Although this poem, under a slightly shortened title, will be in my soon to be released book, WE MAD CLIMB SHAKY LADDERS, I showed the rewritten version to my writers group tonight . It is basically a true story, about the friend whose recitation of a Gerard Manley Hopkins poem instantaneously converted me from a poetry skeptic to a poetry lover…but read on and you will see what happened.
The second poem was sparked by my recent hospital stay but not based on it, rather it is based on the misinformation purveyed by movies such as the ones mentioned in the beginning of the poem, and also in the books from which the movies were made.
YOU WERE A POET ONCE (NOW YOU ARE
LOST IN THE MIDDLE OF NOWHERE…)
You were a poet once. You touched my soul
with the gift of poems, teaching me to read and write–
oh, inevitably to write them, for writing made me whole
and I could never not write. I had no special goal,
only to “pour out a poem” and work it right.
That took me years. I was such a fool —
dreamy cups of poems, quote unquote, only wasted good ink…
But I was speaking of you. You gave me the tools
to teach myself; you should have returned to school.
You found vodka: you could not, after one drink,
stop. And though it seemed deliberate, a choice,
I suppose you couldn’t help it. On conversion day
you recited Hopkins’ “Spring and Fall,” your voice
for once not blurred by Popov. (Still, I didn’t dare rejoice.).
You were so sure, so caught up in what you had to say.
It changed me utterly. Few experiences work such magic.
Why you quit poetry for drink I’ll never understand.
Life made you querulously unhappy, so there’s a logic
in your refusal to live. But I’ll never not think it tragic
how your gift to me soured in your own hands.
First, you have an address, a 9-digit zip code
and two free patient telephones, so you’re not lost
in the middle of nowhere, this is not the movies.
Not Cuckoo’s Nest at any rate, nor the I-Never-
Promised-You-a-Rose-Garden rose garden.
And that Girl, Interrupted? No, it is definitely not
her giant sleepover with hair rollers, gossip
and steaming hot chocolate. For one thing,
hospital tap water isn’t hot enough for cocoa
and unless your roommate, the anorexic
with fruity breath and ironed tee shirts
becomes your best pal, that’s it for the party,
no one else gets in your room. Even in a single,
the checker disturbs you every 15 minutes.
Now, I know that keys play a big role in film:
someone always swipes a set for the night
to go AWOL or wreak havoc. In reality,
“insurance cured,” most want to stay longer
than leave shorter. Going AWOL is more
the impulsive leap through briefly opened doors
than planned absconding at midnight
with a stolen keycard everyone is watching for.
Too bad paranoids still suffer, unable to trust
the good of best intentions. As for having
enough free time for the ward sociopath
to “wrap the catatonics in toilet tissue,”
there are too many groups and too many aides
with a job to do and you are it, so get moving.
Besides, catatonics are not allowed to stay
catatonic, what with medication and better care,
so very quickly slowly they move too.