Annotations While Waiting for the Mail and Thinking of My Mother
Once I found my mother trembling before the computer screen, unable to speak.
If assembling one poem out of several unsuccessful openings
constitutes a day’s work…
If it wouldn’t be more worthwhile to trim the boxwood hedges out back…
Someone was always coming for her, each moment the penultimate one before arrest.
Images garnered from old films, psychiatric hospitals with neo-Tudor embrasures,
handcuffs, white jackets, soft-soled tennis shoes squeaking on asbestos tile…
(the latest acquisitions: deodand, flensed, massif, skirl, scute, vesicle)
[reading Forrest Gander]
If the limits of my language…
If the film One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest informed my mother’s psychosis…
If you can keep your head… she would often recite from memory.
If the world itself is the great contingency against which psychosis is measured…
If the visual language of paranoia achieves verisimilitude…
White jackets, handcuffs, squeaking soft-soled shoes on asbestos tile…
If the elliptical orbits into oblivion and back…
If the elliptical is truly asymptotic…
If its function is to create a metalanguage out of tautology and error…
If the entire field culminates in the epicurean delight of
being told what we believe we know…
(aporia, atomic fact, proposition, substance)
If “anyone can either be the case or not be the case, and everything else remain the same…”
If the mind is a deodand confiscated by the institution
for acting as the agent of its own laborious death…
If the subject has been adequately flensed…
If your head is in a vise do not presume to lecture
my mother about the disposal of un-swallowed pills
or the harmlessness of the Schwan’s Dairy delivery truck
that has left surveillance equipment with a neighbor //
with a neighbor across the road. If the snow outside
is diffuse powder impossible to pack…
Elegy While Reading “Walking with the Bear”
sugar maple branch
from a limb—
a junco foraging
and leafmold in downy
April snow, bitter
wind off Superior—
I walked a trail
between the pines
and birches down
to the shore
at Random Point,
reciting Judith Minty’s
poems to myself,
trochaic in the junco
mind, which is to say
they flew away
at my approach.
By dawn none of us
have traveled here,
not even the black bear
that strikes us as
only 20 years or so.
Author’s Commentary: I wrote the poem “Elegy While Reading ‘Walking With the Bear’” as a tribute to the Michigan poet Judith Minty. A few months after her death I found myself in the Upper Peninsula with my wife and stepson, not far from the Yellow Dog River where Judith had a cottage and very much within the landscape that her best work evoked. I was thinking of the few times I got to meet her and hear her read while taking walks and repeating lines of hers in my head.
“Annotations While Waiting for the Mail and Thinking of My Mother” came out of a time of deep anxiety last summer. There were a few situations ongoing in my neighborhood that I was aware of and afraid might turn violent. In a semi-paranoid way I was imagining terrible outcomes for myself and some of my neighbors. Thankfully none of the dynamics culminated in events that came anywhere near my worst imaginings, and at some point during this stretch I realized that I was being completely irrational in some of my fears. It led me to reflect on my mother’s struggles with mental illness and to be able to empathize with her in ways I hadn’t been able to up to that point.
Both of these poems draw fairly directly from my reading life. While writing “Annotations…” I was reading Forrest Gander’s heartfelt, yet cerebral elegiac collection Be With, along side Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus.
Cal Freeman was born and raised in Detroit. He is the author of the books Brother of Leaving and Fight Songs. He currently lives in Dearborn, MI and teaches at Oakland University.