The nacre of detachment in weighing anchor

In Cape May, a rusted anchor and driftwood

I took the photo along a street in Cape May the other day. It was what sparked this poem for Mental Health Awareness Month. According to Psychology, many mental health conditions, including depression, anxiety, phobias and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) tend to involve ruminating thoughts and this poem is for a fresh perspective on rumination and overthinking.

Is it that we consider some mental proclivities as disorders to be fixed, rather than see them as a healing process, like a fever for example; ruminating on wounds, hurts, anxieties appears to be normal, for some more than others, it can seem an endless obsession. It isn’t easy to seek to be understood in a world where time and attention are scarce, it’s also dangerous to be vulnerable where society is given to judgement and quick fixes to urge one back onto the grindstone.

Our collective lack of supportive empathy, loss of belief in self healing, a pill to fix everything and the inability to let people see their anxieties or sorrows as something to be experienced for a while and not incessantly seek escape from, is a bit sad in a way. Our interventions too sometimes seem prescriptive, so also do our cures for symptomatic relief. On this note, it might be interesting to know that ECT (electroconvulsive therapy), is still being used to treat depression and mood disorders in the US.

I didn’t wish to ramble away but thought to share John Read’s article advocating against electroshock therapy or electroconvulsive therapy, which is still a mainstay of psychiatry. I never knew until I read this essay [1] a couple of months ago and felt it merited a mention given that it is mental health awareness month. I would like to quote from it the documented experience of the Italian neurologist Ugo Cerletti, who was one of the first to use electricity to induce seizures in patients in the 1930s:

His first human subject was a 39-year-old engineer from Milan, whom the police found wandering around a Rome train station in a confused state. When the first electric shock failed to produce the desired convulsion, Cerletti and his assistant discussed whether to administer a more powerful shock. Cerletti reported: All at once, the patient, who evidently had been following our conversation, said clearly and solemnly, without his usual gibberish: ‘Not another one! It’s deadly!’ Cerletti proceeded anyway, in the first of the millions of instances that were to follow, and which continue today, of people being given this treatment despite clearly stating they don’t want it.

There is something about this that bothers me immensely and I would be concerned if it didn’t bother you dear reader. A case of confused wandering and gibberish could entail ECT in the 1930s, then we have something to think about, if in our haste to pathologise human behaviour, we have stopped to listen to what the psyche demands, in our hurry to fix it, even through such horrific interventions. It is as if we are afraid of being left alone in our thoughts, afraid of our inner voice, constantly seeking that we are, to silence it.

I am a bit of a serial ruminator and a gopher of sorts that will dig out the entire garden to find meaning in soil, ah well, compost maybe. I see ruminating as a healing process mostly, debilitating at times but similar to the formation of pearls if it transmutes into something creative. Engaging with passion (some may read this as obsession) in a creative enterprise, appears to be a defense mechanism, like layering a foreign substance in nacre to form a pearl, over a lengthy period of time. There are so many ways of mitigating pain or distress or anxieties, even an oyster has a lesson for us perhaps.

In the nausea of yesterday's regrets

that knocks the wind out of our sails and they say,


"Submit to the dhow, be resigned to the sea."

Memories are grains of sand that strode over


barnacles, oysters, as salt water baptised

rocky shores to spirit within a clam soul


the 'forever itch'. Looping recollections

of schoolyard bullies unearthing every time


the solar lantern crashed the limiting horizons

of a violated dusk, darkly helpless


to aphorisms of a fiery sun,

a compassionate moon or retreating waves.


Conchiolin layers nucleated sorrows

in luminous nacre of a lyrical


immunity, a concentric array of

soft healing words accreting around old hurt


rounding edges off aragonite bruises,

to finally spit pearls, raise anchor, set sail.

The memory of feeling nauseated on a dhow comes from Zanzibar. The waters were very choppy. The dhow keeper told me then, not to fight it. He asked me to lie down and become one with the movement, it turned out to be my lesson for ‘going with the flow’.

This is an attempt at a hendecasyllabic poem, where each metrical line consists of 11 syllables [2]

References:

[1]https://aeon.co/essays/why-is-electroshock-therapy-still-a-mainstay-of-psychiatry

[2]https://www.poetryfoundation.org/learn/glossary-terms/hendecasyllabic

The yin and yang of the hermit crab and the sea anemone

As you scuttled on the sand
beneath the swaying algal fronds,
one would think it to be the blue sky
and a mass of forest.
But legionnaire,
you were treading generous waters
and there were so many shells
for the taking,
to reign on and make your castle.

You chose your pick
from the seas bounty.
and the snail was long gone,
martyred to the ocean,
and you, just as soft bodied,
much more agile
in temperament
scouring the next best opportunity;
Now armed with protective sheath
of conchiolin, chitin, prismatic, calcified.
How bright and pearlescent
Is the nacre of your beautiful lodging,
like chandeliers in a noble home.

Did you not scout out the lone anemone,
coax her onto your castle,
formidable you both together.
Perched on your battlements,
she wrapped the drawbridge
in a poisonous curtain
of stinging tentacles,
warding off the glances of those
that wished to annhilate
you in ultimate sacrifice.
Yet, provider you were
of ocean feasts
and travels to forbidden places.

Such a strange commensalism
of stranger species still,
like a lesson to the world
that seeks to categorize,
prioritize abstractions
like cooperation
among the species;
All in the face of such, as senseless
as in the drama of evolution
across the species,
where life revels
in astounding difference
and in a perfect symbiosis!

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It is Thanksgiving in the USA and this is a poem of gratitude for my home, my friends, family and every person I have crossed paths with. I believe that kindness, connection and the ability to render the inorganic, organic through our various commensalisms and symbiotic associations is what makes life and love go on for eternity or at least for the eternity of our living memory.

I happened to watch a beautiful movie on marine life and this commensalism begged to be transmuted to poetry; as an aside I have been amused by Sebastian the hermit crab from the Disney version of ‘ Little Mermaid’, and have loved the score composed by Alan Menken ever since.

Love and happiness are never an entitlement but the result of a sometimes reciprocal arrangement. In one as beautiful as in the sea anemone and the hermit crab, it is such that the yin and yang of the species are perfectly balanced. I hope we use this day to measure ourselves against the backdrop of this idea for the world; a world, which I feel, tries always to be in perfect balance when we are in cooperative engagement, in a cosmic dance in perfect complement to each other.

Love and peace to the universe. I am eternally grateful not only for today but every day that I wake up and am alive to the bright sun, the glowing moon, the dripping rain and the magnificent snow.

Stringing pearls

IMG_20200408_163706

Life reveals like a Sabian mystery;
Stringing pearls on nylon thread

Pearl, a measure of time
Time, a measure of life

Life breath flows fast like water
Across jagged rocks in youth

Or pools into a still reservoir
At the midday of the soul

And in the autumn of existence
Frozen, like a slow moving glacier

Even offending memories, so sacred
Lustrous pearls cast in nacre, steadily

By a protective mantle of an inner world,
to heal, to live, to remember…