New poem up at Rattle

I have a new poem up on Rattle. It’s a bit personal, about a time when I went crazy, when I lived in Portland for a summer in my 20s. The poem isn’t totally autobiographical but does capture how I felt, and the confusion and also the comfort of leaving your “real” mind behind and escaping into an alternative space.

Here’s the beginning:

CRAZY, THEY SAID

I started laughing
    in the Kmart fitting room
       and couldn’t
                stop,
   it was too damned funny,
              that shirt and pants,
                 and see those shoes
                        trying to walk away
                                   with that lady’s feet?
They ushered me
               to the back,
                    gave me water and aspirin,
                                    but I could feel
       bras and girdles inside
          my eyes,
                  and when I reached for the
stapler,
              (stand back, everyone stand back)

                                     they hurried off and called the cops.

You can read the rest here.

Most people probably don’t realize that I suffer from depression, that I’ve been hospitalized twice (yeah, I was locked up on psych wards, I’ve been there, done that) and that for years I took anti-depressants. In fact, I was hooked on Valium but didn’t know it, and when my prescription ran out in Portland and I quit taking my rather high daily dose, I went crazy. I became manic. I went a week without sleeping. It got so bad that I literally didn’t know who I was. I ended up in the psych ward, put on lithium, which bloated me and did horrible things to my mind. But I eventually made it through.

What I remember from that time is how the medications messed up my system and how there was nothing to do but wait it out and see if this pill worked, or that one, and during this time I would wander the hallways in my hospital-issued robe (it was ugly, trust me), pacing back and forth, back and forth. One night when I couldn’t sleep, another patient sat down beside me. He was older, a chronic alcoholic picked up on the street and locked up because he had threatened to kill himself. I had nothing in common with him. In fact, I might have passed him on the street while he was panhandling and not even glanced his way.

Yet this man, also in hospital-issued pajamas, also fighting a hell of his own, sat down beside me and started talking. He told me stories. I can’t remember any of them, only that his voice was soothing. At one point, during the worst part of the night, when I feared it would never end, when I was sure I’d never feel like myself again, he took my hand, held it between us, and we sat there like that, two people from different worlds yet still somehow connected.

I finally went off to bed. I didn’t think to thank him. I slept heavy and deep and when I woke the next morning, he was gone. No one would tell me where he went, if he had been discharged or sent somewhere else. I still wonder who he is and where he went. I still wish I would have had taken the time to thank him, to tell him how much that night, and his company, meant to me.

After that, my medications kicked in. My depression and anxiety lifted, and I was released a week later. I packed up my things, took a Trailways bus down to New Mexico to meet up with an old lover, and during that long bus ride one of the bus drivers developed a crush on me, asked me to stay with him, to come home with him. I stood beside him, the hot Utah wind through my hair, and wondered what kind of life I would have if I followed him.

I didn’t, of course, but later, I wrote a poem about him and that moment of indecision and the possibility of my life veering in a different direction. It was a quiet poem, and simple; it was also the first poem I ever had published.

There’s a saying in ultra-running community: Embrace the suck, and I also use it in my writing because, trust me, I’ve had more than my share of suck in my life.

I think we should all embrace the suck, write about the messy areas of our lives, the places where we fell or stumbled, our moments of indecision and doubt, our bad choices and bad behaviors. Because those are the real moments, the honest moments, the places where we have the opportunity to connect with others in a real and authentic way.

And here are some moody Alaska pics to go along with this moody post. It’s been cloudy here most of the summer, and rainy, so we’ve had a lot of moody weather, a lot of moody yet glorious moments.

Hiking up Flattop Peak in the clouds.
Seriously, hiking up the peak and looking for marmots (she found some too).
Portage Lake on a rainy afternoon.
Cool mushroom.
Baby moose along the side of the road.
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7 thoughts on “New poem up at Rattle

    1. Thanks, Kev! I finished your book and loved it. Need to post a review and promise it’s coming shortly (it’s the last breath of summer up here and I’ve been trying to take advantage of every. single. minute.). Bet it’s still beastly hot down there, huh? I’ll send you some cool weather.

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  1. Hi Cinthia, thank you for this poem. I began getting newsletters from Rattle only a day or two ago, so while I’m very new to the magazine (and new to you!) I have a great deal of gratitude, respect, and deep wonder to have come across this poem. I love it from start to finish. It’s beautiful in how it weaves strong word choice and the literal winding format. There’s mastery of the unexpected here. The unimaginable flows fluidly from one thing to the next because of the sharp brevity and stimulating imagery. It feels like anything that’s just informational to give an idea of what’s happening acts as only essential information. This poem has oozes confidence in the delivery, just letting things show as they are and without explanation or justification. Yet the wild things in this poem have reason to be there and fit well. It’s a great demonstration of craft. If writing poetry is like telling a good joke (set up & delivery), then your devices (the set up) and narrative voice (the delivery) excel. Two strong lines are: “but I could feel / bras and girdles inside / my eyes” (13-15) & “and stuck tubes / down / my throat, lights across my teeth” (21-23). I enjoyed the scene with Jesus, giving him a “her” pronoun, and the phrase “Sweet Jesus.” And my absolute favorite line (another strong one) is at the end: “a bruise spreading my hip / like the bite of an angel” (54-55). God, that’s just a wonderful. The effect is: every word on the page feels right, feels accurate. The title also compliments the voice and content of the poem. I’ll enjoy meditating throughout my head what makes this poem so effective and I would love to hear from you how you settled on what key components made this poem the way you wanted it to be (or the way it should be, if it happens that what you wanted the poem to accomplish and what the poem itself needed to accomplish differ). Please keep writing. Thank you for sharing. You clearly have a gift and I hope that empowers you. I’ve also read the excerpt of your book and I absolutely love the first sentence. It just keeps circulating in my head.

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