from "NIN'S POEM: A BIPOLAR MEMOIR"
by Shelby Stephenson
Call the ringers of bells and builders of forts,
wincers, pincers, lobsters and shells,
oysters, roisters, needles and threads.
Let ducks dawdle on the dock at the Wilson Pond.
You are back where you started from,
new, refreshed, ready for the romp—
hey—you’re all honey-bee buzzing
out of every meadow in New York State.
The bear’s in the high chair, Goldilocks, the whole family,
come into the fort, children,
all of you, everywhere—the shadows
flickering for sunlight to answer silences.
A god’s flung down to me.
I touch his finger and your body breaks out of splendor
and enters a dewdrop on a rose.
Let me tell you about my goddess.
She comes to me in paces, cycles, sprints.
She scrims the stars on icy mornings, before the sun eats its wafer.
She raises up the moon singeing blue hedge and field.
We pull and press shadows on all sides,
hold the unknown in a gasp,
sigh, fall—a sight!
Our eyes open wide.
A twist turns and winces in a wench.
Unutterable clamors break out of a shell
and pray for entry into your surround.
I feel myself yearning for context of texture, emotion, intellect.
We dream of stables and holly and mistletoe, to find a track to stay on,
keep the light burning, turning the sun.
I would walk and walk and think hard about dying—oh, the chill—
my heart beating so hard I could hear
it—and stop because I didn’t want to hurt you, my intense feeling to STOP
twice as strong as my wish to die.
Was it the God of Change or the God of Fate that gives six days of normalcy to you?
I saw no way out.
I had a very strong, unrelenting feeling of wanting to die,
complete it so I wouldn’t have to face your horror, your sadness.
Look at us, though, all these years, having to chart the changes,
buoyed here, lashed about there.
We will come apart, meeting together
and come up with an answer.
"It is not death, the thundering in our bodies, but the untidy world we must hold—keep up: do
not let the dark babble answer for good: let’s be two bodies, ONE, and make the mouth that
speaks speak for the one who cannot—
Vacation Time! Smile! Shout! Somebody’s got to bet on the bay!"
The Grumman waits under the red oak beside the plankhouse.
Dust eats what it can.
Now—take me in your lifeboat.
All our trials bring us to this: we look to the sky for space in our hearts.
You’re happy now.
The mistletoe glows in the blackgum.
But you are happy.
The fuzzy toys you put away for angels and wise men.
Two crèches do their wondrous thing.
It is hard to think we shall die
or that you shall fall into the valley again.
Thank the God of Mercy for being true
and leaving mystery on the summit.
Your happiness stands tall as the big oak beside the terrace.
I can feel your limbs flexing the wind.
Our Selves keep house, while Home looks for us now.
I stand in that valley where the shadow’s dimmed brown.
Let me enter and change you.
No voice answers back—no sign.
Your face turns from me and I turn from you.
"Separate" is the word.
I can feel it, over feel it.
I know I cannot
step through the glassless entry and make you see
O Bartleby the sky and the grass,
My love and you twirling.
I could walk the field and not feel tired.
I could do my PT exercises quickly without feeling better or worse.
Consider the opossum, always scouting overflow,
the persimmon leaves, curling in air, the orange-lit notes instinct knows
and the kettle-armed oak the jewel-weed gems,
the bamboo in the swamp’s edge greening liquid blades.
I could not make friends, receive their attention.
Waiting is Hope.
Erotica’s not real on a screen.
Strutting cocks crow anti-climactically.
Surfeit shoots off a tangle of pain.
"I just can’t stand it anymore.
When is this going to end?
Where is it going?
I don’t know what to do.
I can’t leave you.
I could take you to Holly Hill and visit you.
I can’t stand it anymore."
A rose clinging to ramble—reflection bathes mystery:
Doors, window-lights, panes:
I hear you knocking but you don’t come in.
You will sometimes remember
foxtrots, waltzes, jitterbugs,
a thread pulled through a needle’s eye—
I see you have come out of it, that stall of mud your feet sank up in.
We’ve come a long way—it’s all because of you.
I wish I could feel that way about the valley when you are in it.
I appear, trapped by Ego in an empty chair beside me,
knowing, I do not know the answers to why, why, why
the valley and the mountain, depression and rise, mixed modes and crossed genres.
I feel so alone, you, there, and my heart beating fast.
Nature’s coloring book is God-made.
That’s what I wrote on the blackboard in Miss Apple’s first grade.
Lee Von said goddamit, let me see!
In the narrow atmosphere between the Boy’s Basement and the Water Tank
I could see Jerry Surles turn loose that condom
right where the Cleveland Condominium stands today.
A flank of sky joins the hedge of honeysuckle.
The leaf-strewn paths appear unruly.
I am stumped in mid-understanding,
remembering vaguely all the leavings and stayings on my way to college,
yearning for bridges behind me.
I could not make friends, receive their attention.
You quiver—and I am afraid.
The archer’s shaft shakes.
Like a lamb you tremble on the church-bench.
The fiddler’s bow saws the strings.
Your heart cannot behold the cabaret where we danced the two-step.
I take you to the Emergency Room.
After operations, rehabs, I say: "I’m going where I belong; do the best you can.
I cannot write tonight. I keep dropping my pen in the spiral notebook."
You speak: "The surface surfs the white caps, rises and falls, tumbles and rolls,
thunders and spews."
When I think I sense a crag in your growth I want to free the snags,
take all of you—sea-water, your goddesses, their airy leaps.
Polarity kicks in and up you go.
The mountain greets the sea.
The water lounges for the peak to enter.
A swan both god and man canvases destruction and marks The Eye as Whole.