An Octave above a Scream

by Elizabeth Kirschner

I begin with a sentence: “And the mist has salt in it that burns as it heals, burns as it heals.” This sentence has circled and circled in the aviary of my brain for days on end, will wing its way into a poem. I live on the water, the water lives in me, swamping me, pulling me under into duende energies. From across the bay, the mists bulldoze in, fill my rooms until my hands are cloudy mittens and I breathe in the haze smoldering in my soul. Is it the poisonous smog created by the toxins of my toxic childhood and will the mist, with its burning salts, sear me clean?

Always the search for the irreducible line, that tail feather that hefts the poem into flight. This is the work of the poet and for this poet, I’m haunted by the very words I create—my poems scare me. The words that fly out of my pen are bullets and are terrifyingly violent as was the brilliant cruelty, delivered onto me with Biblical force, first by those who brought me into the world, then subtly, masterfully, by my ex-husband.

Now there’s no one left to abuse me. This morning, most mornings, I can’t get out of bed. I’m beached in sleep, the mattress a raft, my sweaty sheets, a flag of surrender. This after decades of launching out of bed in the pre-dawn hours before the pain came in to scalp me. While the morning moored me in tidal despair, another line, like a vulture, circled me: “Only the clocks watch over me.” These clocks have iron hands, decapitate my great, sorrowing angels, the ones who know the story of who I was before I was born. I need to have that story told to me as though it were a nursery rhyme. Perhaps I was one of God’s little lambs, the one destined for slaughter, needed for sacrifice.

Has abuse made me holy, the desecration, in the end, transformed into consecration, the pen, my tool for resurrection? This even though I have driven a stake into the blind spot in God’s eye, the way my ex-husband did me in while I reeled in a bout of madness?

That madness violated me, gutted me, destroyed me, round after artillery round in the battlefield of my mind, for too many years, countless years, this madness which drove me into the lock-up, the skeletal key thrown away, my keepers upon me like rabid dogs, abruptly, absolutely, came to a dead stop on the day my divorce settled. January 28, 2010 was the court date which ended a twenty year sentence. I didn’t know a sentence could go on for years, like a bad run-on headed for a front end collision. Mine did and the crack-up was disastrous.

While pinned to the bed like a butterfly in the hobbyist’s drawer, what I longed for is simple: I need to be needed. My son, nearly grown, lives with his father in the Arctic house I deserted. He might as well be living on another continent, the one my ex traveled to, getting as close to the North Pole as possible on an ice cutter boat. Furious and fierce wolves roamed there, white wolves, and my ex was one of them, his body, that ice cutter.

No longer needed as a mother, I long to be needed as a poet, all poets do, our urgent heart cries beg to be heard, but for most of us, the lines we sling fly back into us as boomerangs and books, far too many books, go down deep black holes. Too much interiority can lead to wandering in the mine shaft for years and I’ve been down there for decades, am one hell of a sooty canary.

Ah, but I sing—fiercely, furiously. Sometimes those songs screech into an octave above a scream, ignited by my fire breath, the primitive rhythms struck upon my drumstick bones.  I maintain that the writing of poetry is physical, sometimes brutally so and I’m a heavyweight who’s very light on her feet still ducking the blows of my childhood, blows which literally left me brain-damaged. The boxing ring is the arena upon which I pin down poems the way Father did me while the ballerina on my music box slowly pirouetted. The tune it cricketed is eerie, ceaseless, and it fills my rooms as does the mist while I weep my infant tears, the ones sleeted with salt, and I burn as I heal, burn as I heal.

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