After literally phoning in the previous week’s poems — I mean, really literally; I wrote and published them from my iPhone while sitting in an airport — I think I overcompensated. Formal poetry has always been harder for me than free verse, and free verse is what I usually write. So not only did I decide to write in a form, but I also decided to write a villanelle, which is … tricksy. (The No. 1 most cited example of the villanelle is probably “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night” by Dylan Thomas, who makes it look easy, as does Elizabeth Bishop in the villanelle “One Art.” There’s also my elder cat, whose name is Villanelle and who, in spite of her age, makes being a cat look easy. Also, forgive the pretentiousness; I was 22 when I named her, which means she’s even older than I thought she was.)
Speaking of my 20s: I added to the difficult form some difficult subject matter, because just one of those two wasn’t hard enough. I was kind of broken in my 20s. To be fair, I think everyone is broken in their 20s, sort of like I think everything in general is broken (and if it’s not broken now, it will be if you give it enough time). I know that sounds pretty negative and fatalistic, but I don’t mean it that way. That’s just how it is, and my life has been a lot happier coming at it from that point of view. I just nod at the brokenness and go about my business, unless I figure it’s worth trying to make better, which is when I take tilts-at-windmills stance. It’s closer to hedonism, in a way. I want to take great big gulps of everything while it’s good, because it’ll probably suck later. And it’s a lot easier to find delight in everything that’s awesome when you come at it knowing that you’re really starting a a baseline of FUBAR.
Anyway, my broken 20s grew out of some ugliness that went down my senior year of college. On a scale of personal tragedy in which one is “I stubbed my toe” and 10 is “Everyone I love perished in a train wreck and went to Narnia while I was left in England by myself,” this was I don’t even know where, because how do you measure that? But it was bad enough that the pastor from the church I grew up in, which I hadn’t attended since I turned 18, and which was a full three hours away from my college, called me in my dorm room to make sure I was OK. I know it was pretty much his job to call me, but no pastor had ever called me on the phone before, at least not for anything beyond “The youth group is leaving for the lock-in at 6 instead of 6:30 Friday.” That phone call may have been when I realized that it wasn’t my imagination; it was an actual, legitimate trauma.
(For the record, the pastor knew exactly what to say to me, and he didn’t take it as an opportunity to save my soul from peril or to force me to talk about faith or how everything was part of God’s plan, which makes me think he may have been the best pastor ever in history. But depending on your beliefs, YMMV.)
It’s hard to say that one bad thing is why my 20s were broken, especially because that one bad thing grew up in the fertile soil of being the object of bullying and derision in public school. But, for whatever reason, my 20s were more broken than many, I think. So one thread of this poem is the ugliness that went down and the brokenness that followed, and the moment when I realized all of that was still there and wanted to fix it.
By the time I actually read “Sandman,” I was closer to 30 and was almost out of what I now call “the broken years.” But even so, reading “Sandman,” I really identified with Delirium and her perpetual fall-apart, and that she used to be Delight, and the way it seemed to come from having been hurt more than she could recover from. Delirium, I think, feels everything acutely all the time, and she doesn’t have a buffer or a filter to let her translate that into something that’s OK to present to the rest of the world. And I grokked.
This poem is also flavored with some Tori Amos, who I was a huge fan of in my late teens and early 20s. But in hindsight, my deep love of Tori reminds me of “High Fidelity.” Did I listen to Tori Amos because I was crazy, or was I crazy because I was listening to Tori Amos?
I have a feeling that this poem falls into a trap I was warned of way back in college, of being too deeply personal for anyone other me to make sense of. But at least I didn’t write it on a multi-touch screen.
Also, I think it’s dense like fruitcake, bringing the crazy full circle.
Back to the poem: “Delight, Delirium, Delight.“