I have reams of writing (from back in the day when I wrote regularly), that aren’t published and never will be, but that are still meaningful to me. In some cases they probably could be published if I sent them out, but I don’t care enough to bother, or just don’t want to. In other cases, the poems aren’t any good, but retain a sentimental value. Others are simply meta-poems — poems about poetry — which I’m always mildly embarrassed to find myself accidentally writing.
Anyway, since these poems are worthless sitting in a drawer, I thought I’d start posting them every once in a while, under the category “old poems.” Everyone loves nostalgia, at least when it’s your own. You’ll also know they’re old poems because I’ll list the date it was written and write a little something about it — why it has value to me personally, why it’s never been published.
Start big: I think of “The Little Things, The Night” more often than any other poem I’ve written. Lines and phrases from it echo in my head out of nowhere, maybe weekly, maybe more often than that, and if I think about it too long I start to cry. I have no idea if the poem effectively renders the experience, or if the memory is just that emotionally charged.
Alone on an overnight shift, back when I was working at the group home, one of the residents was decompensating and knew it, so didn’t trust herself to be unsupervised in her room. She turned in her razors and I put the house’s silverware in a locked box. Middle-aged and very intelligent, she was the only patient I ever knew to have Dissociative Identity Disorder. Two distinct alters, and co-morbid manic-depression on top of it. Still a senior in college, I was completely unprepared. She talked about emptiness and I told her baby steps, like an idiot: “Try to enjoy the little things…a cup of coffee, a cigarette.” Never mention happiness to the depressed, let alone the tragically, justifiably, suicidally depressed…
We sat up for eight hours and she told me her life story. Her first memory: raped by her father and two of his friends when she was five years old, lying wet with her own blood on the garage floor, staring at a crack under the door and waiting for them to come back. Jesus Christ, this is a thing that happens in our world… What can you say to that? What can be said?
The result for her was a labyrinth of safe zones in her mind so necessary that they consumed their own identities. A lifetime of meds and therapy, a perpetual holocaust. For me, just the story alone became a hot coal of hatred — and then this poem, so meaningless in the face of it all, so utterly pathetic.
How quickly bleakness comes. I might end up turning off the comments on this post; I don’t really want to talk about it beyond this mini-exorcism. I thought briefly about including the poem in American Fractal — it would have fit the theme, complimented “Cutlery” — but it’s too old and raw and ugly. Why publish something so powerless?
THE LITTLE THINGS, THE NIGHT (2002)
what if you were trembling she says to her hands trembling
and what if your first memory was the cold
concrete was the pillow was the world was the trembling
jingle of keys but
you were still and still in it she says trembling her
hands the garage door the cold slit of light and
what if every time you closed your eyes you vanished
and so you kept them closed and kept them closed and
kept them closed like slits but you were still in it she says
and this time in the dark and this time trembling