Poetic Therapy

Advice and insight from a professional poet.

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My daughter is in a coma. She’s non-responsive. Her brain damage is extensive. Her doctors aren’t hopeful. Since you have relevant experience in this area, what do you think I should do to help her? What can I do to help myself, to keep thinking positive?
— J

 

Wow. From my experience, I think you should read to her; who cares if she’s not responsive right now? Something immeasurable could be going on. Keep reading to her, talking to her, surrounding her with language and the soothing cadence of your voice. She probably has a valve inserted into her brain that monitors the pressure, and I think you’ll find that her brain pressure will decrease when you read to her. That’s what my parents did for me when I was in a coma. I think this early exposure to the complexity of language aided my recovery greatly.

Now, I can say that the doctors on my case weren’t hopeful about me, either, and look at how well I’m doing — or at least look at how well Gabby Giffords is doing. Remember that doctors are always cautious when predicting the prognosis of a brain injury because there is so much we don’t know about the brain. It’s easy to be negative — it’s much harder to have hope. But you must have hope. If not for yourself, do it for your daughter. Hope is exactly what she needs right now.

“God the Broken Lock”

I’ve died enough by now I trust
just what’s imperfect or ruined. I mean God,
God who is in the stop sign
asking to be shotgunned, the ocean that evaporates even
as we float. God the bent nail & broken lock,
and God the hangnail. The hangnail.
And a million others might be like me, our hopes
a kind of illegal entry, a belief in smashed windows,
every breakage
like breaking & entering into a concert hall,
the place my friend & I crawled into an air shaft, & later
fell asleep. After breakage
there is always sleep.
We woke to gospel hymns from the dressing room
below, songs commending
embrace to the fists, & return to the prodigal.
And hasn’t my luck always been a shadow, stepping out, stretching?
I mean I trust what breaks.
A broken bone elicits condolence,
and the phone call sounds French if the transmission fritzes,
and our brains–our blessed, desirable brains—are composed
of infinitesimal magnets, millions of them
a billionth-of-a-milligram in weight, so
they make us knock our heads against hard walls.
When we pushed through the air vent,
the men singing seemed only a little surprised,
just slightly freaked,
three of them in black tuxes, & the fourth in red satin,
crimson, lit up like a furnace trimmed with paisley swirls,
the furnace of a planet, or of a fatalistic ocean liner
crisscrossing a planet we’ve not discovered yet,
a fire you might love to be thrown into.
That night they would perform the songs half
the country kept on its lips half of every day.
Songs mostly praising or lamenting or accusing some loved one
of some beautiful, horrendous betrayal or affection.
But dressing, between primping & joking about
their thinning afros, they sang of Jesus. Jesus,
who said, “Split a stick, & you shall find me inside.”
It was the winter we put on asbestos gloves, & flameproof
stuck our hands in the fireplace, adjusting logs.
Jesus, we told them, left no proof of having sung a single note.
And that, said the lead singer, is why we are all sinners.
What he meant was
we are all like the saints on my neighbors’ lawns—
whose plaster shoulders & noses,
chipped cloaks & tiaras, have to be bundled
in plastic sheets, each winter, blanketed
from the wind & the cold. That was what he meant,
though I couldn’t know it then.

(David Rivard)

6 June 2011

Kristen Hoggatt lives, works, and writes in Boston, where she received her MFA from Emerson College. She volunteers at 826 Boston.
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