How Not to Kill yourSelf: gambit no.13
6 November 2k18
“Suicides have a special language.
Like carpenters they want to know which tools.
They never ask why build.” ~Anne Sexton
“You want it Darker. We kill the flame.” ~Leonard Cohen
Greetings, Dear Reader. There is nothing easy about this post. The last one was simple.
Rage always is; ’tis Empathy that requires work. Venting is easy. Living is difficult.
And while I freely admit to some cathartic venting in my last post, nevertheless—it needed to be said: Screamed.
However, I have recently learned that a Human I care deeply for made that Choice.
There is such profound suffering in this Life that some flounder beneath towering waves.
Please remember, swimming so far from land, that You. Are. Never. Alone.
L’amour soit avec toi, mon ami.
I have been asked, enough times to lace cracks in my heart,
“How do you survive!? How? With all of this…how is it that you survive?”
I could never answer.
I never knew how. Still don’t…not really.
It is just what I do.
I think that I am not special, in this regard.
There is no adversity I have endured
that you too cannot survive.
You must remind your battered Self
—It is not over…I am not Done.
Heels to haunch
in the mental whiteout
of a breakdown blizzard.
I cradle a flare gun
unsure whether to fire.
For every blind S.O.S.
carries a heavy measure
It is said that freezing to death
is like going to sleep.
It is not.
There is more icicle
in the reality of such a slumber.
Passing this skin-searing
metal chunk of grip
from cold hand to clumsy hand:
despite any resolve to soar away
there is no freedom
in a transition to fleshberg.
—rather they will find a broken bird
lying on pitiless tundra.
are ruthless when wrathful;
cruelty matched only
by sheer indifference.
A whore-frost gargoyle, Winter
skulking on your back.
Ah, the treacherous
all that you
know of you.
Wishing to die, you wane;
a winter scarecrow of fallow field,
shriveled remnant of the Self—
facing emptiness, you perilously
resort to stuffing in fistfuls
of moldering bracken, sour grass
wrenched by the roots
out of abject fear.
Being a Scarecrow,
the Ravens will help you
what you are made of.
Yanked apart at the seams
by rending talons, by bitter beak
to find what is good in you.
Raising the flare gun’s weight
up to an opaque vault of sky,
vexed by snow-borne wind into a fury:
fingers ice-gnawed into claws
I fumble in the maelstrom
—slip but for a moment
and pull the trigger.
Just between us
||who tread that bone-strewn path
as only the Suicidal can.
Among the ten thousand
useless ways to die
there is always a choice
to die well.
you do not see it coming.
29 July 2k10
On this night, 120 years ago, Vincent van Gogh passed from this life. He died in the presence of those he loved and who loved him. A rare blessing in his last days of torment and despair. Much has been written of his suicide, the painful details have been etched into history: That on 27 July, he finally lost the battle with the acute Depression he had been fighting for so many years; that he walked behind a haystack in a field where he had been painting and shot himself in the chest.
The bullet missed his heart and lodged in his chest, making it possible for him to walk back to the Ravoux Inn, where he had been staying. His brother Theo arrived the next day and stayed by his bedside, where Vincent quietly smoked his pipe, until the end.
Clinging to life for two days before succumbing to the injury, Vincent van Gogh died in Theo’s arms at 1:30 am on 29 July 1890.
Such was the bond between the brothers that Theo’s grief likely contributed to his death six months later, after protracted illness, on 25 January 1891. Today, at Johanna van Gogh-Bonger’s behest, their graves lie together beneath an ivy shroud, planted from the garden of Vincent’s physician and friend, Dr. Gachet.
Described as Grief-stricken by their mutual friend, Emile Bernard, Theo van Gogh would later write to their sister Elisabeth, “He himself desired to die. While I was sitting by him, trying to persuade him that we would heal him, and that we hoped he would be saved from further attacks, he answered, ‘La tristesse durera toujours~The sadness will always remain~’ I felt I understood what he wished to say.”
~The Sadness Will Always Remain~
Reportedly, these were among Vincent’s last words. Yet the melancholy, the archetypal mad artist, would not be the only legacy Vincent van Gogh left to the world.
Far from falling into obscurity, as he believed he would, instead the world has come to cherish the genius, the vision of van Gogh.
A vision unique; one that changed the very way we perceive art, and the artist. I dedicate this poem not only to Vincent, but to Theo, who never gave up on his brother, who in many ways made Vincent’s oeuvre possible. With this poem, written with the utmost respect and empathy, I seek to drag the spectre of Mental Illness out into the light, that others who suffer may know that you are not alone.
On this 120th. memorial of the death of Vincent van Gogh, let us celebrate his life and the illumination he provided the world, which is his true legacy.
Fou Roux ~the redheaded madman
~by D.C. McKenzie
Thirty good and wholesome
townspeople of Arles, neighbors all,
have had your yellow house closed by the cops
And you, Vincent, saw your worst fear come to pass
as, at last, you were hauled off to the Asylum.
There it took three days of solitary
confinement to regain your Self.
Gauguin is gone. It is true, Paul has left:
but not before it was too late
to stop the juggernaut of sorrow and arrest.
(and by the way, Paul Gauguin
you windbag, you…cross-eyed thief,
it had been raining for days on end—
how did you hear his footstep
so soft behind you in the downpour?
In the darkness, without lamp or light—
how did you see the blade with which
you claim Vincent menaced you so?)
You are scared now, Vincent…aren’t you?
All about you are the insane and their keepers.
Have you come to believe the vicious gossip?
Has it truly come to that at the last? Madness?
Or is it a worse ailment? Failure.
Not as an artist before the public,
that fickle beast, you know too well
it was never really about acceptance
rather, a failure to render your vision into reality.
That, I fear, is what broke you—so finally, so completely.
Now, you are surrounded by chaos and heartbreak.
Bedlam brimming in broken minds: without order, without colour,
as if you have been cast upon a fey, monochrome wind.
Alas too, the sky above you has become foreboding,
pressing upon you as much so as the pressure of poverty
skulking in the shade. For to be a burden upon Theo
and his family is a thing you loathe most of all.
There is so much that I will never understand.
Yet, this I truly know, Vincent:
Hunger is nothing next to Emptiness
(don’t believe? try it.)
—a hideous non-thing that steals away our very senses.
Of emptiness there can be no solace.
It is a thing every suicide instinctively knows.
In the end, it is not loneliness, but emptiness
which we seek to escape; and by which we are undone.
The sky, hitherto your collaborator,
your vista upon a far too vivid Now, is shuttered.
It has become a coffer of looming cobalt clouds.
In this Now, even absinthe and spirits cannot ease the pain
or bring surcease to the seizure and the sorrow.
Smiling a scarecrow smile to even behold it—
the sunlight which was once your gilded muse,
once your benevolent ally in a hostile world,
huddles forlorn in your cell
caught in a corner of the ceiling
where your brush cannot reach.
A sun that is present only amidst fields
populated by an unkindness of crows.
Furrowed ground lies beneath hulking slate-blue skies
and wheat sheaves, bound into pyre-like haystacks,
which you have roughly carved in cadmium and ochre
on a canvas barely able to withstand your demands.
Although they make much of the crows,
it is the blackviolet vault of the sky
which brings a stab of empathy
for the agony and despair of your last days.
Thunderclouds roiling greyblue
broken by oblique rays of a mantled, yet majestic, sun.
Oh, they make much of the crows, but…no, Vincent,
it is the turmoil of the skies that signaled your peril.
Wheat Field with Crows~Auvers 1890
River and Rock
12 October 2k9
A poem for someone I greatly admire. Someone who, though disabled of the body, has a mind all the stronger for her many painful trials. Someone who, instead of retreating into isolation and depression, summons the strength of a bright, compassionate spirit, and formidable will, to help others every day. Many are often in a time of despair. Vulnerable to the demons at our backs, you show us that we are not the sum of our failings, or our illness.
And rather than trying to heal our wounds, she somehow finds a way to help us find healing within.
Sensei, you are to us as the patient river is to eternal rock:
slowly helping to reshape us over time, gently coaxing out the beatific within.
With gratitude, I dedicate this poem to you.
the bent wing
A convocation of crows has gathered,
raucous beneath an Elder riverside Oak.
Rough northern sister of the steaming Delta,
the mighty Mississippi River churns in Her cradle.
First road of the New World, She bears our burdens still,
Taking what the Iron Range sends Her.
—In our hearts, the word for patience is River.
We deny Her:
We measure the rain and pray against Her rising.
We build a stone girdle for Her, with deep steel locks,
and the bargemen sing that Her curves sway for us alone.
When we sleep we think the River is not changing.
—In our hearts, when we read the future,
the runestone always says River.
We dredge Her like a clumsy lover
and believe we have revealed all of Her secrets.
When the Lady of the Lake
fled the ruins of the Old World,
fled the smoke and plague of
the last siege of Avalon
She rose from the water
and looked to the West.
When the Lady of the Lake
fled the ruins of the Old World,
She came to the Mississippi River.
Yet we deny the River, with noxious veils of toxin,
with shackles of reeking effluence.
We deny Her suffrage and this can come to no good.
I dance among the cryptic crows, wooing my muse
from Her moonshrouded bed. I caw and croon into Her dreams
of the warm summer sun as She shuffles chunks of dirty ice.
Restive, in the corsets we fashion of sandbags and cinderblock stays,
She murmurs that the spring floods are coming.
—In our hearts, Love is a River and the embrace of
some bridges remind me of Consequences.
A bent wing glides above me
whispering black the River Song.
Scattered leaves at my feet,
brown from winter’s grasp,
have become frozen in the ice.
A piece of my heart there resides,
waiting for the River to rise.
Poem from the Asylum~no.two
14 May 2k9
4 West pt ii. ~Invisible
Just a few sentences from crazy
that’s all any of us are
Working in a modern madhouse
she would know
about creeping crazy
about how the bogeyman gets inside,
tied down at night
become shadows unknown
hidden away from our sight
where they are vulnerable to any bully
to take a piece of them
You could be insane and not know
so many of us are
Crazy is as crazy does as crazy is
she shudders slackly,
they say it’s not contagious
but hang around long enough
to get some good
some mental manacles tight,
to ease your plight
and then you’ll see the truth
there is no safe place
to scream, or to whisper even
in the darkness,
a few unguarded words
Poem from the Asylum~no.one
12 May 2k9
4 West pt. i
We are the Hallway People—
Shuffling aimless…discordant, dissonant
Flinching at the slightest touch of any stranger.
In vain, we try to decide whether
Our rooms are a sanctuary or cell:
A less than empty space
Too quiet not to be lonely
Inhabited by souls too burdened
Not to be somewhat mad…
We are the Hallway People—
Saying little, yet broadcasting much
Into air thick already with fear
And a smog of illness, but tinged with twilight hope.
When confronted, our gaze retreats,
Or lashes in sudden, defensive vehemence.
We are manimals, trapped in a fetid braincage,
Haunted by the knowledge that we squirm
In the cage by the working of our own minds:
Castles in the darkness we build
Of despair, a fortress high
Of joyous mania, spires twinkling bright…
We are the Hallway People—
Who sing a lament of the fractured mind.
Arias to love lost, and relentless, tock-ticking time;
The broken life…once so safe, so secure,
Become now a webwork of cracks and missing pieces:
A wisp of spider silk tangled in a branch
A child’s toy tossed aside…
We are the Hallway People—
Who have grown into riddles of ourselves.
We are puzzles without defined borders;
With no more than sharp edges to cling to,
Nor similitudes to find solace within.
Fou Roux—the pulse of life
17 March 2k9
“Mad Poet” you say? Fair enough, I’ve been called worse: leftist rabble, uncompromising eco-nut (as former AK Gov. Tony Knowles once quipped. I replied that it was better than being a Corporate Pimp…), arrogant radical, insane, disabled, cantankerous agoraphobe, chronic misanthrope, and of course, a fool. Before long, if you read long enough and stay with me Dear Reader, doubtless you’ll end up calling me worse as well. It’s sort of an occupational hazard. To be a poet, and still be able to face yourself in the mirror, one has to step on some toes now and then, rattle some cages, climb way out on a limb and start sawing behind you.
17, March 1901: an artist, whose popularity had been growing for some years, was given a grand exhibition in Paris; which could have been the big break for any artist, except this poor soul had already been dead for eleven years. Following this retrospective, and subsequent others in Amsterdam and Cologne, the work of Vincent van Gogh became known to the world. His influence rippled outward and is felt even to this day, more than a century later.
What we know of the man himself is often shrouded in misery and mystery, only lending strength to the legend of a tortured, mad painter; a man whom the people of Arles, France came to call Fou Roux “the redheaded madman”. Despite decades of conjecture by doctors, scholars, and pretty much everyone else, we’re not much closer to the truth of what happened to Vincent now than we were in the days following his suicide. And while it is hotly contested, many do not agree that suicide is necessarily a good indicator for what is loosely referred to as “insanity”.
Who can say if Vincent was truly mad, mentally ill, permanently slipped off of his cracker? And if so, is it really any of our business?
For reliable information regarding the myriad of questions in this debate, I recommend exploring the admirable work of David Brooks at: www.vggallery.com. There you can find a succinct biography, qualified historical analysis, and most importantly, good representations of his art as well. Further, it is the only website sanctioned by the museum itself, so you know they’ve got the straight goods. If you dig around in the visitor submission/poetry section you can find a poem there by yours truly. Guess which one it is and I’ll send you a donut. *limited to 1 (one) per household.
I chose to begin this journal on this date as an homage, as Vincent has inspired me through countless hard times. In the palace of my mind, his work adorns the walls. It forever shows me something new and surprising about myself, about how I perceive the world around me.
His perseverance in the struggle with his own demons; his dedication to his craft, no matter the cost to his own comfort; even his failings, which so many of us share, that would not stop him from creating some of the most challenging and beautiful art in history—these lessons have taught me, often painfully, to grapple with my own work: what does it mean, exactly, to be an artist, or in my case, a poet?
I still haven’t the foggiest clue, and that is the only honest answer I can give.
Other than similitudes, no gathering of words fully answers the question.
Perhaps in your own mind you carry a definition. But tell me, do you feel that it is complete?
Confusion waxes and wanes. Lately I have stopped asking such dangerous questions.
I have been listening instead, straining to hear the quiet voice guiding me deeper through the labyrinth, to the temple where my Muse sings her arias…
Poke an artist and many will tell you we do it simply because we have to.
We seem to feel a duty to our art that transcends mere ego:
revealing the best and the worst in all of us, it is a siren song of creation—
a daybright beacon in the darkness, composed of hidden symbols;
a cerebral conduit to the heart of humanity, without which we would be hollow and bereft.
Yet while connected to it, we feel the pulse of life.
Vincent van Gogh—Self-Portrait, Saint-Remy, September 1889