(Inspired by reading Cordelia Feldman’s novel In Bloom, reviewed after this poem).
When the rush comes
questions like: Why are you doing drugs? Are you an
Do you realize how inappropriate it is?
Bad choices lead to worse choices. Slippery slopes. Killed brain cells.
Those questions seem irrelevant
for, that which you have searched
seemingly before awareness, birth, first flickering
is surrounding you and the fucking magic of it
is holding sorrow so far away
you can’t recall the last time you felt its fingers
closing around your throat in possession.
misery, self-hatred, dysfunctional thinking, dysthymia
depression, malaise, disorder, horror, they
have long sat at your scarred table
munching on your best intentions
not to throw yourself from a bridge
just because every day is so painful.
Parents show the whites of their eyes
like distrusting horses being inspected
for cavities and you are the hole
they observe without looking
wondering how they birthed
someone so strange, unexpectedly unwell
did we not take enough pregnancy vitamins?
Was it more like my ‘funny’ uncle and how he never
seemed quite right?
Blessed, tainted blood
that’s not it
anymore than sexual abuse or
quiet pinch of undiagnosed learning disorder
when there are cheery-faced celebrities proclaiming
their cured malaise, even as they grew up
therefore, it is not
the firing, how deeply you set, how many cracks
it is more the knife of life
cutting you open
silence surrounding before
you knew you were alone
a haunting long before words like
‘intrenched’ and ‘affliction’ were commonly nailed
like scarlet blooms on thirsty cacti.
Sorrow, you were flowing in my blood stream
like an unbidden life, wishing to suck mine out
marrow and all.
There’s only apologies
for not being able to be what you want me to be
grieving for the perfect mess made when I was doing my very best
not to cut myself to ribbons
and as self-hate dances with a wish to
pull hard on the string attached to light bulb
and just blink out ….
music and its phantasmagoric wonder
infiltrates darkness with a tender mercy
potent keys of a piano played on an empty stage
seem to possess a furtherment.
You, who sup at the high seat for well-adjusted
cannot really fathom, aside in dusty theory
the every day battle with spirits resembling
skewed reflection and how when joy arrives
soft and cloudy, she is split savagely
by the very strength of your inner tenency
to plunge headlong, when you want to do
Fate lifted me out of the car gently
like I meant more to him than a one-night-fuck
and maybe thinking back, I was
in that turkish delight moment
softened at the edges by
little blue pills.
If I die in ten years from some malady
will you point your frozen heart at me
and say; “Her bloody drug use killed her”
I’d already be nourishing trees
with my life blood.
Will you state: “She was weak because she
couldn’t cope without them”
forgetting, we do what it takes
to stand upright, pulled from the inside
skins flayed on electric lines of penance.
For our generation, for some of us
those who didn’t yet know how to
put words to how we felt
the holes in our fabric
only worsening with perpetual self-reproach
(after all, didn’t we have a roof over our heads?
How the hell could we be so ungrateful?
Do they say that to people with cancer?
Only the smokers I think, we are banished
to the smokers ward if we suffer from
depression, they put us down as incurable
and slightly pathetic and faces turn away
like cliffs beckon our swift feet forward).
I danced beneath strobe lights, proud of reaching
19 and not having taken anything stronger
than weed, my iron will a contrast to
my crumbling will to live, sometimes
it fascinates me. He whispered in my studded
ear; “I know you disapprove of hard drugs but …“
and like a violin played accutely until
you find yourself crying on the other side
of intensity, I saw the futility of holding back
how ‘good behavior’ didn’t work with the model
of suffering experienced daily, another way of
saying it was
the pill was bitter like
and returned me someone
I had not met in many years
happiness flooded my bloodstream
I didn’t care it was artificially induced
all moods are, all behavior dictated by
the flow and ebb of chemicals surging
in our amygdala.
Why do some of us fall so far?
When others seem oblivious of
sorrow like it’s a thing to bring out
at funerals and nothing more? Can we really
reduce it to ‘failure‘ and ‘success‘ and affix the
ugly admonishment forever, like kicking
someone all the harder once they are down?
The self-loathing and condemnation
invariably accompanying perpetual sadness
lifted like a shroud and music entered
my blood stream with an invoking joy.
Many years later I read about ‘self medication‘
and thought as a professional
trying to help people who felt
like I did / alone / worthless
how trite labels and ‘understanding‘ in general
I’d write you a book of my foray with drugs
if it didn’t cause you to condemn me
you already have
so why not?
Don’t throw stones
Cordelia Feldman writes on WP and has published her first book of fiction In Bloom. She’s a magnificent person and a genuinely beautiful human being. I urge you to purchase a copy.
I didn’t know what to expect when I purchased In Bloom. That can be exciting. I purchased it because I have followed the author Cordelia Feldman on her blog for many years. As a publisher/editor I tend to get high burn out for acquaintance reads but this was not at her behest, I wanted to read In Bloom, because the quality of Cordelia’s writing and humor over the years has often left me astounded.
In Bloom is semi-biographical set-in mid teen hood. Which might seem odd at a time when the adult author is struggling with metastasized cancer since her mid thirties and this has taken such a chunk out of her valuable life. One might not be blamed for thinking she’d write about a later time in her life. However, if the reader has ever had a prolonged battle with their health, they will intimately appreciate the difficulty of ‘going there’ and the positive impact of focusing on other things. In addition, the challenges a writer has to accurately reflect her past self, something few do realistically and Feldman excels at.
Cordelia has in her blog, done a monumental job of focusing elsewhere, she’s ‘bloomed’ in the years since her cancer diagnosis despite all obstacles. Her infectious optimism, her attitude of caring for others even as she suffers, the way she brings humor out of the darkness, and her undefeatable intelligence hook you from the start. With each blog post she refers sardonically to a book title, often obscure, and that quick mind of hers is as agile now as those who have never experienced a days sickness.
Likewise, with In Bloom, a little gem, a veritable Pandoras’s box replete with humor, nitty-gritty mindful observations, completely lacking in self-pity and with so much to evoke and fascinate. Why fascinate you may ask? Many of us can directly relate to being a teen and going through much of what Feldman has gone through, but many cannot. This is both a warning and a true invoking of a time in history and a type of lifestyle for the young that Gen X’ers and perhaps many others, can appreciate.
Just as we can put an album on and suddenly go back in time, In Bloom takes us to the tawdry experiment called youth and provokes some intense feelings about why we do what we do when we do it. For some, drugs are a clear cut no, no path to hell. For others, they’re a rite of passage. My personal take on it is; drugs are a gateway, to growing up and moving on, but for some, a gateway we don’t regret, nor judge.
The club scene of the 90s in the UK was spectacular and for many young things, going out and dancing all night on Ecstasy was the most fun they’ve ever had. If that makes them sound sad twenty years later, well you weren’t there. The clubs had such atmosphere and comradery that it was impossible not to see them as Magic Faraway Trees of their time. It might be like trying to explain to a non-drinker why a drink can feel so good at the end of the day. Or try telling your parents the Sixties weren’t a revolution.
All the proselytizing in the world and nary a judgment cannot convict those hearts who bloomed in that era and recall it with fondness and a little embarrassment. If you imagine ecstasy earned its name through hard graft, and lived up to it, there’s nothing shabby about those Turkish delight infused experiences anymore than throwing rocks at the Beats Poets for their dabbling with the illicit.
Feldman writes hypnotically and with great alacrity, understanding the mind set of the teen to an uncanny degree. Her intelligence as a writer is evident, but so is her sage wit. Feldman conjures a time that has passed but we can all to some extent, look back on. However, this is not all she does. In Bloom isn’t merely a celebration of taking drugs at raves, that really wouldn’t begin to give it its dues. In Bloom is an evocation of a young woman’s experience with mental illness.
Do drugs cause mental illness? We know they can but more often they exacerbate or draw out, what is already there, for chemical and hereditary reasons. We don’t truly know the myriad ways mental illness occurs, just that it does, and for so long, it was judged and condemned without trying to be understood. Feldman attempts understanding through description and succeeds admirably, in her gentle nudging toward insight through the stumbling’s of the newly initiated.
The main character of In Bloom is clearly a composite of the younger Feldman, but she’s also a character in her own right. Her experiences are not mere autobiography, she and her cast of bandits are all fully fleshed out people existing within In Bloom and they make you care about them, despise them, cheer for them. Do not forget 17 is the age mental illness will begin to rear its head irrespective of whether you are downing E or lemonade, although of course, the reaction with the former will be more dramatic and so it is.
I rarely want to stay up reading all night as I used to because I read for a living. But In Bloom was that notable exception, as I feel it will be for many of us. Before being tempted to cast stones and accuse Feldman of glamorizing drug-taking or blaming her cancer on her previous actions, consider the truth. We don’t get sick because we dabble with drugs as kids. We don’t start doing drugs because we read about them in a book. Pain has its outlets and kids know that well. There are deeper issues here, ones that In Bloom cannot speak to, but we all know they exist and we all know life is far, far more complicated than what we see on the surface.
The ultimate value of In Bloom lies in my knowledge that I would have enjoyed this book immensely whether I knew Cordelia as a writer beforehand, or not. Her skill as a writer has never been under question, she has proven her worth time and again with her tapping into the amygdala of her readership. Her intelligence as a thinker on this planet, is beyond refute. I only wish deeply that she were given time to write more, as I suspect, in Cordelia Feldman we have a voice of our generation.