Monday, February 16, 2015

Poem of the Week: Claudia Rankine

[From Don't Let Me Be Lonely by Claudia Rankine]

Or say a friend develops Alzheimer's. For a while he understands he is getting ill and will die within this illness. On a slate message board in his house, he writes

He is moved to a home: Manor Care. Then he becomes violent and is moved to another home: Fairlawn. All this takes five years. Then he dies. I bring the chalkboard home with me and hang it on the wall in my study. Whenever I look up from my desk it is there—

One day I hear, as if he is standing next to me, the poet Joseph Brodsky saying, What's the point of forgetting if it's followed by dying? Joseph Brodsky is dead, but this fact does not stop his voice from entering the room every time I look up—this is the most miserable in my life what's the point of forgetting if it's followed by dying this is the most miserable in my life what's the point . . . I can't stop people from saying what they need to say. I don't know how to stop repetitions like these.

The chalkboard has a built-in ledge, on the ledge is an eraser, but he scratched in the words

with some sort of sharp edge.

When his memory started to go he substituted a kind of makeshift reality. He developed the irritation of a three-year-old fighting his way to a sentence. One day he pointed to the television and with great effort and concentration finally said, I want to see the lady who deals in death. The first time you hear him say this, you think his condition has given him insight into his own mortality. The phrase echoes in your head, The lady who deals in death. The lady who deals in death. The lady who deals in death. The lady who deals. Until, finally, Murder, She Wrote.

Claudia Rankine is an up-and-coming poet that I had the fortune to read in my poetry class last year (which Annaliisa and Justin were also in, so, sorry for the repetition, guys). This selection is a section from her book Don't Let Me Be Lonely—a short little thing that acts both as memoir and a collection of prose poetry, and is a profound experience in empathy and understanding. I worry about the transfer of feeling in writing a lot: writing something that encapsulates the feeling you're going for is one of the most profound joys of the medium; however, I worry about depression by comparison to happiness. In so many respects, it seems like the quietude in those moments is easier to capture than the thoughtlessness of things like happiness. For every Neruda or Van Gogh, it seems, we have a dozen Faulkners and Plaths. I don't know, these things might just be me, but the feelings in Rankine's work are more immediately identifiable (read: therapeutic, cathartic, etc) to me than the beauty in someone like Neruda—where I feel like I'm on the outside, very alone, looking in. It's not joy to feel understood by writing like Rankine's, but it feels like support.

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