WHEN YOU CUT YOURSELF
and the trickle ran down your arm onto the white porcelain, did you think of the cardinals
in the birch trees? We’d waited for that hike for weeks— finally the sun reigned over
Ann Arbor and the temperature was kind for a Michigan January. You spotted the birds
first, their scarlet gowns against the ivory bark, stars of the red carpet in reverse. Months
before that— a snaking line of pill-pushers, traders in talk therapy, purveyors of
programs, of cures in pretty packages. Each unwrapped, tried on, discarded. Your blood
ran black, you said to no one. Then, when least expected, you’d rally, the briefest puppet
show of laughing son, joking brother. What light snuck in? I’ll buy a sky’s worth. I’ll
trade my soul. In the months when your room was your world, the wall your window, I
learned to sit. We learned to wait. In the spring we planted Time— now we feast on its
harvest. The geese are noisy and the air smells smoky, of burning leaves. When we walk,
we see our breath.
On the way to the hospital,
I plant slanted stitches
no bigger than sesame seeds
Neat, tidy, tight
rows upon rows upon rows
blanket the once blank canvas
On the way to University
to clean out his dorm room
I stitch and breathe
careful not to stop
On the way to the rehab facility
my needle points down
then through I pull
up then through I pull
until each of a thousand holes
is no more
Sonnenizio on a Line from Douglas Dunn
To climb these stairs again bearing a tray,
you hesitate— kitten or bear tonight?
Cheshire smile or bared teeth?
Behind the door, the barest sound of breath.
You enter silent as a prayer, take your bearings.
In sleep he’s easier to bear, but even the sight
of his still, bare hands above the bed sheet
conjures up unbearable truths.
The bareness of his chemo’ed head
somehow makes him small, barely there,
and this is good. Still, you wonder—can you bear
one more insult, one more barb in bare flesh,
one more bare-fisted brawl of the heart?
You leave the tray, bear the scars, play the part.
FLASHBACK ON A FRIDAY AFTERNOON
Four friends gather
on the new screened porch—
a regular day, tossing the talk,
a shuttlecock batted back
and forth, its to and fro
familiar as breath but somehow
uneasy. After so long apart,
we’re just rusty, we say
and we carry on carrying on.
No one sees the canary swoon.
Screen porch forgot to screen
for unseen triggers—
floaters in a sunbeam, the ping
of Pavlov’s bell.
A normal day, any normal day
any day, this day.
The sky might morph
from blue to blood,
Much of my work as a poet has been to explore my direct and indirect experience with trauma and mental illness. For me, writing has been an invaluable tool in making sense of the incomprehensible and in learning the skills of endurance.
On “When You Cut Yourself”
This poem was written the year after a family member’s suicide attempt. Often that year, I sought solace in nature, and on one wintery walk, I was awestruck by the sight of scarlet cardinals in a white birch tree. I love to work with juxtaposition in my poetry, and I frequently use the beauty and peacefulness of nature as a vehicle to explore difficult situations. Somehow, writing about the natural world creates a safe space for me to work through trauma, fear and loss. I think this technique helps the reader, too. There is such comfort to know that even after terrible things happen, there will be spectacular sunsets, soft breezes that cool the skin, and cardinals singing in birch groves. Nature endures. We can, too.
On “The Point”
I have spent a lifetime stocking my “toolkit” with strategies to deal with debilitating anxiety. This poem examines one such tool, needlepoint. (Far fewer side effects than
pharmaceuticals!) When life around you is chaos, there is great relief to be found in having control over something—in this case, thousands upon thousands of tiny, uniform stitches. In this poem, which like all poems should be read aloud, I tried to simulate in the third stanza the rhythmic, repetitive motions of needlepointing via word choice, syntax and line breaks. I wanted readers to feel as much as read about the therapeutic effects of needlepoint.
In this poem I dabble in the sonnenizio form, invented by Kim Addonizio. You begin with a first line borrowed from someone else’s sonnet, then choose one word from that line to reappear (in my case, the root word bear) in each subsequent line of your own sonnet. Homonyms and alternative forms are permissible (bare, bearing, bared). You finish off the sonnet with a rhymed couplet. Tricky, but fun! https://poetsonline.blogspot.com/2009/01/playing-with-form-sonnet-addonizio.html
On “Flashback on a Friday Afternoon”
If something frightens me, you can bet I’ll write a poem about it. Hence, we have this poem, which followed one of my own flashbacks. I needed to write about the event to deal with it— to regain control after having lost it on that Friday afternoon. In this poem, I paid particular attention to sound, using almost playful language at times. In this way, I worked another bit of juxtaposition in, “playing” the light-hearted sounds against the increasingly serious subject matter. Flashbacks do happen to some of us, and they can be truly nightmarish, but in the end, I am master over mine through my poetry.
Ann Weil earned her doctorate from the University of Michigan and now lives and writes in Ann Arbor and Key West. Her work appears or is forthcoming in Third Wednesday, Eastern Iowa Review, Shooter Literary Magazine, The Healing Muse, Halfway Down the Stairs, and San Pedro River Review. Visit http://www.annweilpoetry.com for more information.