Three New Poems: “Spark” “In the Shade” and “Sleep Lab”

Making the best of the situation. It’s all we ever can do, but the confines of our lives have never been more visceral. A semi-permanent feeling of those limits has led to many of us feeling bitter, feeling irritable, feeling malaise, or feeling nothing at all. Many of us exist in a kind of zombie-mode, sleep-walking through our days, wondering when we’ll be able to do so many of the things we used to do, or when our jobs/entertainment/culture will come back or when we’ll know what is safe. Not knowing what’s next leads to mild anxiety and low-level stress.

At The Atlantic, James Hamblin’s article “Is Everyone Depressed” paints a complicated picture of our current mental health.

Feelings of numbness, powerlessness, and hopelessness are now so common as to verge on being considered normal. But what we are seeing is far less likely an actual increase in a disease of the brain than a series of circumstances that is drawing out a similar neuro-chemical mix. This poses a diagnostic conundrum. Millions of people exhibiting signs of depression now have to discern ennui from temporary grieving from a medical condition. Those at home Googling symptoms need to know when to seek medical care, and when it’s safe to simply try baking more bread.

With all of this in mind, I’ve continued trying to carve out moments of creativity in my sleep-deprived days of toddler parenting (middle of the night escapes into our bed) and zoom teaching (ESL night class on weeknights). I don’t want to become a fully-paralyzed zombie Dad. I’d prefer to remain a semi-zombie who occasionally recognizes and embraces the power of music, nature and words.

We have to keep sending creativity, hope and love out into the abyss.

***

“Spark”

What will ignite
This bundle of particles
This numbed demos
These tired souls
Stuck in collective paralysis

What will help us
Rise to an unknown elevation
Feel momentum shift
Distance stances collapsed
Society mediated
Social lives contaminated
Meditate into the self

What will bring us
New tomorrow
Waiting for science
Can you help us
Open this
Lid screwed tight
Open-close
Permanently gone
A heatwave
Losing old growth
Forest for the trees
Can you see?

What do we do
To regenerate
Can you still imagine
An ethical world
A soulful peace
A life of wonder
Believe in more
Than today
Or have you
Become paralyzed
With this fear?

***

“In the Shade”

On this, a Sunday
A woman sitting and reading
With two calm and old
Chihuahuas at the edge
Of the grass
On the concrete benches
In the shade of the ball field
With the tallest trees
What age is the loneliest?
I wondered as I drove off
Her 80 year-old mom
And her 18 year-old daughter
And her husband
Who doesn’t want company
And her frustrations
With herself at fifty-one
And her work, now paused
Thirty years of hair styling
All of those heads
In her knowing hands
And all of the small talk
In a day
And all of the isolation
She’s built up
Over the years
And the tears
That she can’t
Keep in anymore
And the apologizing
For the tears
Her husband
Fighting with daughter
Who got first part-time job
Her fear of mom aging

There I sit
Fifteen feet away
Listening and being human
Looking out
Verdant landscape
Thinking of soon-to-be
75 year-old mother
One month from
3 year-old daughter
And wife and our house
How time
Ignores everything
And everyone
How grass
Keeps growing
For a month or two
After the rain stops
Depending on the trees
And the shade they provide.

***

“Sleep Lab”

There is no perfect
mental health
There is only
Managing
Or not
Coping
Or not
Permanently shell-shocked
Or not
Spiraling into the abyss
Or not

I’m mentally healthy
Or mostly so
Or at least
Not actively depressed
Or swallowed by the wallow
Or cratered by an inner-hater

There is a positive
At times domineering
Sense of self
Which came with
The territory and obligation
Of fatherhood and
Emerged with sleep-deprived
Isolation and the
Re-centering days of holding
The fiercely sweet bundle
Whose tiny grip was shocking
From the start.

We’ve arrived
On the doorstep
Of age 3
And have unlocked
Her room, embracing
The night chaos
Of a toddler climbing
Into your dreams.
Adjusting in the wee hours
No regard for your neck
Or head or the size
Of the bed.

In the last week
I was sleeping
For two or three hours
At a time.
Began frightening myself
Into delusion,
Dreaming she’s opened
The door again
To take over our bed
For two or three hours
Of dark mystery
Until passing out
Just before sunrise.

Over four or five
Of these night crawls
The walls were breathing well
Certainly not closing in
Concentration not clear
About twenty seconds.

All these early mornings
With our little one
Nudging me in the
Kidneys or the head
Pulling the entire
Queen-size blanket
Off one side of the bed

Then getting “stuck”
Underneath it or losing her
Precious Pandy under the mountain
Of pillows and blankets.

I wish I knew
When I signed up
To be a test case
In this home sleep lab.

Maybe it was when
I was eight
Lying in my own bed
Listening to my inhalations
Convincing myself
My own air supply
Was running out
Not unlike these poor souls
Hooked up to machines
Keeping their lungs
From collapsing
A young insomniac
Anxious during the day
And afraid at night.

Panic is passed down
In our genes
And in our patterns
Of parenting
Strange to think
It may have been
The thing that saved
An ancestor
From death
That night of sleeping
With one eye open.

***

Fitting these moods:

Olafar Arnalds’ “Nyepi & Doria”

Writing. Poetry. Personal Essays. On the NBA, MLB, media, journalism, culture, teaching and humor.

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