Monday, March 26, 2007

A poultice of words

Long before I accepted the possibility of anti-depressant medications, the ususal treatment was poetry, carried close to the body. Never my own poems, a literary home remedy wouldn't do; I needed the real stuff, approved by the modern canon and dispensed within proper books. Most potent were the scripts torn directly from these books, but this required a back-up copy and could thus be costly. For less debilitating occurrences of sadness, a photocopy would suffice.

To be effective, a poem need not be more than tangentially related to the perceived cause of distress. A line or two would be delivered, most often in the morning, by the method sometimes referred to as "non-functional repetition of stock phrases". Several days of dwelling on the lines would lead me to the bookshelves and the potion would be placed in a wallet, pouch or pillbox for a period of seven weeks to seven years, depending on the nature and severity of the problem. I admit that I sometimes held onto them longer than necessary, and this may have been an early warning sign of graver addictions to come.

For the remedy to take effect, reading of the poem was not required. Knowing it was with me was somehow different from just knowing it. The poem in question could be no longer than one printed page. Other rules applied. Once a poem had been removed, it could never again be reused for medicinal purposes. A poem discovered or revealed to another resulted in its curative powers being cut in half, exactly. This rarely happened, as the need to "bring or share items for mutual enjoyment" was hardly my downfall.

Sometimes I would find myself checking to be sure I hadn't lost it. Repeated folding and unfolding left deep creases, and eventually a separation of lines. The leather from my wallet stained the paper, blotting out stanzas, or rubbed away punctuation and titles, leaving scattered phrases. Distilled this way, O'Hara's "To the Harbormaster" became a maze of half words, half wants, reaching and departure. Littered with pauses and starts, it talked the way I talked. What you could see barely hinted at the whole. Some of what remained was fathomless and reasoning. Then I was over it and everything made sense.

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