Saturday, December 30, 2006

Sonnet: "Not a Book;" Hope in Striving

Not a Book

A twisted oak of possibilities,
An auto race outside the sheltered bowl,
Menu of sanities, insanities,
The rodent tunnels leading to one hole.
A lot to think about; a lot to do.
You need illusions to answer the bell.
To think about yourself will surely screw
Your chances for the prize; down you fell
(Not that you couldn’t box, we know you can)
Because your self-awareness let you down.
Instead of punching you thought of your span,
Mortality, the slough in which we drown.
Take your head out of your ass and look:
This is your life and not some fucking book.

It seems with formal verse that the sonnet is my default mode. The common verse of ballads rarely appeals; villanelles nearly always lend themselves to some serious drama; triolets are five-finger exercises; pantoums are just damn difficult and don’t, at least in my hands, qualify as lyrics, more as epigrams. I like to mix Petrarchan and Shakespearean sonnets, although today’s is purely Shakespearean. And I don’t abide by the rule that each quatrain should have its own temporary conclusion. As for blank verse, who would read it? It belongs to the pre-modern or Victorian period and won’t fly in the wake of Prufrock--even though Prufrock is largely blank verse.

This is, of course, a positive sonnet urging participation in life rather than omphaloskepsis, or navel-staring. In my depressions I am surely guilty of this error; yet it is not my fault that the human mind has the capacity to fold in on itself until there is nothing left but a vague yearning for one’s former personality. As Kathleen says, “I’ve seen you inhabit your face in these last few days.”

Indeed, depression is like dispossession and normal mood like possession, when our souls possess our bodies instead of having fled them. I spoke to my brother-in-law about it recently, describing how in severe depression one feels without a soul. “Really?” he said. In that sentence I knew he had never experienced depression (and we know that 90% of the populace never does).

I admire the shit out of my brother-in-law. He works long days at his law firm and when he comes home almost immediately takes up a project in the garden or around the house, else returns to work on his computer. He loves to work. And in his working he forgets himself. I envy him for that discipline and productivity; yet if I shared his nature I would likely never have written a poem. Yet I would rather be more like my brother-in-law than write another poem. Unfortunately my nature leaves me little choice.

But I did not become a doctor by being lazy or averse to work. I worked my butt off, not only in class but outside school to help support myself and my young family. And this did not inhibit my other pleasures of music and poetic composition and fishing. Medical school was a time of balance, I think, between work and leisure. Yet now, on disability, I feel I have too much leisure. It is up to me to undertake work of whatever kind. For me, in the immediate, that means dusting off my novel, designed as an airport book, putting my columns and short fiction together for another book, and submitting my poetry to august journals that might improve my reputation. But at 52, I sometimes feel as if I am pursuing “a dying fall.” Achieving a reputation at my age is a low probability. But that does not make it unnecessary; it’s in the striving that we live and gather hope.

I do feel as if I am on the cusp of something but I don’t know what it is. A major re-evaluation of my life? (I mean healthy introspection without unnecessary dwelling on my deficits.) I want to participate in life, not be crushed by it. I want to complete my literary projects, not avoid them. But it is in the striving that we live. A man without it is not truly alive. Hope must stand before us like an Orthodox icon. Without it we are lost, as I have been these last nine months. Nine months of depression. Could it be over? Doubtful. But with each step I take toward striving I move farther away from the toadstool on which I’ve been sitting, immobilized.

Won’t estimate my rattage today.




  1. Anonymous2:10 AM PST

    The ending of your poem rocks!
    Loved it!

    From an amateurish bloke who never wrote a poem

    You are a giant who felt squashed like a bug
    by that Norse god Erick who acts like a thug
    when he hammers you with powers of old
    cause your talents have not yet turned into gold.
    You give of yourSelf but doubt it’s enough,
    Your opinion of Self is mighty rough.

    You breathe amongst friends
    You are not alone.
    You know you’re unique
    and not a clone.

    You exist, you are here
    That’s all that need be
    For the universe
    to love you for free.

    Happy New Year CE

  2. This is a pretty dense post - by which I mean, of course, not that it's stupid, but that it's really packed with interesting observations. And there's no way for me to comment on that impression without sounding like a prattering fool. Sorry.

    But I can sense you're on the verge of something, too, with this. I agree with the admiration of those whose work involves the body - the physical activity, the constant motion - as it is hard, as someone whose hobby is writing, to get the same sense of mindless Zen one might get from gardening. But write I must, so I dunno. No answers here. Just thoughts based on what you've written.

  3. Anonymous--what a lovely and encouraging poem. I salute and thank you.

    Twitches--yes, we have isolated solidarity as writers. But we envy the ditch diggers, don't we?

  4. Cool poem.

    Mortality, the slough in which we drown...


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