from Little Million Doors: an elegy

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 

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 


At both ends 
Of the road

Where nothing needs 


Or someone’s shadow 

Like a hammer 
Shadow of a thought 

Working high

Above the water wheel 

Delicate the boy 

A babe across the mine field
Innocent the gravity in 

Ropes singing down

The whole earth like a 
Mirror for something 


Where helicopter blades 
Three in the low sun 

At bottom of the 
Street like a well 

Into deeps 
The street where  

Time trebles in the smoke 

Of cedar groves the dogs 

Into us a shout the cold 


Into us a little while 
Light lets nothing is 

Sovereign a page a box 

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