The whirring internal machine, its gears
grinding not to a halt but to a pace that emits
a low hum, a steady and almost imperceptible
hum: the Greeks would not have seen it this way.
Simply put, it was a result of black bile,
the small fruit of the gall bladder perched
under the liver somehow over-ripened
and then becoming fetid. So the ancients
would have us believe. But the overly-emotional
and contrarian Romans saw it as a kind of mourning
for one’s self. I trust the ancients but I have never
given any of this credence because I cannot understand
how one does this, mourn one’s self.
Down by the shoreline—the Pacific
wrestling with far more important
philosophical issues—I recall the English notion
of it being a wistfulness, something John Donne
wore successfully as a fashion statement.
But how does one wear wistfulness well
unless one is a true believer?
The humors within me are unbalanced,
and I doubt they were ever really in balance
to begin with, ever in that rare but beautiful
thing the scientists call equilibrium.
My gall bladder squeezes and wrenches,
or so I imagine. I am wistful and morose
and I am certain black bile is streaming
through my body as I walk beside this seashore.
The small birds scrambling away from the advancing
surf; the sun climbing overhead shortening shadows;
the sound of the waves hushing the cries of gulls:
I have no idea where any of this ends up.
To be balanced, to be without either
peaks or troughs: do tell me what that is like…
This contemplating, this mulling over, often leads
to a moment a few weeks from now,
the one in which everything suddenly shines
with clarity, where my fingers race to put down
the words, my fingers so quick on the keyboard
it will seem like a god-damned miracle.
Copyright © 2020 by C. Dale Young. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 13, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.