Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Dark Sonnets XVI and XVII; 6 Kilorats

I saw my psychiatrist today, who increased my antipsychotic medications.  He wants to be aggressive with my illness.  I read today that bipolar depressions usually last at least six months.  I'm almost up to four months with this one, but I don't want to repeat my two-year horror again.  My only hope is in medications; now that ECT failed me, I know of nothing else to treat this damnable condition.

It's nothing I did or didn't do.  I was born with the DNA coding for bipolar illness.  It first expressed itself when I was 13.   I did not know what it was then, I simply withdrew from everything around me, including friends, going from class president to recluse.

Two more dark sonnets below.  Not my best but I do follow the form.


There’s not much left to what I haven’t said.
Depression is a monster, simply put,
A harpy sent to thieve your daily bread
And leave you groveling in an endless rut.
A rut is but a grave with ends kicked out.
Oh you can belly on and squirm and twitch
Yet come no nearer to another route
Because you cannot see above the ditch.
Prayer and meditation prove no better
Than drinking beer and lying on the couch
When you are being judged by every letter
Of the law, transforming you to grouch
Who sees all contact as a threat to being
So any outstretched palm results in fleeing.


I’d rather have my skin scraped bloody and raw
By a barbecue-grill cleaning brush
Than to suffer depression. I stand in awe
At how the weight of it endeavors to crush
Whatever good lives in me, which is all
A grand mirage of who I used to be
Before the odious, odiferous pall
Of self-despite became reality.
Have you a spark of goodness left to share?
Don’t waste it on this carcass, I am past
Receiving anything, I do not care
For anything my illness will outlast.
It’s cyclical, you know, it will come back
And paint all my cathedral windows black.

Six Kilorats,


Monday, April 19, 2010

Dark Sonnet XV; at Six Kilorats

After an early response to a new antipsychotic for ten days, I tanked back into my melancholy fit on April 15 and have been there since.  It's so disheartening.  But in today's dark sonnet I did put in a little hope.  Hope is so necessary.   I was going to go into depth today about my latest mood terrors but find as I type that I have little or nothing to say that I haven't said before. 

1) Bipolar disease, in its worst form, as I have it, is akin to epilepsy.  It is a chemical dysfunction of the brain that effectively mimics negative affects: fear, sadness and anger, when all the routine responses to loss go on override and life becomes a terror--I dread phone calls and e-mails, I have to suck up courage to face them.  Once I get engaged in something, as in writing this blog, I feel a little better, able to forget myself for a time.  But the all-pervasive feelings persist.  Crying temporarily reduces the anxiety, but it also tires the body out.  I know I'm not special, there are millions of sufferers on the planet, but I know of no one personally who has experienced so many severe depressions in a lifetime.  I'm sure such a person exists, if they haven't committed suicide. 

2)  For this disease I have found only two things that help: medications and ECT, and the latter failed me in '08, so I guess it's just down to medications.  But it's a crap shoot, these medications, and finding the right combination can take forever.  It's important not to lose hope, though.  And when I do, I need my doctor to hold hope for me.

3)  I am not my disease.  I have a disease.  There's a big difference in that that helps me not to panic at times. 

4)  It is not my fault. 

5)  All the therapy and self-help books have proven no help to me.  All I know is to endure, take the medicines, and not lose hope.

6)  I would not wish this illness on anyone.

7) Hope and endurance are the most necessary virtues I can practice.

8)  I am on disability because I am disabled.   There, I said it.  Between the condition of my back and the unpredictable condition of my mind, I don't know what useful work I could do.   I wish to hell I could work at something, but who would hire me if I made full disclosure?   I work at writing, I send out submissions, I continue to compose poems and songs--this is my work, even if it only rarely pays. 

I feel lower than a worm's belly in a ditch right now.  Here's the poem:


My mind is dark. The darkness will not cease,
As if an endless night ate every sun.
The echoes in my skull form a reprise
Of guilt and shame for everything I’ve done
Or left undone, that catechism phrase.
There is no publicist prepared to spin
Kinder assessments of benighted days.
Sin means falling short and I am sin.
Yet somewhere in the vacuum of my thought
I sense some inextinguishable light
So very small and certain, like a dot
That moves around and can’t be fixed outright.
I like to think this angel is my being
And not the Sturm und Drang that you are seeing.

Thanks for reading.

At 6 Kilorats,


Tuesday, April 13, 2010

New Sonnet: On the Anthropic Principle III

I went to show this new sonnet to my wife and editor and she said, "I'm sick of sonnets."  So this may be the last one for awhile, as I aim to please.  My mood continues to hold and I am so grateful not to be depressed that I would dance a jig if my back permitted it.

Now, like most of earth's prisoners,  I am merely subject to the normal negative emotions of we all endure, though I've a mind to work on my mental chatter and bring it more in accordance with the light.

As I used to tell patients, "Antidepressants aren't supposed to make you happy, only normal--just as miserable as the rest of us but no more."

On the Anthropic Principle III

Footsteps-to-spring bloom yellow underfoot.
Rare irises purple the general green.
Sunlight is harvested from leaf to root
And God inhabits more than the machine.
Beneath blue wonder I do wonder what
The hell and whom all this was furnished for.
Could it be man, that whimpering, sniveling snot?
Ungrateful, spiteful, hateful, worse, a bore?
Were I an angel I would take offense
At such anthropocentric poppycock.
Given man’s nature, it does not make sense
That all the universe is his to grok.
Still the Hubble telescope implies
We are the only conscious pair of eyes.

1 Kilorat,


Monday, April 12, 2010

Mood Improving; Sonnet "Inferiority"

I ought not to have been surprised, but today I tried to observe my own thought for a minute at a time--which is harder than you think, as self-observation so easily changes one's train of thought--and was horrified at how egocentric my thoughts were, as if I were still dreaming of being a rock star, or worse, as if I were a pre-adolescent wishing to be Batman.   This revelation inspired the sonnet below:


I thought to monitor my thought today,
To watch my thinking from another space
As if I had a mountain hideaway
From which to look down on my hiding place.
I was aghast at how I fantasized
Myself in hero’s garb persistently--
Guru, jazz musician—I super-sized
My ego while observing distantly.
What could I do? The false self must be fed
With tales of heroic intervention.
I’d like to say, “Off with its fucking head!”
But head in hand, it begs for more attention.
Why must a man so amplify his worth?
Self-aggrandizement rises from a dearth.

Meanwhile a change in my medication made on March 31 continues to improve my mood.  I'm still rather fragile but the hollow in my chest has been filled again and I feel human, as if the spirit had been returned to my body. 

Here's a poem from my book, "Unexpected Light," that expresses the joy of recovering from a depression:


I will love myself today.
Here are some fuzzy slippers
and a lollipop,
a warm hug and a wet kiss.
Let me tuck this
old familiar blanket
around my shoulders
and read this poem
before I nap.

Whatever I do today,
I’ll approve.
If I spill milk, I’ll clap.
If I button my shirt wrong
it’s a new style.
If I wet my pants
it was on purpose.

My, how well I walk!
How well I speak!
It’s so good to be
good to myself.
Where have I been
all these sad, long years?

(published in Tryst)

For safety's sake I'm going to rate myself at 1 Kilorat today. 

Over and out,


Saturday, April 10, 2010

Dark Sonnets Revised I - XIII

My mood is rising, largely due, I think, to a change in medication last Wednesday, but I don't want to stake too huge a claim on wellness until my feet are sure beneath me.  One huge part of my uplift was an inspiring talk I had with a friend, who also invited me to a weekly spiritual gathering that I enjoyed and intend to continue to intend. 

When I went through the two-year depression here on this blog, one thing my psychiatrist did in all that time was to hold hope for me when I couldn't hope for myself.  Hope is an underrated virtue, and the depressive may be so sick he feels he has none to cling to, but if others insist he may grab a taste of it himself, and a taste can turn into a meal if the chemicals follow suit.

Now without further ado, Thirteen Dark Sonnets in the order penned:


Once more this fell infection of the mind
Galls itself, one wound wears down another,
The crust of failing surfaces will find
More cells to infiltrate, more smooth to smother.
I put a stethoscope upon my head
To eavesdrop on the stuttering machine,
Hear nothing but the clawing of the dead
Matched to a jukebox skipping in routine.
I thought of pills and blades and guns and cars,
The sordid images of methods used.
They haven’t answered “Is there life on Mars?”
As yet. From judgment shouldn’t I be recused
Until they do? I will endure this state
Patiently, though it kills me to wait.


I’m swallowed by the groaning of the reef
At one more wave’s untiring onslaught.
I listen to the outboard for relief,
A brighter racket than my pounding thought.
You there—do you think in straight lines?
Do thoughts follow each other, hand-to-hand?
Or is it that your insight’s without spines
Like a sea urchin’s skeleton on sand?
Vanilla life, vanilla in your veins,
Uncomplicated, unexamined days--
If only I could tender you the reins
To my life, would I sail through the quays
Sipping a gin fizz, waving to the shore?
I’d give my soul for your white bread rapport.


Passenger, conductor, does it matter?
Who can tell in such a blasted mood
Only broken by the wheels’ clatter,
Spelling out in Morse the end of good?
To stand upon the platform with a noose
Is all I ask of life or hope of death.
The world’s wheels moved—I’m the caboose
Left on the track far from the engine’s breath.
Gather the spikes you used to lay the rails,
Gather the beams, the workmen, engineers,
Tell them that in all of life’s travails
A man is just the sum of his worst fears.
It suits me to be left behind, to rust
Else junk me outright. There’s no train I trust.


Here is my soul inside a water drop.
Place it on a slide, adjust the scope.
Look at all the creatures in that slop!
Diversity proliferates in hope.
Which corresponds to me? Bacterium,
amoeba, something with a cell wall?
Or is the dynoflagellate delirium
Of tendrils better fit for the appalled?
Job wished he’d been aborted, I understand.
There should be limits to what a man can suffer.
Alas we have no manual at hand
To say, “He’s had enough, don’t make it tougher.”
Fate sends its spider line to knot the heart
And jerks until even strong men fall apart.


Put down the knife, Lady, the candle’s done.
Out, out, out... Where is the blood?
You waved a blade but violence was outgunned
By guilt’s black bile pooling where you stood.
Dame Melancholy, with your crude stone blade,
Whom did you try to murder but my self?
My little self. I’ll not be unmade
To add another trophy to your shelf.

“Depression” now sounds like a common cold
With remedies as legion as the dirt.
My little self’s been badgered and cajoled
Until each onion skin was bathed in hurt.
I swallow medications in the hope
I won’t exchange a necktie for a rope.


Hopkins wrote, “No worst there is none.”
But isn’t it hubristic to declare
That you have reached the limit of despair
As in a total eclipse of the sun?
In that event a wild corona glows
Around the edges of the blackened moon,
A fiery nimbus that as yet allows
More than pure darkness in the afternoon.
What if there is a worst? How will you cope
If what despair you’ve reached was amateur,
Nothing Promethean, minor in scope,
A taste, a touch—your hope was premature!
It’s perilous to label something “worst”
Unless the Lord himself pronounce you cursed.


Even though cloistered by a bloody veil,
Dame Suicide, it’s not polite to boast
That you like making humans into toast
Or something else equally dry and pale.
Your hands, so fine, as if made for the harp
Cannot be clasped without making an end.
You strum a dirge irreverently sharp
Designed to cut deeper than we can mend.
Sharp as addiction or the death of love,
Hard as affliction, colder than hate’s hold,
The sickest kneel to you as if to move
Your soul to pity, dying as they grow bold.
I hold back; beauty is as beauty does.
Why not give in? Because, because, because.


You want to die more than you want to live
And smile tightly, try not to let on.
With luck you’ll pass for you, careful to give
Distinct impressions than you’ve not withdrawn
Entirely. Get up, get dressed and shave
And go to work to earn your daily bread.
Each day is one day closer to the grave
But on you clomp as if your shoes were lead.
You’re only doing what you have to do
To engineer some cheer, to fool your friends
Into thinking you’re no more than blue
Or else distracted by important ends.
This dedicated sham can last for years.
Don’t ruin it with your reptilian tears.


Since experts have agreed imperiously
That of all life’s sadnesses, nothing’s worse;
I’m forced to take this illness seriously:
Manic-depression, my genetic curse.
Imagine that—I’m finally best at something!
And not at poetry—so much is clear.
I’m best at diving, falling, crashing, tumbling
Into a state Audie Murphy would fear.
To have no personality, to have no god,
No sense of human fullness in the chest,
Only a sheet of paper-thin façade
Too easily torn and crumpled in a fist
Is indescribable. I’ve made my bed
Inside the liquid demons of my head.


Who cares for me, how would I even know?
My beloved holds me with her eyes
And mine begin to tear. I would not show
The depths of my disease to one I prize
Above all others. Without her love, what then?
Deeper inside the spiral of my pain?
Scratching wretched hope out with my pen?
Institutionalized with the insane?
She is a luxury I don’t deserve.
How can she recall what I once was?
Somehow in her mind she must preserve
The outline of a man without these flaws
Of character or chemistry, you choose;
I’m too exhausted to explain my views.


It’s not for flaw of character I weep
But for a flaw of chemistry, my dear.
Inside the gyri of my brain it creeps
Infecting all connections, engineer
Of all the darkest petals of the mind
Blighted and browned, hideous to behold,
A monster to myself, a worthless rind
Upon a garbage heap, deformed by mold.
The green fuzz on the peel is the thing,
But fungus is the province of the dead.
I feel its hyphae in my reasoning;
Can’t someone suck this poison from my head?
If brain were foot I’d apply fungal cream;
Perhaps I should begin with trephining.


Whenever my mind is not occupied
By something else, I think of suicide
And castigate myself for it; I ride
A pale horse, the monkey is my guide.
The monkey steers the horse, chattering loud.
The horse proceeds in circles round and round.
I gather up my breath, a broken cloud.
(The audience makes that sucking-in-breath sound.)
“Cheer”--a lovely word! An anodyne
For the meconium that clogs my mind
And spirit in malevolent design
Of petty feedback loops, pause and rewind.
Where did the cheer go? Am I insane?
Shut the monkey up! The horse is lame.


And why should I wake up, and what for?
My nightmares are more pleasant than my days.
Darkness eats my days, though I abhor
The process, I am helpless to erase
The code that casts my future in a bag
Meant, perhaps, to drown some hapless cat.
My life’s such an excruciating drag
All my expression lines have fallen flat.
It’s worse than Botox to be squeezed like this,
To have your personality becalmed.
If there’s a devil, did his Judas kiss
Pickle my ego until it was embalmed?
The dead are walking; I am of the dead
Although this whole scenario’s in my head.

At 2 Kilorats,


Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Thoughts on disability--Poetry Month poem #2

As in chronic pain, depression is a signal gone awry. Normally the physiology of grief is a relief--how it felt when I cried at my daughter's viewing and memorial. Tears were cleansing and healing. In depression the body's gone on automatic; behaviors initiated by grief become automatic behaviors. The constant state of ill feeling that accompanies this has been christened "dysphoria" by psychiatrists, roughly the opposite of euphoria.

Normally depressive symptoms should signal a need for change in one's environment or relations; it is a warning that you are headed the wrong way. But in the case of the manic-depressive, depression can strike when all circumstances are good and there's nothing in your life you would change or could change to make it better.

An example: I left my first wife after thirteen years when the marriage had been dead for a good while. I couldn't bear to leave my young daughters but I had to leave for my mental health. When I took that step my depression continued on for maybe eight months, irrespective of the changes for the better in my life. If I were physically able to return to the practice of medicine it would only feed my self-esteem if I were euthymic (normal mood). In times of depression I would think myself incompetent no matter how competent I was. This is why therapy doesn't work for bipolars in general. If they get better, their mood was rising anyway. If they get worse, perhaps it's the wrong therapy. I have a poem about this:

Glass Giraffe

When my soul was sanded so raw
the capillaries couldn't even seep,
I questioned the value of pain.

"You must experience your feelings of abandonment
until you are comfortable with them," you said.

When my suicidal doppelgänger
turned me inside out, pulling my anus
through my mouth, you said,

"Now that you are stripped of defenses
you have a better chance of changing them."

When I called you up one weekend
to say I was terrified of inanimate objects
like doorknobs and tea kettles, you said,

"Stay with it. Globalized fear indicates
a necessary therapeutic regression."

Finally the antidepressants kicked in
and I felt like myself. When I left
you gave me another card
since therapy was “unfinished”
and I might be back
on your couch or another’s.

I gazed at your office figurines,
crystal leopards and pewter trolls,
porcelain ballerinas and kachina dolls,
and imagined the souls of all your patients
trapped inside them-- those, who like me,
sought relief through words
when only medicines would do.

I could have been the glass giraffe.

(published in Poetry Magazine)

Even so I'm open to therapy. Perhaps it might help, it just never has. The most popular and successful therapy in depression is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, which is a fancy word for cheering someone up with positive thoughts and actions, limiting negative self-talk and the like. But I am cynical about the process; these sorts of things require a kind of blind faith which I lack. I see through the fog of words to the truth: unless one believes in a good God as the basis for loving oneself and others, on what can you base positive thoughts? Because it works, I suppose is the practical answer, though not to date on this patient.

One temptation in depression is thus a mad rush to change things. But I can't think of a single major thing in my life I'd want to change (except for the universal complaint that a little more money would be nice). I do want to be busier. I'm presently training to be a hospice volunteer. Anything that gets me out of the house is welcome.

In my first great depression as an adult, during my last year at UCLA, I worked three jobs and took a full course load just to fill every available waking hour, but it didn't help a bit. Still it is better to be in motion than becalmed. And becalmed is what I feel right now. I don't have enough to do. My back limits how much I can do physically, which isn't much beside walking. It limits how long I can sit at this computer. As I said at the outset, chronic pain is akin to depression. The signal that warns us of injury won't shut down long after the injury is "stable." Pain only concentrates the mind on pain, it doesn't concentrate its powers because of it. As I write I must suppress the signal from my lumbar spine, a deep ache, a gnawing cold, a steady burning.

Although I have been technically disabled since 1996 (I can hardly believe it) I have never psychologically accepted my condition. If I attempt gardening for an hour I am quickly reminded of the severity of my chronic pain and don't recover from the new insult for several days. I make a devil's bargain with pain; the pleasure of an hour's weeding translates into several days of increased suffering. Ah, but I have flowers! Experiences like this ought to convince me but somehow my self concept won't yield to the idea of disability. I always thought my condition would be temporary; I never dreamed I would have gone without money-earning work all this time. It makes me feel guilty for how little I've accomplished: over 500 publications and three books (one edited). You may say that's something and it is, but if a dedicated writer had had this time to write he would have written more, perhaps garnered commercial success and gotten off disability. As my main metier is poetry, it is unrealistic to expect that could ever happen. But I suck at fiction, with the exception of a few short stories. Sure, as a poet I've had minor successes, but I haven't been able to crack the glass ceiling of the best journals. In my present rejection folder I have ten rejections from Poetry. Yes, I've sent out another submission to them.

What am I saying? I wish there were something in my life I could change to escape depression. My experience has taught me that all I can do is wait for the drugs to work, or change the drugs until they do. It's a helpless position. Every organism wants to believe it can save itself somehow but I can't save myself from this disorder.

So I blog. And I'm endeavoring to write a poem a day during poetry month (April). I'll post today's below.

3 Kilorats,


Journeyman II

I cannot speak for you any longer
you have worn me out
to say my gullet is straw
would understate the matter
your brains are shielded
I cannot continue to rent your ears for nothing

here is a law I know
one ought not to expect too much
one ought not to invest in impossibilities
like speaking for the human heart
there are many possibilities
witness the runnels carved in desert rock from scarce rains

I wanted to tell you
I wanted to speak with you
but no one listened
my words were superspeciated
to extinction. I sought too hard
to make it all comprehensible, to sugar the pill

nothing to wash it down
take for your audience no one
perfect your art for God
you do not get your name in lights
by sheer force of talent
like some porn star with a big dick

unless you’re also lucky
luck has the power to deliver you
unto the scribes and judges
or celebrate your inevitable talent
your screaming genius
you this week’s anointed flavor, featured fabler

O how I wanted to speak
with you and to you!
but I was not anointed
consigned to honky-tonk
the sawdust floors, vinyl tablecloths
beer bottles heaved at screens, glass sprays the open mic

I pray someone speaks for you,
some poet without jealousy
or concern for himself who manages
to cobble together a voice
from all the technotwitter gabbing garbled
into the ether like drugged birds--how he must simplify!

how he must remind us
that our souls are in God’s keeping
and our lives should demonstrate
muster and meaning, bluster and shock
and a thirst for righteousness
this sort of talk is what turns editors off

fuck ‘em

Hope and New Sonnets

Yesterday, after a three hour hospice training session full of death and dying, I had a good talk with a friend, a spiritual man. He understood my bipolar depression but could not relate to the degree of it. In telling our stories to each other and hearing of his spiritual path, I got a tiny dose of hope.

When I went through my two-year depression, previously recorded on this blog, I told my psychiatrist that the one thing he did during that time was not lose hope for me. It was so important that he held hope for me. We must hope for the hopeless as they cannot do it themselves.

There's a group that meets at my friend's house on Thursdays working through "The Course in Miracles," which, as I understand it, is mainly based on Pauline positional theology--that is, we are already made whole and resurrected with Christ, whatever our earthly experience. I have never had the faith to make such theology work, but I hope that the example of others will help guide me.

I quickly dashed off three sonnets this morning, only one of which may be construed as dark, below. I also wrote a villanelle of some merit that I'll save for another post. It's about scattering he ashes of my late daughter, Rachel.

For Ron

Is poetry for the ego of the poet?
Could there be another kind of verse
Meant for the reader? If so would we know it
Or call it “Hallmark sentiment” or worse?
Suppose I said to you, “I am in love
But helpless as I watch my loved one suffer.”
Do I need fancy metaphor to prove
My feelings as through a stylistic buffer?
Here is my heart, it’s just like yours, you know.
More often we are separate in mind.
Inside the ring of hearts our spirits grow
Through one true gardener into one true vine.
Love is the answer, so the Beatles sang,
Still we kowtow to the mind's harangue.

For Ron II

There is a little cottage by a meadow
Cedar-shingled, straw-thatched and tiny.
At night white light beams from its windows
And trees bathe in its glory. All the shiny
Leaves of maple, beech, birch and oak
Burn with a life greater than any sum.
The cottage door is open and the joke
Is that mankind is too afraid to come.
Sure, at the entry you must strip yourself
Of any notion of sufficiency.
Whatever you held onto as your wealth
Will only register deficiency.
God wills the world in, the world resists,
Still, beats the open door with bloody fists.


Touch me dying, feel the tenuous pulse
Of this remaindered life ebb into silence.
Death is much too feeble to repulse
Your love, and we’ve surrendered all our violence.
Sit beside me as my arm turns cold.
Mark the white around the pupils’ brown,
“Arcus senilis,” something that the old
Develop when tissues are breaking down.
Now I am gone. Do you feel lighter?
Do you feel anything at all?
I went so easily, I’m no prize fighter.
The bell rang, I stood up and took the fall.
Where am I now? A presence fills the room,
Invisible, a spirit I presume.

Thanks for reading.

3 Kilorats,


New Dark Sonnet XIII


And why should I wake up, and what for?
My dreams are more pleasant than my days.
Darkness eats my days, though I abhor
The process, I am helpless to erase
The code that casts my future in a bag
Meant, perhaps, to drown some hapless cat.
My life’s such an excruciating drag
All my expression lines have fallen flat.
It’s worse than Botox to be squeezed like this,
To have your personality becalmed.
If there’s a devil, did his Judas kiss
Pickle my ego until I was embalmed?
The dead are walking; I am of the dead
Although this whole scenario’s in my head.

I continue to wrestle with the demon of depression, as the poem above demonstrates, but I have some reason for hope today after talking with a spiritually-minded friend. He sees the good in everything, I see separation everywhere. And separation is the fall, some say the fall from union to isolated ego. I don't know. I do know it is not the public "persona" that is saved but the true man of the heart, the woman of the hearth, the wanted-to-be self. Perhaps the road to hell is not paved with good intentions; perhaps our good intentions are what deliver us to heaven.

3 Kilorats,


Unexpected Light

Unexpected Light
Selected Poems and Love Poems 1998-2008 ON SALE NOW!