I am in search of a continuation of myself (on a grand unavoidable scale). But even more than a continuation, I seek synthesis. Little worlds continuously springing up in my midst and all living largely independent of each other. Musical composition and poetic composition springing from the same well but traveling parallel to each other. Undigested lunch, the illusion of hunger. Even the illusion of discomfort is painful – just enough to motivate. I want a continuation of everything I’ve already felt, or rather, a complication of the unknown within those feelings. A complication that moves events out of “experienced” into “experiencing.” That is closer to the truth of memory. Little threads of thought and feeling running parallel and resonating across the gaps between my kingdoms. My experience remains largely untouched by myself. Uncooked in my own oven. I want to cut windows between world until they bleed together, almost of their own accord so that all I’ve felt can become less repetitious by contact. The deaths will grow wider, the loves deeper, the passions longer. I want fevered and microscopic observation; a kind of corrosive inquiry into my surroundings as well as my inner landscape (acidic in a way that separates mask from wearer and renders them both fresh for exploration).
On day 1 I spent 24 hours wearing a heart monitor to confirm that my symptoms were anxiety related and not the manifestation of a more serious heart problem (what isn’t a heart problem in the nether-world?). I spent the next 433 days in and out of bed (I’ve done the math), hiding under blankets and pillows, terrified of my own body and the way that it fears being touched by the world. It has become a ship that may or may not sink and drag me to the depths with it. Each of those days slowly became a rambling mediation of my discomforts and nothing more. 433 days of opening my eyes. 433 days of panicking to keep my blood sugar stable. 433 days of heart palpitations and missed beats. 433 days of getting in my car or not being able to get in my car. 433 nights of sleepless sleep. 433 days of Zoloft, Prozac, Xanax. 433 days of falling, spinning, sinking, gasping. I wake up that way. It’s been 433 days since I was able to walk out my front door, all alone, into the embrace of nature without outlining emergency precautions in the event of a panic attack, in the event of a heart attack, in the event of a psychogenic seizure, in the event of a mass murder, in the event of and car accident, in the event of a psychotic break, in the event of sudden blindness. Am I going to have to drive my car? Am I going to be away from my bed today? Will I see something horrible that I can’t unsee? I see the world and feel dizzy. I can’t tell where I begin. I can’t tell where my edges meet with the world. I don’t understand why I suddenly feel so foreign to my own perceptions. Am I really seeing what I’m seeing? The world comes at me too quickly and moving slower doesn’t always help me feel sure of my footing. It’s so strange to have a body. My eyes force themselves shut when I desperately need to see. And yet I’m terrified of seeing what’s before me. Tension headaches like I’m continually looking up a flight of stairs. One day I will have realized that I’ve traveled a great distance, both forward and up. I don’t know if that climb will have been worth anything to me if I’m still sad in the end. It all comes back to the fact that the world I see before me is not the world I am from. I am still a stranger here. My sister isn’t a part of this world, and that alone has altered the very fabric of everything around me. It’s physically disorienting to look at a world that doesn’t hold my sister. But maybe sadness will come and go, and at some point later on I’ll find a better measuring stick to size my existence by; something more than “pain endured”.
Right now I’m trampled by sunlight and choking cloudlessness: this is what summer comes to me as. The sky clears and my body forbids me to get out of bed. The weather becomes an extremity wracked with tremors and a fever. My body rages at extremes, makes me feel insane for choosing bed over nature. My body is simply exhausted and struggles to face anything that requires enduring, even hot, bright sunshine. I hate hating summer because by extension, I find myself hating the need for adventure; the way that summer unbuckles it like a lover. That naked sky is sometimes just too much for me to face, let alone caress. It didn’t used to be that way, and that’s what angers me the most. I can see the trees when I look out the window, but what sort of trees are they? The sprawling synapse of leafy green memory – I have no idea what the life of the Forest is like right now, in this instant. I don’t know its mood. I don’t know anything about it anymore because I’m so far away, living in bed while I recover from living; while I recover from the fear of being alive. I want more than anything to feel a kinship with the beauty of the world again. I want to feel it pull me, yank me into the bloom. I don’t know much about anything I see right now. I spend my days recovering from living – a kind of waking into the ideas of death and sleep, goodbye and hello, which spin themselves around inside me to form webs for catching. What will I catch? A fever? A dream? A poem? A moth? Something inspiring? I am dying of recovery. I am dying of recovery. I am dying of recovery. 433 days of panic and lethargy – a tasteless soup of depression, grief, and terror of the empty spaces around me.
The longer I hide inside, the harder it is for me to look upon the world. I’ve noticed something though: the Forest changes at about the same rate as a human in terms of “seasonality,” but the difference between humans and the forest is that we must fight and writhe in flame to understand our role in the endless goodbye. The Forest does not. One could say that there is also an endless hello, and that would be true, but saying hello requires far less bed-rest than even the smallest goodbye. Goodbye to the sunshine on the carpet this morning. Goodbye to the rain light of the afternoon. Goodbye to the tea in my cup. Goodbye to the smiles and scowls I saw today. Goodbye to what births me. What births me is my body; my body is shaped like an arboretum. It all comes back to the trees and me inside them, them inside me. I look in the mirror and think “at least I still have my seasons.” I suppose that will always mean feeling that particular yellow ache of blooming, remembering, falling apart, saying goodbye, and saying hello again knowing full well what phrase I’ll have to say again next.
As I type this I am sitting alone in my room with the lights off and my sense of reality is rearranging itself.
A few hours ago I was laying on the couch watching Lord of the Rings: Return of The King with my roommates while I worked on a poetry project. I was laying there re-reading selections from Jay Ponteri’s Wedlocked when I was overcome by the urge to go into my room, grab the dry red sweet gum leaf on my bookshelf and crush it in my hands. I wanted so badly to throw it into the driveway and scuff my shoe across it. I sat up, went to my room and grabbed the leaf. I stared at it for a moment while I thought about how crazy such an act would be for me. I make sense of my existence by my relationship to the landscape around me. To do this I accumulate objects from nature in my room and assign metaphoric significance to them so that I can think about my being in concrete terms. The outer world becomes a projection of the inner me. That’s why it would be absurd for me to just stomp into my room and destroy some old leaf I’d been saving. It would be like slamming my finger in the door for no reason. This particular sweet gum leaf was the first piece of nature that I picked up and took home after my sister was killed. I was on the Marylhurst campus in late November of 2012 just weeks after the accident. I was walking from the south parking lot and the sidewalk was plastered with freshly fallen wet sweet gum leaves. They were all a deep blood red with bursts of yellow in the center. This leaf caught my eye because it was brighter than the others. I picked it up and kept it because in that moment, I thought it was so strange that I could still recognize beauty, and perhaps even stranger, that I still had the instinct to care about it in the first place. It was a testament to the fact that even in desolation I could still touch and be touched by the world around me. Even so, I thought the leaf looked so fucking sad. It made me sad just to look at it, so I kept it. What good is the ability to recognize beauty if it conflicts with the state of one’s inner emotional landscape? I loved that it was beautiful and that it made me hurt worse. It made me hurt worse because my sister could not hold that leaf. At the same time, the contrast of the colors were just astounding. I couldn’t stop staring at the way the darkness of the red gave way so easily to the sting of the yellow in the center.
So there I was in my room, holding the leaf in my hand, fighting not to crush it into red powder. After a little while longer I decided that I would destroy it, along with several other leaves on my shelf. However, if I was going to let myself give into this weird impulse I would have to come up with a good reason why I was doing it. I couldn’t think of one but I felt the urge welling up inside me along with another feeling: the feeling of difference. When I thought about destroying the leaf I felt different than I have felt for the past few months. For a split second I didn’t feel crippled by anxiety. I was scared, but my body was no longer shrieking at me to be saved from some unknown doom. Just for a second, I felt that. The anxiety became replaced by a weird kind of pain in my chest. A kind of residual nerve sensitivity that reminded me of the first time I got punched hard in the ribs. I can only assume that this was my body reacting to the oncoming epiphany. I paced around the house looking for a lighter because there was still that part of me that saw the leaf as a sort of talisman. If I was actually going to start going through my room destroying these little objects of memory, I was at least going to do it ceremonially and burn them instead of smearing them across the driveway with my foot.
As I walked out to the front porch with a fistful of dried leaves, a lighter, and a flashlight, the realization of why i needed to do this hit me hard:
I’ve been keeping myself sick.
By pouring my grief into these objects, and then filling my living space with them as manifestations of my pain, I have been building myself into a prison. Part of the reason why I’ve kept these grief objects with such reverence is because I felt that they were a tribute to my sister. The devastation I’ve felt has been so complete that many of the things I’ve been doing to honor my sister’s memory have started to fuck with my belief system. What started out as memory exercises – placing memories into objects to preserve and enjoy them, slowly turned to a reverence for pain because it was pain felt on behalf of my sister. Then, that reverence slowly began to manifest as worsening pain (depression distinct from grief, panic disorder, PTSD symptoms, etc.). I revered the trauma of the event of her death because it was her death. With that reverence came an acceptance of excruciating pain as a necessary consequence of daily living. It would simply be the nature of my having survived her death at all. And for a long time it genuinely was until the acceptance of pain became the requirement of pain.
The realization that struck me as I was preparing to burn the leaves was that I’ve been clinging to the objects of my grief as a means of denying my ability and my responsibility to create something new for myself that doesn’t involve my sister. These objects are anchors to my own devastation, and more importantly, the virulent belief that I cannot move forward in this life without her. That belief is at the heart of why I don’t feel safe in the world. It’s the belief that has turned me against my body simply because it is so scared of dying that it panics at the mere thought of being alone. Subconsciously I built myself into a palace of suffering so that I would not abandon my reverence for my sister’s death and my resulting grief. Deep down I didn’t want to keep living without her and I poured that belief into the very matter of the world around me so that I could hoard it and place it up on a pedestal as a shining symbol of what I’ve been reduced to – a grand mirror whose only purpose is to reflect my own shadow back to me.
So I burned the leaves. I stomped on the ashes. I flicked the stems into the lawn. I hurled cups of acorns out the back door. Crushed oak balls between my fingers.
This doesn’t mean I’m done grieving in the slightest. It means that I’m no longer making vows to stagnation. I’ve been writing a great deal lately about what it means to live in the void. I’ve learned that the only real way to confront the void is to place something within it with the knowledge that emptiness is the nurse of form, darkness the nurse of light, and most importantly, that whatever is created in the void will someday be consumed and vanish allowing me to create again. However, this is not to say that form is the only thing that brings comfort here. This journey is a kind of loop where I oscillate back and forth between creating and destroying. Writing to deepen my own mystery, damage certainty, and honor chaos is as much a part of my process as imagining a new life. How can I run towards something that terrifies me and plays tricks on my mind and body? How can nothingness be fertile? How can I live if I feel dead and displaced from reality? What happens when I no longer recognize my own face in the mirror? Can I willingly lean into destruction? Can I trust my perceptions? How can dreams make more sense than reality? How do I move forward through pain? Can I be in love with a contradiction?
There are two poets that have influenced me the most in this process: William Blake and Paul Éluard. My favorite line from Blake’s Marriage of Heaven and Hell states that “the Prolific would cease to be Prolific unless the devourer as a sea, received the excess of his delights.” The way that Blake treats contraries in his work is nothing short of remarkable. I’ve never seen a writer embrace this concept with such deep confidence and affection. That alone helps ease some of the crippling anxiety I feel in writing about these things. Éluard on the other hand is making me question everything I know about writing poetry. I’ve been familiar with the philosophy of the Surrealist movement for a long time but have never actually read any of the literature until now. What strikes me the most about Éluard’s writing is that he freely allows the subconscious to bleed into reality, and he does this because he questions the distance between those two things. Perhaps they don’t truly contradict each other, but rather compliment each other in the process of creation and destruction. Writing and living then becomes a loop that is simultaneously creating and devouring itself. And that is precisely what grief feels like. That is precisely what love feels like.
Pain is one of the most persuasive forces we are capable of experiencing, and my pain is quite the orator. I’ve become so skilled over the past year at rationalizing my suffering. Here’s what’s truly tragic about the whole ordeal: I very nearly convinced myself that I was not capable of being in a relationship with someone if I were in this much pain. And because the source of that pain was something I revered, I very nearly convinced myself that I didn’t want to fall in love, period. I could come up with a thousand other reasons why it would be best for me to further my self-isolation. I can look back at the end of my last relationship and see how shattered I was. I can look back and see how long it took me to pull out of that. I remind myself of how much of me I sacrificed simply to get along with another human being only to have that sacrifice be the problem. I’ve isolated myself from people my entire life and there’s been a part of me that has really reveled in that. I think if anything, this encounter with the void has taught me that isolation and stagnation taken to this kind of extreme can and will destroy a person – first in their mind, then in their body, and finally in their heart. Well I burned the leaves. Tomorrow I’ll burn the sticks. I’ve been keeping myself sick with worry, doubt, and sorrow. I’ve been making promises to stagnation that I simply cannot keep. I couldn’t even if I wanted to. If anything, burning my sad leaf collection means that I’ve decided to stop talking myself out of living. I want to truly enjoy driving again. I want to enjoy eating and sleeping again. I want to go exploring in the wilderness again. I want to feel excited about connecting to another human. I want to stop flinching every time someone touches me unexpectedly. I want to create, create, create and I want to fall in love with someone who understands how terrifying it can be to choose to be alive in the face of nothingness. I want to be in love again whether I’m in pain or not, whether I’m scared or not, and whether my sister is here or not. I have to believe that is possible.
This is incredible: “I want to write to unknow, to unlearn, to discover, and to discover that what I have discovered is wrong, or incomplete, or fluid.” I think about wanting to write and plunge myself into the blackness every single day but so rarely find ways of articulating this very thought.
i found your want
ad in the pages
of Swenson’s book
new and selected things taking place
in a yellow room on a yellow day
you may call me B
my friends and i are garden poets:
heart sore gnat-catchers
fingers fatigued between two thighs
red blackberries, melodic
if you cross reference this letter
you will find
the poem Red Moonset
and the address
of a garden
with an empty mailbox
i want to hear your voice
I had discovered a tree in the woods of Mary S. Young Park that awakened in me a kind of dread I was not used to feeling outside of sleep. The tree itself was hooked and contorted; curvy in the way that prisoners of Buchenwald appeared dented. The tree was witch like. The bark blackness filled the ears not so much with creaking, but with the shrill of dust settling. I’m not scared of witches but rather the oppression of being lost in a witch’s wood. I snuck through the brush and perched on a log. I watched the witch tree and the way that the sun was going down (like a kind of apology). The tree did nothing. I’m not entirely convinced that it was courage or even curiosity that helped me walk under the quiet nerves that were branches and grey sucker wisps. I moved slowly while next to the trunk. I knew from nightmares already that it was best not to disturb the settling of dust; not because it would cause horrible events themselves, but because a humming silence speaks softly of how its own secrets came to be, and more importantly, what it means for me to be alone in their presence. I am generally trusting of trees. They are the arms around me in a big world. The gravity of the bulbs and nooks before me were very nearly betrayal. I couldn’t understand. Fire makes trees black but crookedness must be grown from within. I walked softly onwards so I could see the tree from a distance. It now stood between me and my trail out of this place. I couldn’t run away and I didn’t truly want to. After maybe an hour of being quiet and still, it occurred to me that no matter the hospitality of a forest as a whole, the earth has bore witness to the nightmares of humans for a very long time. These nightmares pool across the landscape, just as water does: shivering alone, screams that don’t scream, legs that won’t run. They’re sticky, heavy. The Earth can’t always let them go. Sometimes they remain invisible, sometimes they animate the shadows, sometimes they come to creak in the wind as roots grow beneath them and black bark stretches above them. Every forest has them, the pools form off the trails. The shadows they attract rarely seek us out for they know solitude best, but don’t be fooled; the solitude in us is a kind of fertile stillness, an echo curious for a source. We have a tendency to find our way back to the shadows by the grace of our own forgotten kinship. Observing the world we see our own nightmares reflected back to us. I was afraid to leave the presence of the witch tree. I was afraid to stay.
An absurdly beautiful piece of writing by miss Darla Mottram.
This incident happened months and months ago, but it’s something that I still think about all the time. It’s a wondrous little rift that opened up in the rambling exhaustion that has been my life for the past year. I don’t believe in coincidences or happenstance but instead possess an unwavering faith in the nature of mystery and contradiction. By that I mean that understanding does not equate meaning and vice versa. If there’s one thing that studying my own unconscious mind (and surreality in general) has taught me, it would be precisely that notion.
One night while I was alone at home, I got a text message from a wrong number. I get unreasonably excited when this happens because it’s like a little intrusion of another life into yours. For one brief moment you receive some morsel of conversation meant for someone else entirely. It’s really satisfying to the nosy parts of myself. This text message was different though, it was a group text sent to me and one other number. I didn’t recognize the second number either. The message itself consisted of a single audio file which both concerned me and evoked every iota of curiosity and wonder I’m capable of feeling because this meant that I would likely hear the voice of the sender. Again, I get disproportionately excited about these things, especially when I think about how I disregard wrong number calls. I listened to the audio file and was absolutely floored. A wrong number had sent me a poem. Maybe it’s not entirely accurate to say that it was a poem because the sender was probably floating about in some kind of drug-induced delirium. This guy was clearly having a poetic experience, or rather, an encounter with the “poetic” in an Octavio Paz sense of the word, but this sounded more like some kind of lyrical obsession was bubbling to the surface of his mind, or maybe in his altered state he became possessed by some thread of musicality that the universe sent humming through him in that moment. The tone of his voice reminded me a lot of my own fevered thought-stream when I was in the hospital on morphine after my spinal surgery. I would begin a thought so clearly and intentionally before my consciousness dissolved and my words ran up against my hallucinations. Here’s a transcription of what the sender said in the recording:
Maybe soon, maybe later, the end will come. There’s and end to everything, just as there was a beginning. This end my friend, will be one of sudden calamity. It will take off like fire erupting across paper, like flesh tearing. Like love when you can’t escape her. These are the bitternesses that come to me. Which one… which one should I… wash away
and which one should I embrace? This plastic caste of tepid torture holding, placed, pliant, poisoned… [rhythmic mumbles] You love me to sleep with your bitters! Chirp, chirp! My own brains have fused into one gelatinous orb. I don’t have any brain cells left but the ones… [mumbles] Ayooohhhhmmmmmmmm ah.
Ayoooooooohhhhhmmmmmmmm aha! Po. Sitting situationally sideways don’t know which way but go no row we’re gonna do it my way we don’t have to hold back to prac-tical instruments… the ti-nder tinsel topless… wait! It’s all the tassels without all the hassles but we’ve got these assholes trying to be all… [long pause] like… bath salts? Who’s the asshole feedin’ me bath salts, no? Who salts, sea salts she sells bath salts down by the bath house. Bar-b beats off butches! Biting bath salts at the bath house. Biggity biggity biggity biggity biggity boom.
Psh woobitah woobitah biggity my big-ah biggity mime get a miggity biggity biggity biggity biggity biggity biggity biggity bing!
Biggity biggity biggity mmm…
First thing’s first: this guy is lyrical as all hell. I bet this is what Matt Hart would sound like if he were high. I’d love to hear Matt Hart scream this. Or Wendy Sutter play a tonal equivalent on the cello. I guess what reminds me the most about my morphine mind is the way that his thoughts oscillate between lucidity and music. There’s meaning there, particularly in the beginning of a movement, but then the language evaporates into nothing but sound. This speaks so directly to the nature of disorientation and deterioration. It’s a kind of forced delirium on the reader, speaker, or whoever. Probably everybody, but especially this person. How the fuck is anyone supposed to handle such “bitternesses?” I have panic attacks trying to confront those kinds of things. There’s a terrified calm about this person’s voice which makes me think of sedation rather than actual calm or acceptance (although I wouldn’t exactly say that the speaker resists calamity either). It’s very easy to be terrified and sedated, especially if you’re neurotic enough to have a mind that runs indefinitely in spite of your body. It’s like being wheeled off, strapped to a gurney, and not really knowing where you’re being taken or what’s about to happen. I think the sub-conscious can sometimes appear playful in moments like that as the whole human system is struggling for equilibrium in the dance between thought, feeling, and sense. That struggle for equilibrium manifests as sound.
I’m really tempted to launch into my english major thing and write a long and detailed analysis of this bad boy, but part of me just doesn’t feel right about doing that. Partly it’s because I don’t know where to begin, I don’t really know what to say. The more times I listen to this, the more complex it becomes. I like that. But maybe it’s because this poem literally fell into my life out of the ether with no evidence as to where it came from other than an area code. This isn’t something that I just plucked out of some anthology ripe for annotation. It feels much more human than that. Maybe it’s because I could hear the intentionality and confusion in this guy’s voice. I don’t want to dig too deep into this and spin out all sorts of interpretations beyond what my imagination has already done. I want it to keep feeling personal, even though this person doesn’t know that I have it and am listening to it often. I have no idea what this person’s mind and heart are like but I want to. I want to keep thinking about the universal mechanics that might have allowed for a poem to be sent to a wrong number, and that number belong to a poet. I want this to stay a quick and bitter human howl, routed though a cell tower off in the hills at night, because I suppose for me, that’s where the meaning is hiding. I want this to remain a poetic encounter. I don’t understand poetic encounters but I know that they make me feel strongly and strangely and make me want to run into the forest. Maybe I don’t want to analyze the poem because I don’t truly believe that anyone can understand a poetic encounter, and to analyze the poem would be to ignore the near sheer wonder that accompanies this incident for me. I think that it’s probably something that each poet must learn to discern for his or her self in terms of responding or not responding to such things. I know one thing for sure though: we are all in dialogue with the poetic no matter what and by virtue of our own mystery learn to live meaningful lives by listening for that dialogue and recognizing it when it grabs for our throats. I don’t understand any of this, and perhaps its silly to be thinking so much about it in the first place. But maybe it’s not. In fact I’m certain it’s not although I can’t for sure say why other than that I have an undirected compulsion to ponder everything I come in contact with. I don’t know what’s being said in this dialogue, but I know that something is. What else can I do but listen for my own sake?