Having it Out with Melancholy
If many remedies are prescribed
for an illness, you may be certain
that the illness has no cure.
A. P. CHEKHOV
The Cherry Orchard
1 FROM THE NURSERY When I was born, you waited behind a pile of linen in the nursery, and when we were alone, you lay down on top of me, pressing the bile of desolation into every pore. And from that day on everything under the sun and moon made me sad—even the yellow wooden beads that slid and spun along a spindle on my crib. You taught me to exist without gratitude. You ruined my manners toward God: "We're here simply to wait for death; the pleasures of earth are overrated." I only appeared to belong to my mother, to live among blocks and cotton undershirts with snaps; among red tin lunch boxes and report cards in ugly brown slipcases. I was already yours—the anti-urge, the mutilator of souls. 2 BOTTLES Elavil, Ludiomil, Doxepin, Norpramin, Prozac, Lithium, Xanax, Wellbutrin, Parnate, Nardil, Zoloft. The coated ones smell sweet or have no smell; the powdery ones smell like the chemistry lab at school that made me hold my breath. 3 SUGGESTION FROM A FRIEND You wouldn't be so depressed if you really believed in God. 4 OFTEN Often I go to bed as soon after dinner as seems adult (I mean I try to wait for dark) in order to push away from the massive pain in sleep's frail wicker coracle. 5 ONCE THERE WAS LIGHT Once, in my early thirties, I saw that I was a speck of light in the great river of light that undulates through time. I was floating with the whole human family. We were all colors—those who are living now, those who have died, those who are not yet born. For a few moments I floated, completely calm, and I no longer hated having to exist. Like a crow who smells hot blood you came flying to pull me out of the glowing stream. "I'll hold you up. I never let my dear ones drown!" After that, I wept for days. 6 IN AND OUT The dog searches until he finds me upstairs, lies down with a clatter of elbows, puts his head on my foot. Sometimes the sound of his breathing saves my life—in and out, in and out; a pause, a long sigh. . . . 7 PARDON A piece of burned meat wears my clothes, speaks in my voice, dispatches obligations haltingly, or not at all. It is tired of trying to be stouthearted, tired beyond measure. We move on to the monoamine oxidase inhibitors. Day and night I feel as if I had drunk six cups of coffee, but the pain stops abruptly. With the wonder and bitterness of someone pardoned for a crime she did not commit I come back to marriage and friends, to pink fringed hollyhocks; come back to my desk, books, and chair. 8 CREDO Pharmaceutical wonders are at work but I believe only in this moment of well-being. Unholy ghost, you are certain to come again. Coarse, mean, you'll put your feet on the coffee table, lean back, and turn me into someone who can't take the trouble to speak; someone who can't sleep, or who does nothing but sleep; can't read, or call for an appointment for help. There is nothing I can do against your coming. When I awake, I am still with thee. 9 WOOD THRUSH High on Nardil and June light I wake at four, waiting greedily for the first note of the wood thrush. Easeful air presses through the screen with the wild, complex song of the bird, and I am overcome by ordinary contentment. What hurt me so terribly all my life until this moment? How I love the small, swiftly beating heart of the bird singing in the great maples; its bright, unequivocal eye.
From Constance by Jane Kenyon, published by Graywolf Press. © 1993 by Jane Kenyon. Used with permission. All rights reserved.