Wednesday, July 04, 2012

of sackcloth and ashes and poisonous apples

mandrake love apples, Bonnefont cloister, Cloister Museum, NYC © Amber Schley Iragui
T R A U M A 
( S T O R M )

by Gregory Orr

Hunkered down, nerve-numb,
in the carnal hut,
the cave of self,
while outside a storm
           Huddled there,
rubbing together
white sticks of
your own ribs,
praying for sparks
in that dark
where tinder is heart,
where tender is not.

from The Caged Owl: New and Selected Poems
(Copper Canyon Press, 2002)

•   •   •   •   •   •   •   •   •   •   •   •   •   •   •   •   •   •   •   •   •   •   •   •   •   •   •   •   •   •   •   •   •   •   •   •   •   •   •   •   •   •   •   •   •   •   •   •   •   •   •   •   •   •   • 

I don't particularly like the title of this poem. Maybe because Julia once told me I used the word traumatized too often. And, rightly so: I'm a bit prone to blowing the problems and obstacles in my life entirely out of proportion. However, I've learned that not tending to trauma (whether or not the word is entirely deserved) is perhaps the worse error. 

I know the feeling all too well—a coldness moving through me like anesthesia, a glass wall coming down around me. I see but not perceive, hear but not listen. I'm hunkered there, "praying for sparks / in that dark / where tinder is heart." As dramatic as it all may sound, it's as familiar to me as the carpet on the bathroom floor, that is, not very dramatic at all. And I can function pretty well from inside my carnal hut: make beds, cook meals, change diapers, even get pedicures. But perhaps unlike other trauma-prone individuals, I'm perfectly aware I'm there. I suck at denial. I just hang out in my trauma cave, lamenting it Old-Testament-style (this might be something I learned from my dear Father, I'm sure he would have broke out some sackcloth and ashes if given half the chance).

Which brings me to today, the Fourth of July, which is a holiday. And not a particularly trauma-inducing one, either. It just happens that this morning at breakfast Charles told a story wanting to entertain me, but instead it reminded me of a time early in our marriage when I was (rightly) traumatized by something that happened to us. And because I was pregnant, and had no idea at the time how to handle the situation, I shut it down. Swallowed it. Buried it for later. Later being now, I guess. 

Now I can handle it. I can talk about it without my heart rate increasing and my arms shaking. But I realized I'm still pretty mad about it. We walked over to the Cloisters and I went to the Bonnefont Cloister, which is pretty much my favorite place on earth. I walked around the beds, inspecting the liquorice and hops, lavender and thistles. I took a shot of the rotting love apples left behind the Spring Mandrake plant. And then I went home and cried. Which is all very good, and maybe too much to write about in such a public forum. But oh well, I'm not so good at hiding things anyway.

{ p o e t r y   w e d n e s d a y }

1 comment:

Julia said...

I can only imagine you're feeling better after getting it out of your system, whatever it was. I find it fascinating that our bodies and psyches have this protective strategy for getting us through things that we do not have the capacity to handle at the time, but store it up for later when we are stronger or in a safe place. I love that you have the Cloisters a stone's throw away from your apartment. I can't think of a more suitable "safe place" for this kind of catharsis.