Having it out With Melancholy

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          If many remedies are prescribed

          for an illness, you may be certain

          that the illness has no cure.

                              A. P. CHEKHOV

                             The Cherry Orchard


 


1  FROM THE NURSERY


When I was born, you waited 

behind a pile of linen in the nursery, 

and when we were alone, you lay down 

on top of me, pressing

the bile of desolation into every pore.


And from that day on 

everything under the sun and moon 

made me sad—even the yellow 

wooden beads that slid and spun 

along a spindle on my crib.


You taught me to exist without gratitude. 

You ruined my manners toward God:

"We're here simply to wait for death; 

the pleasures of earth are overrated."


I only appeared to belong to my mother, 

to live among blocks and cotton undershirts 

with snaps; among red tin lunch boxes

and report cards in ugly brown slipcases. 

I was already yours—the anti-urge, 

the mutilator of souls.



2  BOTTLES


Elavil, Ludiomil, Doxepin, 

Norpramin, Prozac, Lithium, Xanax, 

Wellbutrin, Parnate, Nardil, Zoloft. 

The coated ones smell sweet or have 

no smell; the powdery ones smell 

like the chemistry lab at school 

that made me hold my breath.




3  SUGGESTION FROM A FRIEND


You wouldn't be so depressed

if you really believed in God.




4  OFTEN


Often I go to bed as soon after dinner 

as seems adult

(I mean I try to wait for dark)

in order to push away 

from the massive pain in sleep's 

frail wicker coracle.




5  ONCE THERE WAS LIGHT


Once, in my early thirties, I saw 

that I was a speck of light in the great 

river of light that undulates through time.


I was floating with the whole 

human family. We were all colors—those 

who are living now, those who have died, 

those who are not yet born. For a few


moments I floated, completely calm, 

and I no longer hated having to exist.


Like a crow who smells hot blood 

you came flying to pull me out 

of the glowing stream.

"I'll hold you up. I never let my dear 

ones drown!" After that, I wept for days.




6  IN AND OUT


The dog searches until he finds me 

upstairs, lies down with a clatter 

of elbows, puts his head on my foot.


Sometimes the sound of his breathing 

saves my life—in and out, in 

and out; a pause, a long sigh. . . . 




7  PARDON


A piece of burned meat 

wears my clothes, speaks 

in my voice, dispatches obligations 

haltingly, or not at all.

It is tired of trying 

to be stouthearted, tired 

beyond measure.


We move on to the monoamine 

oxidase inhibitors. Day and night 

I feel as if I had drunk six cups 

of coffee, but the pain stops

abruptly. With the wonder 

and bitterness of someone pardoned 

for a crime she did not commit 

I come back to marriage and friends, 

to pink fringed hollyhocks; come back 

to my desk, books, and chair.




8  CREDO


Pharmaceutical wonders are at work 

but I believe only in this moment 

of well-being. Unholy ghost, 

you are certain to come again.


Coarse, mean, you'll put your feet 

on the coffee table, lean back, 

and turn me into someone who can't 

take the trouble to speak; someone 

who can't sleep, or who does nothing 

but sleep; can't read, or call 

for an appointment for help.


There is nothing I can do 

against your coming. 

When I awake, I am still with thee.




9  WOOD THRUSH


High on Nardil and June light 

I wake at four, 

waiting greedily for the first

note of the wood thrush. Easeful air 

presses through the screen 

with the wild, complex song 

of the bird, and I am overcome


by ordinary contentment. 

What hurt me so terribly 

all my life until this moment? 

How I love the small, swiftly 

beating heart of the bird 

singing in the great maples; 

its bright, unequivocal eye.

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