Category Archives: Poetry

Poet tells what it’s like to live with depression

Here, poet Dan Roman performs his poem, “Living With Depression.” Thank you, Dan, for sharing what goes on in your head. It’s pretty similar to what goes on in my head.

One more poem for the new year

Song at the Year’s Turning
by R. S. Thomas

Shelley dreamed it. Now the dream decays.
The props crumble; the familiar ways
Are stale with tears trodden underfoot.
The heart’s flower withers at the root.
Bury it then, in history’s sterile dust.
The slow years shall tame your tawny lust.
Love deceived him; what is there to say
The mind brought you by a better way
To this despair? Lost in the world’s wood
You cannot stanch the bright menstrual blood.
The earth sickens; under naked boughs
The frost comes to barb your broken vows.
Is there blessing? Light’s peculiar grace
In cold splendour robes this tortured place
For strange marriage. Voices in the wind
Weave a garland where a mortal sinned.
Winter rots you; who is there to blame?
The new grass shall purge you in its flame.

My favorite New Year’s poem: Mary Oliver’s “Wild Geese”

Happy New Year, everyone.

Today, I’m thinking about one of my favorite poems, Mary Oliver’s “Wild Geese.” Mary’s wise words are meaningful every day. But somehow, this poem resonates with me more at the new year than at any other time. Here, Mary recites her poem. Watch this. It’s short. I think it will be worth your time.

Looking back on this past year, these words mean more to me now than ever before. In the year ahead, may we all find our “place in the family of things.”

In praise of grey days, bare trees, and old English ladies

My therapist shared this video with me today. I’ve always loved Fleetwood Mac. Yet before today, I never saw this or heard this. Immediately, it calmed me down. I love the poem. And the voice of the old English lady who reads it. My therapist said, “Sometimes, you have to look hard to see beauty in things. But it’s there.”

So true.

Thanksgiving 2014: a success!

I just got back from Thanksgiving dinner with my cousins. And I’m happy to report that I had a very good time.

As I’ve said before, I have social anxiety disorder, and it often creeps up even when I’m around people I know and love. I planned ahead of time in the sense that I waited to leave my apartment until after it was time to take my anxiety meds. It made me a little late for dinner. But honestly, I didn’t care. I wanted to make sure my meds kicked in and gave me a little “cushion.”

Well, everyone was warm and welcoming. Dinner was delicious, and the table conversation steered mercifully clear of anything that could be remotely controversial. Cousin Alec told colorful stories about his new job on a Texas oil rig. (It seems like, of all his co-workers, he’s the only one who hasn’t spent time in prison.) Another guest who grew up on a 1922310_10152878137069570_424167287687083505_nfarm told us of what it was like to grow up castrating male cows. (She said it’s necessary because male cows often become “real mean” otherwise. I felt bad for the cows — all the while digging in to my turkey.) The whole time, I felt
“in the moment” and engaged in conversation. When I’m in the moment, I can notice things like the place mat that my Cousin Michelle created especially for this dinner, which even included a funny poem.

My mental state came up only once. When we were alone in the kitchen, Cousin Ira asked how I was feeling. I told him I had good days and bad days. He quickly changed the subject, but a) at least me asked me, and b) at least I was honest with my answer.

As I was about to leave, Michelle reminded me of our next family tradition. Next month, we’re going to see “It’s A Wonderful Life” when the Brattle theater here in Cambridge plays it on the big screen. Michelle said, “I can’t wait to do this again this year with you — and EVERY YEAR.” She ended that sentence with maximum urgency. Without anything else being said, I knew why. Even though they have a hard time talking about it, my family knows what I’ve been through this year. I told Michelle, “Yes, we WILL see “It’s a Wonderful Life” every year.”

With hope and prayers — not to mention a lot of work on my part — we will look forward to Jimmy Stewart running like a maniac through Bedford Falls for many years to come.

Mary Karr’s harrowing poem about a friend lost to suicide

Mary Karr is one of my favorite writers. She is a poet by trade, but it’s her memoirs that made me a fan. She’s had a hard life. But in Cherry, The Liars’ Club and lit, she tells stories of that life with a potent mix of piercing honesty and dark humor. Her words cut to the bone. They take readers to places where they may not want to go, but they can’t help going, since Mary’s words are so powerful.

Her new poem, Face Down, appears in this week’s New Yorker. It’s about a real-life friend who committed suicide. As always with Mary Karr, the words pack an emotional punch. Yet I have mixed feelings about this poem. They come out of reading the poem’s opening lines:

What are you doing on this side of the dark?

You chose that side, and those you left

feel your image across their sleeping lids

as a blinding atomic blast.

It is the words “You chose that side” that jump out at me–and not in a good way. I assume that Mary’s friend had some kind of mental illness–maybe several. And if that is the case, then chances are he did not “choose” suicide, any more than someone who has a heart attack “chooses” to die. Is is MENTAL ILLNESS that kills people; suicide is how that happens. I’ve come to believe that it may be impossible for people who do not have a mental illness to completely understand this. But I wish they could. It’s not just because the whole idea of choice here is a myth; it’s also because a better understanding of what goes on inside a suicidal person’s head might actually bring some comfort to those who have lost friends and loved ones to suicide.

So often, I hear things like “I wish I could have helped more,” or “I wish I could have done more.” That’s understandable, and very human. But I think this belief is tied in with the “suicide is a choice” myth. People think, “If only I did this, so-and-so wouldn’t have chosen the dark side.”

But here’s the hard truth. At least in my case, “the dark side” is much more insidious and complicated. I am here right now only because I’m not very good at suicide. But in my darkest hours, it was as if I had no control at all over what I was doing. All I wanted to do was to not be here anymore. This was NOT something I chose. It was my depression taking me in its grips and shaking me to my core.

But back to the poem: it’s still Mary Karr, so it’s still powerful. It honestly conveys the enormous anger and sense of loss felt by so many who have lost loved ones to suicide. Not to give the poem away, but the “face down” image at the end is heartbreaking. I’ll give Mary Karr this: she writes what she knows, and she writes it damn well.

You can read the poem, or listen to Mary recite it, here. I’d love to hear what you think about it, so please comment below.


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