Friday, July 15, 2011

Salving the Jibbering Psyche

I've been struggling with prayer lately, and I've found poetry to be a blessing. A dear friend just emailed me this morning, sharing a few verses from the Psalms that were aiding her battle with depression. And on Wednesday I dropped by Burke's Books to pick up Corey Mesler's latest chapbook, The Heart is Open. I've read the few short poems in this book several times since Wednesday, each time deciding that a different one is my favorite. Right now it's "On the Path." Corey and I play Scrabble on Facebook on a regular basis (he beats me every time) and I find comfort in his friendship.

This morning I re-read Mary Karr's wonderful essay, "Facing Altars: Poetry and Prayer," which is included in her book of poetry, Sinners Welcome. I was in need of her unique take on prayer:

"In this state--what Dickinson called 'sumptuous destitution'--prayer was a slow spin on a hot spit, but poetry could still draw me out of myself, easing my loneliness as it had since earliest childhood. Poets were my first priests, and poetry itself my first altar.... the first source of awe for me, partly because of how it could ease my sense of isolation: it was a line thrown from a seemingly glorious Others to my drear-minded self."

I was reading sections of Karr's essay over the phone to a friend whom I had called to ask her to pray for me today because I was trying not to drink, and I just couldn't put the essay down. Her words, and my spiritual and emotional response to them, reminded me of how I felt when I heard Robert Goolrick read from his memoir, The End of the World as We Know It, back in November. It was that familiar comfort in finding another human being who understands exactly how you feel and doesn't judge you or try to fix you. Listen to Karr's words:

"But if you're in a frame of mind gloomy enough to refuse prayer, despite its having worked bona fide miracles for you before, nothing satisfies like a dark poem. Maybe wrestling with gnarly language occupies the loud and simian chatter of a dismayed mind, but for me the relief comes to some extent from a hookup to another creature. The compassion innate in having someone--however remote--verbalize your despair or lend a form to it can salve the jibbering psyche."

Tonight when I turn to God to (hopefully) thank Him for helping me get through the day without a drink, I'll also be thanking him for Mary Karr and Corey Mesler. And my friend who emailed me the Psalms. And my friend who took my phone call and just loved me and didn't preach to me.

One of my favorite of Karr's poems is called "Disgraceland," which ends with these words:

"You are loved, someone said. Take that and eat it."


David Lyons said...

I celebrated my fourth year sans whiskey on June 16. Went cold turkey after 18 years and never looked back. Every day since has been a wonder. I'm not always sure what holds me on course--prayer, hope, conviction, will power--but I'm always grateful at the end of the day.

Susan Cushman said...

David: Wow. Thanks so much for sharing that. Have you read Karr's memoir, "Lit"? I'd love your thoughts on it if you've read it. It's almost 4:30 here now and I'm trying to keep busy and pray....

Denise A.M. said...

Been thinking of you & had to sleep on it before commenting. I have a book, 2 authors & a thought that might help. I highly recommend Patrick Lane's WHAT THE STONES REMEMBER. He's a Canadian poet (his poems dont' appeal to me) who's memoir is exquisitely written. He writes "of his lifetime's additon to alcohol & cocaine." My bookclub read this & it remains one of our favs. I think you'd appreciate ANNE LAMOTT's books on faith -- TRAVELING MERCIES: Some Thoughts on Faith; PLAN B: Further Thoughts on Faith; and GRACE (EVENTUALLY): Thoughts on Faith. She has an easy conversational style. Another of her books that I've not read but you'd appreciate is --- BIRD BY BIRD: SOME INSTRUCTIONS ON WRITING AND LIFE. The 2nd author I recommend is C. S. Lewis - THE JOYFUL CHRISTIAN (a collection from his other writings). Lastly, my one thought is that I remember how a year ago you passed out water to the homeless. Doing something for someone else less fortunate is always benefical & may help. (I met you at River's holiday party).

Susan Cushman said...

Denise: Thanks so much for your thoughts. I love Anne Lamott (have read all her books) but I haven't read What the Stones Remember. It sounds wonderful. I know I read C.S. Lewis years ago. And yes, a friend just a few days ago suggested we hand out bottled water again soon. All good thoughts, Denise. And yes, I remember meeting you in Nashville. Thanks for reading and commenting so thoughtfully.