The B-Sides of the Golden Records, Track Five: “Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder”

Before you begin, please be aware that this track does not end.

* * *

Find a large, unframed mirror. Or, if you don’t have mirrors, find something like one: smooth, flat, and reflective, with superstitions silvered in.

Beat it with the most vulnerable part of your body. If you are having trouble deciding what to use, ask yourself: what would you least want me to touch?

Continue until the mirror breaks. Then, continue until it breaks many times.

Continue until you can tell that your body part is badly hurt. Keep going. When you regain consciousness, resume.

On the sixth day, stop. Search for the brightest, clearest light you can imagine. The light should at first feel welcome, and joyous. Then, as you realize that it is slightly more garish than you would like and moreover that it never fades, it riddles your body with a ringing.

Carry each fragment, shard, and piece into this light. Do not clean the parts. Arrange them into a shape resembling the original shape of the mirror.

If you are not already naked, become naked now.

Lie on the fragments. Try not to add more injuries to your body.

Feel the light reflect into heat. As you blister, consider the way that on Earth, every night, in the absence of sunlight, tree branches move up and down so that the water inside of the trees keeps moving, creating a kind of heartbeat that is surer than any you will ever know.


Copyright © 2021 by Sumita Chakraborty. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 20, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.

About this Poem

“The Golden Records were two phonograph records that were included on NASA’s 1977 Voyager spacecraft launches. They were intended as a message-in-a-bottle to any extraterrestrials the Voyagers might encounter. In the words of then-President Jimmy Carter, they were imagined as ‘a present from a small, distant world, a token of our sounds, our science, our images, our music, our thoughts and our feelings.’ The Golden Records also left out a great deal, whether for copyright reasons, for concerns about explicit content, for fear of the record being taken as a sign of aggression, and—undoubtedly—for a host of other reasons we routinely give or receive as so-called rationales for elisions. My poems in this series are about what the Records leave out.”
Sumita Chakraborty