On the Left Brain
Sometimes I think my left hemisphere
swollen like some great infected testicle,
necrotic, convoluted and gray.
Its vein walls are thinner than the membranes
lizards use to shield their eyes
and inside blood flows so slowly
I consider it a miracle
that a single rational thought escapes.
The great vein of Galen sits
at the bottom of both hemispheres
like a distensible sewer line
that eventually empties
through the superior vena cava
into the heart’s right chamber
where its effluent mixes with blood
from the bowels and extremities,
pools in the lungs, and, re-oxygenated,
races from the left ventricle
back to everywhere else.
I tell you this because
the dream engine that pulls the body
has no conception of itself,
and though dependent on blood
is blind as an infected testicle,
as my metaphors bear witness
and your brain understands.
A friend of mine (N. Ball) has told me that when medicine enters my poetry it has a chilling effect. Very well, I do get a little clinical above.
For those unfamiliar with Robert Sperry's work on the bicameral brain, you should know that humans really have two brains: one for detail and order and verbal definitions, the left, and one for holistic appreciation of space and shapes and associative commonalities of vision and sound, the right.
PET scans have shown that chemical depression tends to lodge in the left hemisphere, in the parietal area and the parahippocampal gyrus. But when depression generalizes it begins to involve everything, from the brainstem's startle reaction to the pineal gland's diurnal programming of melatonin.
I call the portion of the brain paralyzed by depression "the lizard brain," to emphasize its biological primitivism.
I know when chemically depressed that my lizard brain wants to take over. Because I'm human I try to put words to the feelings it communicates. Here's what the lizard brain sounds like:
"You're worthless. You've never done anything with your life. You're lazy. No one gives a shit about you. What's the point? Have another drink, that's right, you weakling. Can't face the music, pussy, can you? Why not just pack it in? What difference does it make anyway? You disgust me."
I know these negative comments are "verbal seizures" by a part of my brain that's diseased and should not be given any credence. Since the words echo how I'm "feeling," it nevertheless takes significant discipline to ignore the dark, repetitive narrative of the lizard brain.
In the poem above I try to de-mythologize the power of the left brain, comparing it to another diseased organ more easiy understood (women may substitute their ovaries for the same effect). I know it's not pleasant poetry, may indeed be "too graphic," even "gross;" but compared to the hell of depression the metaphor is only a weak reminder of the truth.
That would be all for today except that I'd like to post some of the comments I've received on this cycle of poems below:
The whole issue of depression is not new to me, as I mentioned my father's. I have also suffered many suicidal depressions over the years. But until this morning I have never been aware of anything as hideous as a 'psychotic depression with all the energy of mania'. I'm stunned. Often I've made the comment that there is no other hell than the hell-states right here on earth. I can't even imagine this, to be frank. I appreciate more than you know, your attempts to document these occurences. Your poetry is excellent, by the way, and I say that as a former lit major. You will always be in my prayers.
I missed yesterday's email but this poem moved me deeply.
Thank you, L
These poems are cut-confessional, powerful. Thanks for sharing them. I haven't got to the whole manuscript, but reading 'CO' and 'Paternal', and now 'Keep The Faith' . I am quite blown away. I love the 'Holstein sky', I'm dying to cut out the 'but it's a nice day'... I sure hope you are sending these pieces out, everywhere, for publication.
All best, take care
You know, after reading your site for the last month or so I've decided this is the best way to read poetry if one wants to understand what the poet wanted to say. I've been really enjoying these, and hope that they are doing what they should to help usher you through each phase of life/depression. It's been some time since I wanted to read poetry, but yours is so beautifully personal and occasionally raw that I'm really attracted to it. Keep going, ok?
I am very encouraged that poets and non-poets alike have said some nice things about these postings, so I'll persist until the end of the manuscript, which should occur sometime in mid-July.
Grateful to be heard,