Poetry / Chad Sweeney
:: from Little Million Doors: an elegy ::
Abyss in the shape Of a maple leaf Leaf to be in two Eras at once scaffolding Under the hill the other Sun a river Boat and its story Painless I abide Traceries of bees slide over To say soul the world is This all we are A soulfield in sound we Adrift in Sleeves I could almost Sleep it ~ A series of blue doors The days come floating Away from me Inside stone a wind My daughter Horizons in the wood Her bouquet in Ruins At both ends Of the road Where nothing needs Saving ~ Or someone’s shadow Working Like a hammer Shadow of a thought Working high Above the water wheel Delicate the boy Swaddles A babe across the mine field Innocent the gravity in Ropes singing down The whole earth like a Mirror for something ~ Where helicopter blades Flower Three in the low sun At bottom of the Street like a well Into deeps The street where Looking Time trebles in the smoke Of cedar groves the dogs Drift Into us a shout the cold ~ Into us a little while Light lets nothing is Sovereign a page a box Brimming All delicate In the body held In the coarse Rope netting Of the body time keeps Branching what Does it want in us each Carries her Death like a vase of deaths Was I Married in the soft sleep Of marrow I can’t explain Children see me Inside them I watch Language move the year
From the writer
:: Account ::
My father died in his sleep just before my fortieth birthday and the birth of our first son, Liam Greenleaf Sweeney. In the weeks and months following, I suffered symptoms of post traumatic stress syndrome and autistic meltdown. Felt a strange disembodied amnesia, wandered about town, drank heavily, loss of meaning and depression, yet madly in love with our new baby boy, a profound, shocking love which oscillated between joy and grief that my father would never meet him. I was sleep deprived from staying up all night with our sleepless baby and working long hours as a PhD student and teaching fellow in the “student ghetto” of Kalamazoo, Michigan. Time drifted sidewise. My sensory integration disorder become worse and worse, part of my autism. I began writing these strange poems, or one long poem, in bursts and utterances which felt more like overhearing them or being occupied by the voice which carried with it bright visions, scenes, and sensations. I was compelled to write them quickly on anything I could grab, including napkins and receipts, to record the voice, to trace what it saw. I usually started sobbing and had to rush out of public spaces or clutch my head to contain the sensations which were nearly unbearable. I do often write in persona, which feels like overhearing the voice of the character through the length of a poem, but this was a much stronger impulse and the same voice returned again and again. I didn’t have a sense of who the voice was until many days had passed, when I typed and reread the fragments and began to suspect that this was the voice of a “ghost” (for lack of a better word, though certainly unlike any “ghost” I had seen represented in literature or film). The ghost did not recall its life, gender, or identity, and was haunted by the living, by the yearning to belong and to touch and interact. The feelings that inhabited me were truly heartbreaking, beautiful, passionately sorrowful and joyful at the same time. I continued to trace the voice through the coming weeks until it entirely ceased. I thought it might be my father speaking, yet oddly enough, this feeling of “ghost” serves equally to trace or to express my sense of dislocation, joy/terror, disconnection as an autistic person in the world.
These pieces are part of a book-length poem called Little Million Doors, which won the Nightboat Books Prize and will appear as a full-length book in the spring of 2019.
Chad Sweeney is the author of five previous books, including Parable of Hide and Seek (Alice James Books, 2010), two books of translations, and two edited editions. His poems have appeared in Best American Poetry, the Pushcart Prize Anthology, American Poetry Review, and elsewhere. Sweeney is an associate professor at Cal State San Bernardino, where he edits the lit mag, Ghost Town, at www.ghosttownlitmag.com