Sunday, September 11, 2016

Psalm of No Surrender

My destroyer;
Master of disguises. 

Able to breach my defenses
with a single searing word. 

Faster than adrenaline's rush. 
Stronger than a nightmare’s claw. 

Creature of a thousand beloved faces. 
Ventriloquist of every voice I’ve longed to hear. 

Chameleon. Sorcerer. Stalker.
O, you deathless thing.   

You track me down
by the stink of my loss.

You lead me into the eager quicksand,
make me lie beneath the beast’s belly. 

You coax the iron from my blood
into your own shallow veins.  
You bury me in the desert
of steaming asphalt, drown me 
in the sewage of your monstrous language. 
Shall I be your slave, your poet, your captive?
Will you be my god,
shall I have no other? 

Must I worship you
with all my disgrace

and all my hatred
and all my shame? 

This handfasting
works both ways. 

If I am yours,
you are mine.

We go down
to the sea of no stars

with our wrists bound
tight as ticks;

we go down
to the sea of no stars

and you will not see
that silvery surface again

without me at your side:
your relentless, bloodied bride.

Deborah A. Miranda

For many years now, I have been trying to write about fear. Joy Harjo and Raymond Carver's poems about fear both take on the concept with visceral specificity and honesty, and speak clearly about the damage our own fears can do in our lives. Yet crafting something of my own about fear has escaped me. And I mean escaped: the "fear poem" drafts are piled up like dead bodies, while fear went flitting on, uncontained.

I found a very rough draft of this poem in my "freewrites" folder yesterday. It wasn't very good, but it had something intriguing there that pulled me back in. I let myself start playing with it again, around 1 a.m.  Maybe 1 a.m. is the perfect time to write a poem about fear. I was alone in the house except for two dogs who'd given up on me ever going to bed, and snoozed in the bedroom without me. The air was finally cooler, and our neighborhood was, for a Saturday night, quiet. It was just me, and the poem. The poem opened up and Fear walked in.

It's not finished, but it needs to sit for awhile now. "Sit and think about what it's done" is what my wife would say.

This morning, I realize that I've been writing about fear most of my life. What I wanted to do differently was write a poem TO fear, address fear as an entity that has controlled so many of my actions and made me its puppet.

Harjo's compassion at the end of her poem is stunning. She sees her fear as a victim itself, almost a young child whose rampages are the result of its own trauma, and needs comfort rather than anger. Carver lists his fears; the poem is a catalog, a way of trying to organize and control fear that, at the very end, slips the leash and takes off on its own again.

I wanted to capture the horror of being at the mercy of fear, of losing control. But I also wanted a glimpse into the fact that I haven't given up. Yes, there is a terrified small child at the core of this picture; but she's grown up into a woman with the guts to take fear on. At the end, I hope the poem intimates that the struggle is more evenly matched that it first appeared.

Like so much else, this poem is a work in progress.

1 comment:

  1. Love this. And I think fear is one of my big subjects, too--the one most entangled with shame and hardest to write about.


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