prosetry

The Immaculate Depression

The girl often wondered where it had come from. Why was her life so much darker than yours? than his? than hers? than most? She grew up too quickly: she knew that for certain. The girl had seen more pain and experienced more suffering in her short life than, it seemed, others would expect to bear in their entire lifetimes.

She wondered if she was being punished – for a sin committed in a past life, because she did not sin in her current life. She asked God for answers and was met with silence. Books did the opposite: they shouted a thousand possible answers at her.

Perhaps she was born with a broken brain. Perhaps society made her that way. Perhaps she was gifted bad genes from her parents. Perhaps she had invented the pain, invited the darkness.

Perhaps if she had been born a boy, she wouldn’t feel everything so very much; perhaps she would have learned to compartmentalise, to care less, to worry less, to feel less, to just get on with it. Perhaps she would grow out of it. Perhaps she was just a “normal, hormonal, moody teenager.”

Maybe the moon was to blame for her mercuriality. Maybe she was like this because she was poor. Maybe it was because of the school she went to. Maybe it was because her parents didn’t love each other. Maybe she had hit her head when she was small. Maybe she had drunk poisoned breast-milk. Maybe she didn’t eat enough vegetables.

Perhaps she was cursed. Perhaps she needed Jesus, or an exorcism, or a month in the Siberian wilderness, or to join the army. Perhaps she needed someone to shake her, slap her across the face and shout, “STOP IT.”

Maybe there was nobody else on the planet like her; maybe she fit into no category; maybe there was no textbook written about her and there never would be, for she would die before being discovered. Maybe she had been born in the wrong generation. Maybe she was on the wrong medication. Maybe she was simply not made for this world. Maybe maybe maybe.

The doctors didn’t know. They just shrugged and gave her green sheets of paper on which were printed the names of medicines containing x’s and z’s and numbers like 375 and 2.5 and 600 and 40 and 3 times a day. The specialists, the experts, the professors: they did brain scans and shined lights in her eyes and interviewed and assessed and pretended to listen and made notes and watched her do jigsaw puzzles and analyse inkblots and build towers out of wooden bricks and studied her through a two-way mirror and locked her in a padded room and, once they realised that the girl was smarter than they were, they gave vague explanations but no real answers, and disappeared off the case.

Why was she like this? How? What happened? She needed to know.

*

When the girl had survived adolescence and school and the moon and the curse and the whole business of being a girl, she became a young woman. She read more books and met more experts and became even more uncertain about the life that she had been forced to live.

Her father was the same but different. He had a black cloud too, but he dealt with it differently. He dealt with it well, not badly like she did. Perhaps it’s because he was born a boy. Perhaps perhaps perhaps.

One afternoon the young woman was making her father a cup of tea. While she was waiting for the kettle to boil, she stared at the spice rack and thought about her Immaculate Depression. She couldn’t remember an angel ever turning up in her room and bestowing this life-changing thing upon her. Like Mary, no one had asked for her permission. There was no contract signed. No terms, no conditions. It was just put on her. But not by an angel. No, she would’ve remembered meeting an angel. It must have been a devil.

Perhaps when she was a baby, a devil had swept into her room and watched her sleeping in the fruit bowl (no crib) and said, “Here! A gift for you. The Immaculate Depression. To be experienced for the rest of your life. With compliments, from Hell,” and thus she was resigned to spending the rest of her life feeling everything too much, perpetually on the brink of tears and obsessed with damage, destruction and death. Yes, that had to be it: it was an explanation just as likely as all the others that she had been offered in all her years of searching.

The young woman was distracted thinking about this. She was stirring and stirring and stirring the tea in the mug, around and around. She added milk and then realised that the teabag had split. Its contents spun around the cup, like an upturned snowglobe but inverted: black grit twisting amid a blizzard. She had stirred too much. She burst into tears. She felt too much.

Her father asked the young woman what was wrong. She sobbed, “Dad, why am I like this?” He threw the ruined tea into the sink and hugged her. “Was I always like this?” she asked, talking into the shoulder of his old denim shirt. “Was I sad as a baby, as a little girl? Did you know I was always going to be this sad?”

The young woman and her father sat down on the dusty pleather sofa.

“I knew,” he said. She was too stunned, feeling too many feelings, to say anything. He told her a story.

*

When the young woman was a little girl, barely 4 years of age, she left her bed in the middle of the night and went down the dark staircase to find her father. She had tears streaming down her face but she was not crying. She was holding a tiny clenched fist up to her chest.

“Daddy?”
“Hey, what are you doing out of bed?! It’s way past your bedtime,” he said, scooping her up.
“It hurts.”
“What hurts, darling?”
“My heart, in here,” she said, pounding her sternum.
“How does it hurt?”
“It’s too loud. I don’t want it.”
“But everyone has to have a heart, darling, it’s very important.”
“But it’s too loud. It moves too much. It moves all the time! I want to take it out.”
“You can’t do that!”
“Please can I have it taken out, Daddy, please? I don’t want it. I don’t like it.”
“You have to keep it, darling, you need it. Everyone needs a heart.”
“I don’t want it. Please, take it out. Please please please,” the girl begged, clawing at her chest, trying to rip her heart out.

The girl cried for a long, long time until she was all cried out. Her father carried her up the dark stairs and tucked her into her bed. Then he cried, quietly, barely: he rarely cried but the tears were there. He cried because he knew. The Immaculate Depression had befallen her when he’d had his back turned, when he wasn’t looking, when he was asleep. He cried because he knew that she would always feel everything too much. He wrote in his notebook that night, “Must teach daughter (when she’s old enough) that it’s better to feel everything too much than to feel nothing at all.”

*

He found that old notebook a few days after the tea-stirring incident, tore the page out and posted it to his daughter, along with another note:

To the girl with the biggest, loudest heart,
To the teenager who was too special, too smart,
To the young woman who must turn her gift of feeling into art.

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poetry, prosetry

Inheritance

You left us nothing but your everything
You gave us nothing but your all

no bank account, no savings, just that envelope of drug-money:
enough to pay for a cab to the crematorium, your wicker coffin and a good old fashioned piss-up afterwards

your microwave, your hunting knife, a tin opener, a wooden spoon

over 40 years of poetry in smoke-stained notebooks

a box of photos of girlfriends past, birthdays celebrated, weddings attended, funerals suffered

that ugly glass squirrel statue that I always hated, that you insisted I must keep after you die, so that “whenever you feel sad, you can look at the ugly squirrel and laugh

morphine, temazepam, lorazepam, zopiclone: all the good ones I swiped before mother swept in and threw the rest away (she never saw an opportunity for money-making like we did)

your watch collection (for brother)
your guitars (for brother)
your records, tapes and CDs (for brother)

more notebooks, filled with the profundity of others, in your handwriting

I am angry that you destroyed your journals
but I suppose if I’d read them I would probably have begun to believe
that I didn’t really know you at all
and that would hurt more than any secret stashed in a suitcase

your denim shirt; your PROPER CORNISH jumper; your old fisherman’s smock;
none of which I dare wear, lest your scent disappear from the fibres

an unpaid electricity bill,
12 unsolved crosswords,
half a tin of Amber Leaf,
97 packets of Rizla,
5 lighters (2 working, 2 needing fuel, 1 needing a new flint)

no trust fund
but total trust
and so much fun

your good books, your good looks

the gifts of our gabs
the depression gene
the addictive personality
the grey-hair-in-your-twenties gene
the too-much-of-a-good-thing tendency
the “you’ve got laugh or else you’ll cry” mentality

a beautiful black Ibex horn
which fits perfectly in my grip;
which I use to shut my Velux because I’m too short to reach the lock;
which is solid enough to kill a man if I were to smash it against his skull

an address book with personal numbers for celebrities, royalty, tycoons, sports stars and political bigwigs

manners & morals

your blue Salbutamol inhaler
affectionately named ‘Sally’
that you used 30+ times a day instead of the prescribed 3 times a day
that I use about 3 times a month when I’m having a really bad attack
your voice in my head saying “Breathe, babes, just breathe,” and “It’ll all be over soon”
I fear the day that this inhaler runs out

no property, no vehicles, no investments
no valuable antiques, no precious heirlooms

but you were the valuable antique
and we were your precious heirlooms

passed down a generation
to be passed on to the next

the carefully curated wisdom,
the ferocity of our love,
our soft-boiled eyes,
our way of bearing our bones
to those who get close

the (hi)stories, the DNA, the surname

all of the skills
all of the lessons
all of the laughter
all of the memories

no “assets”

we were your biggest asset
and you left us us:
your chef-d’œuvre,
your magnum opus,
your greatest achievement:

you left us
us.

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Uncategorized

On the chapped lips of lovers

Somewhere

Forgotten over time

A place that hurt

So terribly an ache

Felt like a fresh burn

Has been badly covered over

With paving stones uneven

Moss and lichen veiling crime

If someone deserning of pain

Saw

They’d immediately recognize

A broken, disturbed surface

Jagged and ill repaired

Lake without mirror

Time, a sad blessing

Where grief is concerned

What you thought you’d never recover from

Cut like totem in marrow’s deep

Doesn’t cease to be devastating

You simply forget the intensity

In order to not fall dead

The lessening is like laying a road, or putting up wallpaper

Layers and layers

You think it’s insulation

In many ways it works

Til something unexpected

Reminds you of how you really are

Behind all those layers

In all those crocheted boxes

Stored in denials, fickle womb

That pain you thought, softened

Is as strong as the day you first felt it

Love

Does not

Just whither up

And die

It twists blade upward

Unwilling, yet deftly

Cannibalizing those morsels

You thought most delicious

Til they become tormentor

Even licking fire, preferable

Than one minute more

The scathing and seal

Of pacts

Made in silent war

Where nothing is said

Hate and love, inside out versions

Of the same, mad drum

Beating relentless

Till one falls, one stays standing

Panting in flickering light

Of damage, desult and sate

On the chapped lips of lovers

Wicked in their apportioned

Vengeance

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Uncategorized

Live again

The day I stopped feeling

It wasn’t a tap turned all the way to halt any drip

or wet socks left on radiator until cardboard stiff

through muslin sheet I felt a wistfulness

like poignant ending of a film

or sad story of someone else’s life

but you did not feel part of me anymore

when I touched your hand, it was flesh and blood

not a girl I was connected to

neither stranger, but some

distance stood solid like forging tree limbs

seeking electric charge from rain after storm has passed

I had moved beyond you without

marking the spot, I put down my heartache

this is surely the most human thing about us

our ability to keep going, not fall down and wither

knowing we are finite and fallen

watch a child lose a friend on Friday

gain another come Monday

grief is a litmus test

a sorrow we shrug on and eventually off

I convinced myself of devastation

when Tuesday brings change even as we don’t seek

it comes drawing out like elongated stretch

I never thought

I’d feel nothing

looking into your eyes

but you closed yourself off

In time, I began to look away

Into the distance

where the unknown glistened

like a mirage

of things bidden

by places within us

that say

O please

live again

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life, poetry, prosetry

Easy is the slip to nothing

Some have too little love

Like hunger they scrape and search

Pealing the skin from their fingers in want

Looking until emptiness becomes full

For just a glimmer of compassion

The thing marking human

Quick to turn to hate

Like a fickle madness

Or held diving breath

So alive and quickening

A carefully guarded amber flame

Proof of life

For if cold, we are surely dead

Dormant to feeling

Impervious and keening

Easy is the greased slip to nothing

Feelings a weary bead counter

Chanted prayers, wishes forging hope

Touch, warmth, caressing tangible

Not remote

We were not made to stand alone

Though if you set your mind

On climbing chalky cliff side

Be sure there is purpose

For some are made of granite

They release radium

And the unmoving possession of their heart

Is surely worse than never knowing

The hot dulcent murmur

Of poison with purpose

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life, poetry, prosetry, Uncategorized

Going home

Old and new

Play

Like friends who never liked each other

Standing here, I could be there

Laughing, lolling about Route 66

Your hair wax stained cowboy hat on the table

The clink of sweating beer bottles

I always did better striving than living

Being a pretend person, now . . don’t knock it

Has some draw

We laughed out of fear and the fear felt good

Like real life and grabbing things by beaded throat

We roared our mirth like tigers, at the absurdity and the sorrowful

It reminded me of my grandmother’s funeral

My dad and I weeping with hot besmerched giggles

She would have understood, she would have joined in

that Katherine Hepburn smile, and the outline of something sad

That’s just how this family rolls

We laugh when tragedy feels crushing and put reality on hold

A frozen picture on TV, static and unspoken

When the wake is over and everyone has left their condolences

In a nice row

Searching for your people

Coming up empty handed

Just as I thought I couldn’t give more away

You call me out of the blue

A stranger sharing my last name

Funny how life takes and takes

And then it gives

Like a hand on your shoulder

When you’re thinking of jumping

The both of you grew thin

I put on all your weight, inherited the space

Given away by years and wrinkles

You said; Now heed me young lady

You’re standing in for us now

Do a fine job and I saw in the line and curve of your jaw

The man you were, the man you were not anymore

Strangers and bloodlines, all running together

Now you’re both gone

I’m relieved and itchy under the skin with the lie

Pretended so long

I don’t know how to be, whatever I am

We were a tribe the three of us

Now I’m starting over

In my own land again

A stranger

Of familiar, unknown places wearing unreadable clothes

Sharing my bed with regrets and hope

Like nothing and everything has changed

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life, poetry

Thoughts @ 5 p.m.

[Written 12 days after my dad died]

cigarette
window
matches
snap the first one
drop the second
fire
half-moon
sirens
lungs
orange sunset
another sunset without dad
shard to the left
church to the right
college to the right
black smoke coming from the chimney on the college
smoke from the roof
smoke from the cigarette
smoke from the chimney
smoke from the gas chambers
Auschwitz
Sylvia
“Daddy”
Dad?
“Daddy, Daddy you bastard, I’m through”
no
no no no no no
i don’t want to
i don’t want to be through
i want my dad
where’s my dad?
look over towards hospital
the silver shed of the morgue

once upon a time in the 70s:
dad had a job painting a hospital morgue
they stole lots of drugs from the hospital pharmacy
the ex-cons he worked with stole jewellery
straight off the fingers of the frozen bodies

dad in that morgue
dad in this morgue
dad in a morgue
dad?
dad on a slab
dad in a bag
dad in a bag on a slab
tears
dad?
half-moon
tears
fuck this

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