Thursday, July 28, 2011


At first there's nothing you can do but endure.
It takes all your energy to like it, what's been done to you.
Nothing happens quickly. It's all slow, immersed in distance,
a blur of waiting, half-bored, for anything to happen.
A lot of full stops. Nothing flows except those fluids
you'd rather not think about. That damn nasal tube
with its transparent flex full of your inner flux being sucked away.
Disgusting. A charming portrait of soul reduced to nothingness.
And the button to cancel pain by that catheter stuck into your spine.
Makes it all numb. Mind unable to reboot, just floating along.
But the allergies to some of the pain meds means you don't
even get to have fun. Just the floating world, suffering alongside.

It's just as well we can't remember pain, after awhile. It's good it fades.
Otherwise we'd be in dread of it always floating back. We'd lock ourselves
into repetitious nightmares of avoidance, inflexible fears. Memory has
beneficent safety, an anodyne, ways of forgetting what it's not best
to retain. Rehearse what I want to recall, let go of the rest.
The garden's half-wild this summer, since I can't stoop to weed.
No kneeling. No bending over. No lifting things heavier than a water glass.
Getting stronger, but those staples in my gut made a zipper stitch
in my side if I bend over too soon, too far, too often. A long
afternoon's summer dog-day nap will suffice. I may miss all summer,
either napping or restlessly pacing the cage walls. The dog analogy's
a good one, a mutt in pain will pace in patterns I catch myself
emulating. It's the animal self that's in control now. Given so much attention
to the mortal flesh, its echoes of complaint, I've been forgetting
to sit and meditate. The zafu's gotten lonely for my sore ass.

I can't drink much wine yet, so the Chinese poets will have to
get high and chant poems on the moon-viewing porch
without my febrile contributions. The pain pills get in the way.
An ascetic's puritanical paradox: pills to prevent pain
as well prevent some pleasures. Things I'm told I cannot do.
I'm being good, and following all the rules, for once. No pain,
no brain, no rain. It's been so long, so long without unraveling,
I can't remember what it feels like to have a pain-free day.

My sliced open gut still complains, when I sit or lie on my side.
Things inside me still bitch about being jostled around,
cut loose, reattached, stapled up and told to wait, wait, wait.
Legitimate complaints, when I bend or flex the wrong way,
too fast. Some nights' sleep lost over being unable
to find the right configuration of limbs and guts along the futon.
Like some vigilant watchtower, a visceral reminder of limits.

Pain is a postal address along a long road towards new life.
You stop in to visit, never lingering. What burns you stirs you.
Guts and glory distant cousins who don't talk anymore.
Somewhere there's a fence line across an open desert,
a pointless boundary marker, nothing visible from the air.
The hardening zipper under where the staples came out,
firm to the probing finger, even though the skin looks new,
somewhat shiny, not very red anymore, just a pale ember.

And there are dismembered nights. Lying in the chair, restless, unable
to sleep, between the sore guts and the sore ass. No meditation
pillow can conquer a sore ass. At least not so soon after.
Can't toss and turn without hurting, can't lie still without pain,
can't find a comfortable place to lie, no place between.
Play that music loud, Mr. Composer, loud enough to drown out
the inner voices bitching about this and that. Drown in sound,
lose mind to music. Something like a switch that music can trip
when nothing else can. It pisses me off.

Last nights with family and friends in the house, then long nights
alone. I don't get tired as fast as I did, weeks ago, still don't
feel ready to be on my own. It's all too much. I could barely stand
to gather and take out the trash. Too much. Overwhelm is a
country where big things can't be made smaller by simply doing.
Maybe I should get a dog. I'm more comfortable with cats, though.
A simple presence in the house, even an aloof one. Not all purring
is a comfort. Some sound bellwether a breaking.

Nothing to be done but spill your guts. All over the page.
Nothing left but the recordings. Switch them off. They repeat
too often. And often. Boredom is the inability to escape the city
of hell. Dis is the place. You thrash, as much as you safely are able.
And turn over in your sleep. Maybe there will be dreams.
It's so hard to remember, lately.

Some Notes:

This poem, unlike most, has taken a long time to write. Most poems happen quickly, for me, then there might be a resting period, before I look it over again, polish it up, makes necessary changes. But the initial writing is usually one extended moment, one connected period of time, the time it takes to write it down. With this poem, though, I started it almost two weeks ago, and kept abandoning it, then coming back to it. I could not let go of it.

The subject wanted to be written about. I don't care if this poem is just a diary-poem; most things I'm writing at the moment, post-surgery, fall into what I am loosely calling The Surgery Diaries: reflections, responses, notes, journal thoughts, all about the process of surgery, and recovery, and the good and bad days that pile up together like so many stacks of rustling leaves.

I don't feel that it's very coherent, for a poem—on the other hand, between the surgery, the pain meds, the lingering traces of anaesthesia, and general post-surgery tiredness, I haven't been very coherent myself. Some days I feel very blurry indeed. Maybe this poem is a truer representation of my current state of scattered mind then something more polished and precise would be. Maybe it's therefore more true.

It's always a challenge to depict state-of-consciousness in a poem, rather than merely describe it, or just talk about it. Depiction is harder, because you have to convey the experience being depicted, so that the reader feels like they're inside the experience, not divorced or distanced from it. Not all readers are comfortable with that. Some poets seem to write cerebrally precisely as a way of distancing themselves from their emotions. To the contrary, I prefer immersion. I prefer to depict. I prefer to recreate an experience, a state of mind, a vision, in the reader's mind. "Show, don't tell." I'm almost always on the side of "showing." Like Julian of Norwich, whose Showings are her account of what was shown to her in her many mystical experiences.

Just as I prefer passionate Dionysian immersion to cool intellectual distancing. William Wordsworth, the great Romantic poet, once defined poetry as "Emotion recollected in tranquility." Wordsworth was all for the primacy of craft over the passion of the moment, at least in theory; in practice, his finely-crafted poems are in fact very moving. Nevertheless, I find again and again that I disagree with his famous pronouncement. Not that I object to craft—but the proper place of craft is in service of the emotion. The cerebral poets err on the side of tranquility rather than viscerality. They prefer the cool laying-out of description over the heated immersion of evocation.

But poetry, like prayer, like hymns, like worship, began as evocation, as sounds and words spoken and sung to evoke the gods, to evoke an experience. I listen to certain pieces of music to evoke a mood. A shamanic journey can be triggered by music, and you ride the drumming there and back again. Jan Garbarek's music has always had that power, for me: something i can ride, there and back again. It can be cathartic.

Poetry is nowadays given too little credit for being cathartic. It is given too much credit for being a cerebral game, and not enough use for healing. Catharsis. Ekstasis. Eros. The Hmong peoples say, in their pantheistic shamanic religious tradition, "The spirit enters you, and you fall down." The ancient Greeks talked about "a god entered him, and he began to prophesy;" poetry for them was literally a divine art. Music has that power, for me. So does a poem, at least some poems, including some that I have written; albeit some of these same poems I feel I only took dictation on, or I was merely the receiver tuned into the akashic broadcast.

This poem, written in fits and stutters, may not in fact do what I want it to do. Time will tell, as always. It may not make it all the way to ekstasis, albeit the writing of it has been at least somewhat cathartic, else I shouldn't have kept returning to it. Time will tell if can stand up to other poems in its series, or genre, or subject matter. Writing a "perfect" poem wasn't my concern, here, and out of my blurred consciousness perfection was not likely anyway, unless the daimon entered me, and I fell down. (Which has happened with other poems in this series.)

Lest I damn the poem further with faint praise, lest I depict my own incoherence here as well as in the poem, I will finish by saying, this is what I have to do, some nights, in order to find the peace it takes be able to fall asleep. For the past month, since my surgery, family and friends have stayed with me, helping me, caring for me, assisting me during the post-surgery recovery, making food, cleaning, helping me with all those necessary and delightfully ordinary tasks one cannot do while one is still recovering. I will never take any of this for granted again: Being able to bend over, to pick up something that weighs more than ten pounds, to walk around the block, to have the stamina to cook all day then clean up the kitchen. My gratitude to my family and friends is deep and sincere.

And tonight begins the first night when I am truly on my own again. Do I fell ready to handle things on my own? Not hardly. Just having to take out the trash tonight was so overwhelming that I needed to sit in my chair, listening to evocative shamanic music, before I could get up and complete the task. I am deliberately, in this writing, in the poem, in the dark shamanic music I've been editing in my music software concurrently, trying to tire myself out enough that my tired yet anxious mind will shut down, drown itself out, and let me fall asleep. Which is one more reason I was able to finish this poem tonight: just to be able to feel like I got one godsbedamned creative thing done tonight, on a day that otherwise felt blurred, anxious, and harsh. Just one bloody little piece of creative work done, tonight, even if in the long run it's not my best work. Perfection is not the accomplishment here; completion is.

Labels: , , , , , , ,


Blogger Jim Murdoch said...

I know I talk a lot about meaning in poetry but I was reading an old poem today from 1996 and I get a genuine feeling of wellbeing when I read it. Essentially it’s an aphorism talking about the nature of belief but having put my thoughts into words, and reading back those words and realising that, for once, they are an accurate translation of what I was thinking is definitely cathartic. In fact I would go so far as to say that all my poetry can be so labelled as my primary reason for writing is to purge.

This is an interesting piece. Perhaps not the most poetic of poems but I’m not a purist. I loved the line, “Nothing to be done but spill your guts. All over the page.” Is this you taking my advice to be funnier? Made me smile put it that way.

5:17 AM  
Blogger Art Durkee said...

I agree about purging, about catharsis. A lot of the art I make, the music, and the poetry, has a catharsis in it for me. That's not the sole cause and effect, though, because poetry is more than therapy, more than just catharsis. But catharsis is often part of it. So is ekstasis. So, too, is eros. Sometimes the old Greek terms still are the best labels for what poetry is and does.

As for the humor, well, that's just my usual hospital humor coming out in the mix. I'm actually a really funny guy. This poem came out more conversational in tone than many do, and that's why the humor's there, probably. Normally I don't go out of my way to make anything I write deliberately funny, as I'm no good with jokes, and I don't write stand-up. I find that humor has to naturally arise from a context, not be imposed on it, so I never deliberately go for it. I just find it where I find it.

8:23 AM  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home