Tag Archives: depression

Rocky Top

My brain pummels me to sleep
and drills me awake with

“Rocky Top” playing on loop

Reminds me 
of a band (what the hell
was their name?)

that used to play at
the Depot Lounge
on Tuesday nights

over forty years ago
and once again it’s 
time for that virus of

damnable nostalgia 
that ties a regret stone
to each ankle — stones

torn no doubt 
from the summit
of Rocky Top

I shall drown soon enough
in past happenings
(what in hell were the names

of all the hellions
from back then?
Not even sure of my own)

The Depot Lounge 
was where I learned
the extent of my drowning skills

No amount of Rocky Top
could keep me afloat back then
and it’s not helping now

I’m sinking fast listening to
a song of Tennessee 
in Massachusetts

(as is the whole country
as is the whole world 
but I digress –)

What in hell was the name
of the band that would set up
in the front by the bar

on Tuesday nights
under the projection screen
(was it even the Depot Lounge

or a different local bar?
There were so many
I have lost the names for them all)

They’d play Rocky Top
Home sweet home to me
and all us Yankees would sing along

In a downward spiral
I sing Rocky Top
Good Old Rocky Top

Had me a girl once
Half Bear, other half Cat
What was the name of that band

and the name of that girl
or any other from then
or anyone from then

Who was I back then
but another drunk
circling the drain

I wish I was in Rocky Top
Rocky Top home to me
but it wasn’t and in my head

there is no place like home
and horror and all the music
of the past can’t hold me up

I should put a hole in my head
and let this out
What was the name

of that band
I don’t blame them 
for being forgotten

I wish I was in Rocky Top
I could hold on to the edge of this pit
while singing dumbly along

until I could stand no more
 let go and swirl away
Vanish like that band has done

once the song was done


Monkey Toy Man

Put that
existential moan
on lockdown

and admit that your well-being
is a salesman
clapping and hooting

for attention. Monkey
toy causing a ruckus
and not even a real ape —

automaton, cheap
screwed together
simulacrum and 

a bad one at that.
You reached an accord long ago
with it. Let it

holler your praises
and you’d agree
to stay alive for it

because you don’t do it
for yourself. Instead
you made up the clanging beast

who percussively masks
the real you and damned
if it hasn’t worked and now

any time you feel
the need for quiet
you have to contend

with everyone who thinks
you are lying. Big noise
huckster. Are you in there

still? Stifle that real answer.
We know what we want to hear
and you better give it up.


Sitting In The Waiting Room

Overheard:

“Do you think most people
are incapable of understanding 
that sometimes, a suicide
is a final act of reconciling
the physical body with 
an interior life ended years ago?

Do you suppose that they might someday see that 
the act might be organically corrective;
that sometimes the soul passes long before 
the shell of the soul breaks 
and whatever has compelled the body to fight on
eventually surrenders?

Do you think they will ever understand us? 

And if you could know for certain
that they would understand, 
before or after the fact?
Wouldn’t that make it easier?”

I turned to see who was speaking.

Our room was so full,
it could have been everyone.


IF

If. That’s all, really:
if.  It all comes from 
if, comes down to if.

Go sit outside
and look at one last
good sunset.
If you had never
seen one before,
would you feel this same sadness,
would you still ache with its loveliness
and say to yourself,
that’s enough?

There’s your sleeping child.
What if they’d never been born?
If that spot where they sprawl 
on the couch were unfilled,
would you turn so quickly away 
as you do now and go forward
with…with…

You can’t even say
what’s on your mind.
If you could…
would you dare to?
Will you dare to?

Look at the pile of work, the poems
and essays and wrong-directed
manuscripts you long claimed
would be your legacy
if anyone were to find it. Now
that you are afraid they will find it —
if you burned it in the fire pit
out back, if you then drenched 
and stirred the ashes until they were 
dense black mud, if you did all that
would you exist for long afterward
in the minds of the few
who knew your work?

If there were only
a wooden match in the house,

if there were gasoline in the garage,
if only the house was emptier,
if only the night were noisier to hide 
the sound of, the sound of…

In the dark at last, the sunset over,
the child asleep, the firepit full,
you wonder: 

what was the first “if”
that sent you here? What choice
did you make that created 
this moment? 

There isn’t a moment to spare.

Overhead the stars whirl slowly by,
a machine without choice. It is all
as it should be so if you go ahead
and follow through, that will be
the last if, and isn’t that perfect?

Fill your hand with certainty,
and go.


Rehearsals, Practices, And Dry Runs

I have ended my world
countless times in my head,

so often and so completely
that to walk into the sunshine
of a November day 
feels the same as crawling
through the heat of July: 

the former is the aftermath,
the world become a table
swept clean in anger;
the latter is a memory of 
a solo holocaust,
and of how I burned.

In my head I’ve ended my world
so many times in so many ways
that I can tell you how to use
any of fifteen easily acquired items
from kitchen or bath to bring about
your personal apocalypse
without even consulting a list.

It has become so normal,
I barely bother with being alive any more.

So when the world feels like it does today,
when it feels like I needn’t work hard
to end my world –when it feels like
all I have to do is speak out loud
of who I am and what I believe,

or just silently be myself
while someone in anger and fear

puts the gun or knife
or bomb or fire to me
for that alone — 

I see it as the next turn
in the game I’ve played
over and over for most of my life
and I can say that
whatever the way forward,
whether it leaves me dead or alive
I’ve been there before,

and I can work with it.


Things Left Unlearned

How to walk into the light
with no effort.  How to 
stay lit as you fade. They say
glory waits for you 
somewhere. You say you
want a touch of glory now.
You wanted one yesterday.
You longed for one 
the day before yesterday.

How to walk into the light
silently. How to stay lit
as you slip into such a
good warm glow.
They say the strong are always
ready to speak up. You say
you spoke and spoke
your whole life and yet
you were weakened with every word.
You used one word yesterday and
sank to your knees. You used
one word the day before and
it staggered you. 

If only there had been a way
for you to walk screaming
through all your darkness
and come through it into a light
that was warm and not final. 
A light of growth and healing.
A light you could have borne 
on your stooped shoulders. 
A light that kept you steady
and quieted you down to live
in peace. 

How you walk on now
with the light on you burning
so much it hurts.  How you
disappear into it. How you
curse it in counterbalance
to aphorisms and proverbs.
How you go down talking
with people either listening
or not.  How you can
vanish without a care.


Warm Salt Water

Spent this life sipping
warm salt water
in drops, only

warm salt water
and only in drips and
drops,

yet am expected
to taste sweetness
easily and reject

the only taste 
I’ve ever known
at once, with no thought

as to how all those
dribs and drabs of salt
may have burned

my ability to taste
anything else.  You do 
not understand how

oceanic it is in here,
how such trickling
pleasantry and joy

disappear into
that sea with no 
trace; meanwhile

warm salt comes
relentlessly, in bits and
blips, filling, spilling.

Spend a life sipping
those and see
what happens when

another flavor offers itself
to your tongue. See how
it feels to understand that

what you are meant to love
cannot touch you now.
See how you cry then:

it won’t even
feel like a loss as you
sip the drops,

as you shrug off
the suggestion
that there could be 

anything else for you
but the sip and the 
slipping away.


The Lake

After a lifetime
lived under the water
of a deep cold lake called

the art of 
finding new ways
to say old things
and sometimes even
of finding new things
to say

sometimes by
using old ways and
sometimes by
creating new ways

I have risen to
the surface
in daylight
looked
and searched
and shouted

and realized that

up here where
the people
who allegedly 
wanted me to say
things
were alleged to be
dying for my news
of old and new

the shores are empty
as they are all
living perfectly well
elsewhere

I tread water
in panic
certain to return
to my breathless depths
but whether I shall go
by diving 

or sinking

I do not yet know


A note from the poet

I’ve said this before, but I will say it again.

Over the years, I’ve been very open about having bipolar disorder (bipolar II, for you detail-oriented folks). I’ve been treated, had therapy for years, been on meds, spent a little time in-patient, etc.  I’ve had suicidal ideation since I was a kid, and have made a few attempts. I’m open about it, and I do on occasion deal with the subject in my poetry.  It’s a chronic condition that has played a large part in defining the parameters of my life and my world view.

However, taking any poem I write as a sign that I am at that moment in some kind of distress is really, really not conducive to understanding how I work, and is in fact pretty reductive of my work as an artist.  Something you can be sure of is that if I’m writing, I’m NOT suicidal, and I’m likely not at that moment in any self-destructive mood at all.  

I can’t write when I’m ill.  I may write about illness, but it’s ALWAYS in retrospect, or to illuminate something I may have thought about when I was in the middle of an episode.  I try to be upfront about how scary that sometimes is, and I hope that now and then someone in a similar state looks at my work and sees someone who “gets it,” but I do not write as therapy for myself.  I don’t write when I’m that disordered.

If you typically read poems thinking of them as autobiography, as impassioned outbursts of a tortured or ecstatic soul, I’m asking you to suspend that mindset when you read mine.  I’m a professional creative writer who’s been at this for close to 50 years now. I don’t write when inspiration hits or when I need to “let it out.”  

Last point:  I am not a Christian.  I don’t share the source of my personal spiritual belief system with the public; maybe you can discern something of it here and there in the poems, but I don’t make my personal practices and beliefs explicit. 

While I appreciate and accept with genuine humility your blessings and prayers when they are offered — gifts are gifts and always welcome — I am uncomfortable with the occasional bit of specifically Christian proselytizing and Bible-based advice that I sometimes receive, especially when people perceive me to be in some distress.  (I’d be similarly uncomfortable with anything from the big monotheistic religions, to be honest, but I only ever see this done by Christians, for some reason).  Just needed to let you know.

Thanks for listening.

Tony


I’m Your Best Shot At Love, Baby

Originally posted 9/3/2010.

I was tiny at first,
a germ of an idea
wrung from
one malignant synapse
firing wildly.
“There’s the bridge,
there’s the abutment, 
you’ve got the car,
consider the possibilities –”  

Right away you tamped me down
like a piece of garbage barely too large to fit
into the bag the rest of your garbage was in,
but like a paper cup that won’t stay crushed,
I forgave you, reshaped myself, and stuck around.
It’s been fun and games since then.
I wouldn’t have missed it for the end of the world.

You tell yourself I’m just a product of chemical tilt.
I tell you how you could right that in a second.
We tango, we party, we bullshit,
we know each other very well. 
I push your eyes to the knife in the nightstand.
You slip me a drink or a pill.
I settle down for a little while
until the storm or the money or the latest fight with family
gives me an opening to suggest

that a gun
isn’t that hard to get,
you know the right people for that, and if all else fails

there’s always the roof,
there’s always the car and a bridge — I’ve got a list
of them, how you could make the skid look accidental,
which rails look the most rusted and ready to break,
how the long fall to the river below would guarantee
a minimum of lingering pain. 

Nonetheless, you stubbornly stick around and treat me like dirt.
I can’t blame you. I’m a terrible flirt
and I know I drive you crazy — but still,
there’s something in the way
you always come back…c’mon, take me into your ruined confidence
for real tonight.  Let me whisper 
the good things I can do for you —

how I’ll buck you up 
and cuddle you
as we finally do what I want
for a change.

I was born to love you
all those years ago
in the moment I told you it was OK to listen to me,
and you did.  If only for a second,
listen to me again
and then show me how you love me. 

I’ve only ever had
your best interests at heart.  
When I say “it’ll be over
in moments and whoever’s left to clean it up
will get over it eventually,”
I’m not being selfish.
I’m just telling the truth. 

They’ll forget you after a while
in a way I never have,
never could,
never will,

at least not until
you forget me for good
the minute you let me
all the way in.

 


Ghost Center (revised)

Your ghost center
looks like a pineapple:
gray leaves for a crown,
deep scaly skin.

It breathes irregularly,
lives by remote sensing.
Seeks your fear,
sings when it’s closing in.

Its spines pressed against
the inside of your chest
remind you of waiting for
your father’s wrath after school.

Someday you’ll find it, you swear,
and core it.
Eat its purple flesh.
Digest it, get rid of it.

But until then
it shall grow without stopping.
Your ghost center claims to be
your friend, pretends it’s your heart

though it only beats
when you see yourself
in a mirror and realize
you don’t know that man.

You can feel it then,
riffing stop-time
as it seethes
and strangles from within.

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It Seems Like The Meds Are Starting To Work

Deep in the new misery
of learning how the old misery 
worked — as if I’d emerged
from a near drowning
only to find the surface world
on fire.

I say,
“This too shall pass,
as did the old pain.”
My lungs are hot
from past strain
and present blaze — 

no wonder I breathe fire. 
No wonder at my daze, at my
lost and unfound.  I say,

“there must be a future here
somewhere,” but can’t see it
for the smoke.  Ah well —

if it gets too thick
I can once again choose
to drown.


A Great Day

Ever-circling demands of sickness and hanging ruin
keep him sitting in the window looking out
at birds and squirrels and the kids across the street.

When a pigeon falls dead to the sidewalk
from the wire, he blames himself yet again
for every natural disaster, forgetting that for nature,

there is no such thing as a disaster
as it contains every death, mutation,
storm, volcano, and flood; puts the emphasis always

on natural, not disaster; shakes everything 
off as just another great day.  Nature’s
infinitely happy with itself and does not grieve. 

Meanwhile, back in the window, our intrepid hero
of despair is telling the ledge that he’s going
to do it this time, he really is, no stopping him…

standing in the window 
measuring his potential descent
against the light of morning…it’s true:

nothing’s going to stop him. A heavy soul
always sinks unopposed at its appointed time.
Nature will not stop smiling even as he turns away

and goes to his bathroom.  
Whatever happens next,
it’s going to be a great day.


Cosmos Dog

The cosmos is barking
like an untrustworthy dog
this morning.  In the sound I can hear teeth
and sour breath, distant and pervasive
wherever I choose to stand
in the cramped house.  It sounds
like it’s outside both doors
and every window, possibly
even upstairs and in the cellar.

I wish I had some raw meat
to toss ahead of me today
as I go about my business,
but I’m out of food, out of options
in general. I have no children
to carry on for me, either,
if I’m taken today.  That may be
more blessing than regret, of course;
who would wish their aftermath
on their children is no idol of mine,
so I’ll take small comfort in being
all alone as I hear the snarling
approaching.  Whatever happens,

it will be the two of us, the cosmos dog
and I, who will see it together.
Whatever war we end up waging
will be ours alone to wage.

Good morning, life, routine,
cups of coffee, toast, shower,
dress, commute.  You’ll be my weapons
and I’ll pretend the dog can’t kill me
as I arm myself in chores and duties,
hoping the cosmos passes me by
to savage and piss elsewhere today. 


Kid Days

your kid days
of magical thought
don’t go away
easily:

you
cross your fingers
against the bills
close your eyes
when there’s screaming
upstairs
finger your lucky quarter
as the boss sputters

and sometimes
you just lie on the couch all day
pretending you’re sick
hoping a cool damp cloth
will be pressed to your forehead

by some invisible 
but loving hand

that never materializes

turn on your tv, kid
or your stereo, son
maybe the hand you seek
is an old song

or a book you dig out of storage

it probably won’t change a thing
there’s so little magic out there
if you think any will be spared for you
you’re likely to be disappointed

but for the moments
you’re hearing or seeing
those old images of carefree
and happy
you

can pretend
that it all
might yet
work out