Poetry on my mind once again. This Thursday the prompt was to dig into "the personal side of poetry"...to possibly write a poem about an "intense experience" and explore "how writing it helped"--or, to reflect on a poem on a "difficult or personal subject" by someone else. Immediately, I thought of Ginsberg, Kerouac, and reading through Diane di Prima--the lonely woman in a tawdry sea of male confessional voices of the Beat Generation. These words broke me open as a teenaged girl half-drunk on the sorrow and love of the whole world. I would write about how these poems bearing witness to the ordinary taught me...
No. I would share a poem of my own...something I don't do nearly often enough as I read others' contributions. I have slid sideways into the world of writing fiction, essays, and articles by way of years of poetry composition. Surely, as many poems as I've read and workshopped in various places, it should be easy to find one "confessional" or personal poem suitable for public viewing. Or...not.
So again I find myself squarely in the arms of another contemporary poet, considering her work and how it intersects with my own life. Marisa de los Santos wrote this difficult poem about her mother for her widely-acclaimed book, From the Bones Out. It was a razorblade against my tender skin when I first read it just this past April...and I share it here, with my own scars exposed.
Monologue of One Returned
by Marisa de los Santos
Yes, I know my children's faces now, now
that I shrug on Lithium like heavy clothes.
Once, I wore my skin
like gauze and pressed myself
into the grass not
to get beneath.
I heard the whole yard
change colors in the rain.
that the wicks of magnolia
do not--do not--sing when they flare
finally into wide, white flames
has been hard.
My daughters' hair is long
and fans across their pillows.
True, there were days
I'd sit in the cane rocker
and feel the deaths of everything
I'd ever seen die--a cat,
my mother, that whole row of elms--fill
my bones with smoke
and I couldn't sleep
and I couldn't find anything.
are dark and arched.
Kristina's cheeks are smooth.
(The singing of those little
fires was so sweet!)
I watch my daughters sleep.
--in the collection, From the Bones Out--
Yesterday, a contract was sent back with my looping signature and publishing permission for an essay I wrote about my Post-partum Depression and Psychosis with Rosie. I didn't hear magnolias sing like de los Santos' woman. But, I did see eyes in the tree-leaves and hallucinated that the baby's limbs had turned into other things. Whenever the media rides a mentally ill woman up on the rails for killing their infant, I get a catch in my belly--because I was lucky. So, I do not offer my own confessional poem today, but my own confession. I have experienced madness...yes, it responded well to medication. No, my impulse was never to injure my child. We are "justfinethankyouverymuch". But, we weren't for a while...just three Summers back.
The poem by de los Santos says what I still haven't managed to about what mental illness can be. Her mother experienced it--had a full breakdown when de los Santos was fourteen. So, the poet knows what she speaks of here in these lines. As soon as the contract was gone, a terror hit me. These watery words I wrote in a great torrential rush are going to sit in a magazine on newsstands for months. The ladies at the kids' school can read the essay and whisper when I pass, "That's the one who went crazy." My extended family and our friends who didn't really know how sick I was can peer at me over the dinner table and wonder if I'm thinking wild, fantastical thoughts.
Confessional poetry is bold...is brave...is powerful in spite of whatever its detractors may say. There is something so fierce about standing naked in a crowd and I admire it...and I respect it. With the state of poetry in our country today--that I read and buy books by poets who "navel-gaze" and "whine" about their experiences is worth paying attention to. Yes, there is a time to look beyond the surface of our own lives and into the vastness of the world beyond. But, until you've spent an afternoon contemplating the garden in the sidewalk cracks with Ginsberg, the golden fog on Kerouac's mountains, or indulged in the random dinners and gleaming nightmares di Prima had--I don't think you can see anything.
Yes, I am nervous about my "confessional prose" hitting the presses--Rosie turns three tomorrow--which marks the anniversary of both her life and my descent. Years are passing and we both are growing...I do not live where magnolias sing and spiders spring from bones without warning. But, I still look at my children and the world with a muted awe, because I have seen the other side of things and returned to tell about it.