtube Generation,"
nobody would go
it hits too close to home.
Union - this is two of us together,
closer than the salt and water,
intimately bound by
pressure, blood, and
Motion - like the ancient paradoxes,
locked in interception, always
closing on position,
Rhythm - this is music in crescendo,
conversation in an urgent
tongue of spells and whispers,
reaching for a
Satisfaction - beating hearts, exploding
in a gasp of air and mercy,
fire under skins
subsiding, soothed with
Synthesis - a vital act of love and
alchemy beneath the surface
may conceive a wonder
out of our
It Goes From One To Explode
I might conclude
that this is how it ought to be:
all counting days
from one to three, to six, eleven,
just to see
how high the count of days can go.
every time I start to cry again
I might survive,
no matter how the years go by.
A pint or so
of ale to roll the meter back,
an empty page
to fill afresh with tally marks,
an empty drawer
to stuff the other pages in.
My Imagination's Done Worse
No surprises anymore,
I don't believe that
anything you say to me
as a surprise,
at least not anymore.
slash my lungs, perhaps,
or maybe break my heart again
smaller than they broke before,
but nothing could surprise me,
Scenes and Secrets
Jacob likes the thunder lizards,
loves the shapes of cakes and gardens,
hates the night of mother's book club.
School is out for snowy weather,
everything is under water,
Jacob's playing with the matches.
Cats are leaving mice on pillows,
father's looking for a shovel,
no one's seen the place he keeps it.
Jacob doesn't get in trouble
if he keeps a B in English -
he can write his own excuses.
A Time of Living and Dying
Creeping to the east,
the shadows have abandoned me,
sleeping in the sun.
Above the green grass,
beneath the clean sky and the
I dream prophecies:
a slow season of drying,
weeks of dying skin.
Turning back to front
to even my exposure,
burning front to back.
Let Me Count The Ways
The way I look,
the words I speak,
the way I fail the things I try,
the way I fall
apart so easy,
yet my cheeks are always dry;
I hate the way
I hate the lonely
people whom I should embrace,
the way I wear
this weak expression
on my vulgar, empty face;
The way I run
my weasel life
as if it were a tired scam,
the way my body
thirsts for someone,
never learning who I am;
my every sin
must be remembered,
every day I lose control;
I won't leave out
the way I dare
to offer up my heavy soul.
Fill your hearts with fire and ale,
for joy has come to Ettenfall -
the days of starlight dread have ended,
dawn is cast on heaven's wall,
as monstrous shades of murk retreat
beneath the mountains, shrinking small,
and flights of drums and flutes resume
their high ascent in Ettenfall.
The years have made us young this morning,
children of the yearning hall -
what fortune we have found in summer
long was promised Ettenfall,
calamity was long endured
but love has made our bodies tall.
Our fear is quashed, our foes are banished
by the will of Ettenfall.
Though battered down, though bruised and sore,
our bodies leap to music's call,
for wisdom grants the warmth of flesh
should not be wasted, not at all.
A fool could hardly fail to see
the blesséd state of Ettenfall:
a fellowship of friends and lovers
wakes the streets of Ettenfall.
The Gardens Try
Every year, the gardens try.
The daffodils will have no care
for poison, drought, or freezing air:
the gardens either live or die,
it doesn't matter if it's fair.
The poets offer guarantees
that spring will rise forever, though
within their poets' hearts they know
the life that coils within the trees
is tenuous at best. They grow
again, they whither up, they lack
a shepherd to defend their flock:
the gardens of the world walk
the path to their extinction, back
and forth, from hardy root and stalk
to ashes dead. Disasters near,
and yet, a billion eons bear
their witness that the gardens' daring
gamble pays off, year by year -
They always try, and they are spared.
Every year the gardens try
despite the constant hand of doom:
the seeds of life resist their tomb
and spread their petals to the sky,
determined all the more to bloom.
Return of the Muse
Some of the languorous candle
the edge of its reticent perch.
A little bit gets on the floor,
it's hard to get out of the rug.
A little bit stays on my finger
the scent will linger for months.
Some of the flavor on
reminds me of sensual death.
When did you become a sunset,
beautiful in your descent?
Maybe, at the very moment
you ascended, glorious dawn,
the western border was determined
as the object of your search -
and morning was the youthful province
of a once and future queen.
The sky becomes your crown of embers,
evening graced with clouds and planets:
this was beauty all along,
but still I watch the east, and miss you.
Permission to Stop
I forget to ask myself
permission to have
a very bad day,
to trade in my brain
for silence and emptiness.
Like it or not,
it's going to happen anyway -
if I asked for
permission, would I
be less of a cheat?
Would it settle
the issue of what
a fuck-up deserves?
Human Skin is pretty self-explanatory. Skin is an intriguing thing, and everybody's got some, to be endlessly intrigued by. Maybe seven hours of "intrigue" is too much sometimes, though. I wrote this mostly just to get used to my new poetry journal.
I had a dream that ended in a scene very much like what's depicted in A Sighting of the Anima. I was an archer and the last defender of a fortified position, and I was scared. When I told a friend about the dream and how it made me feel (sick and disturbed), he did a little Jungian-style dream analysis and suggested that the woman I shot may have been a manifestation of my "anima", or the archetypal feminine personality; hence the title. I had also been thinking about playing around with archaic pronouns, and I figured it made a certain amount of sense to direct a "thou" at a piece of my subconscious mind.
My Veronica might not be any good. It sort of grew out of something I read in Kierkegaard's Either/Or; one of the translator's notes indicated that the name "Veronica" meant something like "perfect image". Being interested in etymology, I looked it up and, it turns out, this is not the truth. Veronica (alternately "Berenice") actually means something like "bringer of victory". However, the "perfect image" or "true image" theory is a historically popular folk etymology that Kierkegaard (and his translator) apparently believed. The idea was stuck in my head at that point, and I translated it into a melancholy reminiscence of the last time I had seen my ex-girlfriend. Her name isn't Veronica, but that's not really the point.
Now, I am certainly in favor of certain video depictions of death becoming widely circulated, such as evidence of police brutality. But it struck me as unsettling one evening that most of us have watched someone die on our screens, the same screens we use for entertainment purposes, and the socially conscientious thing is considered to be showing the video to people you know. There, I just restated the poem. I guess it's not that complicated. I'm sure other people see nothing weird about this state of affairs, but it makes me feel uncomfortable. I guess it's just Social Media For the Youth.
Principles is a sex poem, and a pretty good one if you ask me. I like reading it, anyway. I tried to make the meter and structure suggestive of intercourse, so maybe it's kind of like concrete poetry? The shape is just more of a motion than an object. Anyway, this looks like the sauciest thing in this group. Has anyone ever compared sex with Zeno's paradoxes before? If not, you're welcome.
As I said before, I felt very lonely during this time. I still feel lonely, but it was worse back in June. So I wrote something mopey and depressing about counting the days until I found love and companionship again, imagining that I might count to some impossibly high number before dying alone. BUMMER. But you see, I never completely lost my sense of humor, hence the reference to Red vs Blue in the title:
"We have to hurry, the bomb's on a timer!" "A count-down timer?" "No, a count-up timer. It goes from one, to explode!"Classic.
My Imagination's Done Worse started as a riff in my mind on the song No Surprises by Radiohead. It expresses a sort of world-weariness and pessimism that I would not recommend.
Then there's Scenes and Secrets, a poem that has nothing to do with my various anxieties and hang-ups. How about that? I think it's ultimately better for that. I tried to write something mysterious and vaguely creepy. Unsupervised children are creepy. A friend of mine assumed that "thunder lizards" was a reference to some cartoon from the nineties that I don't remember ever having heard of. Obviously, it's not. It's just another term for dinosaurs.
In a weird, roundabout sort of way, A Time of Living and Dying is a poem about climate change. Specifically, the heat and drought that has been afflicting the west coast this summer. It mostly started as a metrical exercise.
I actually made myself cry when I wrote Let Me Count The Ways. I got it into my head that I could get all of my depression and self-loathing out of my head by putting it all down in one place. I no longer think that was a brilliant idea, but the poem exists and I want to record it here, as evidence of how thoroughly mean I can be to myself, and how not to think.
Ettenfall sure sticks out here, doesn't it? I had been reading J.R.R. Tolkien's translation of Beowulf, and my head was full of the theme of a place besieged by monsters and nightmares, and the joy of its people upon liberation. "Ettenfall" is a place name I made up, sort of an etymologically garbled word meaning something like "place of the giants' (down)fall". The tone is unabashedly hopeful, which is something I really should try more often. Of course it also seems quaint, but I like to think it has a certain Tolkien-esque quality, thanks to some choice alliteration.
The Gardens Try was a more measured effort at writing in a hopeful tone. Again, the drought is a contributing subject here, but the real focus is on life. It strikes me as magnificent how easily all life could be extinguished from the Earth, and yet how it has endured for eons in one form or another, to the point where we take it for granted that somehow, no matter how badly we fuck up the environment, it will continue to endure. A flower doesn't know that the prospects for growth are any worse or better than the last season: it just gives its best every year. So far, that's been good enough.
I bought a few scented candles this summer, and if there's one thing I inexplicably love doing, it's writing poems about candles. Thus, The Return of the Muse. Literally, it's about wax dripping on the carpet. If you have a dirty mind, there might be another meaning buried in there somewhere.
Undiminished is another poem about Tara, my ex-girlfriend, this one a reasoned attempt to make peace with the fact of our separation and the way it has made me feel. It's built around an obvious metaphor that, in retrospect, may be a little too self-centered if taken to its logical conclusions. But I call this a tribute to her, and all the good she brought into my life.
This wild ride ends on a somewhat sour note. I had a very bad day, and felt of course like every bit of progress I'd made was for naught. But I had a bit of self-awareness before bed, which led to the writing of Permission to Stop. The message of this poem is muddled, I think. I may be coming down on myself too much. But it was an honest reflection of how I felt, f-bomb and all.