Reasons to Hold On and Other Purposes for Poetry

Words and Photos by Haley Galliano

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I believe it easy, from the safety of sound mind and full heart, for us to look on at another person in a much sorrier state, afflicted and crouching as they are, and think by god, If only they would pull themselves out of this. I believe it easy to imagine ourselves in their position, with our convictions and our own reasoning, pulling ourselves up from that sorry place much more quickly, assuming only that it is their weakness that prohibits them from doing so. That is, of course, until whatever circumstance, whatever force, comes along and brings us down to our knees as well, and we come to find that the rising up is not so simple. I’m referring to the blows that life administers to us all in its own timing. Those which, until encountered face to face, cannot be prepared for entirely, no matter what strength we believe ourselves to posses.

I would sit at the bottom of the bathtub, four fingers wrapped around my bottom teeth, and pull down, hard. Like if I could separate my jaw from my skull the buzzing in my head would stop.

In August I had become some shadow of a person. Shadow-like: no roots into anything, no hold onto that which had previously made me, me. So much so that I couldn’t act out a conversation with my father, who I’d felt could never see me so unsolid up until that point, and then all of a sudden I didn’t give a damn. I would sit at the bottom of the bathtub, four fingers wrapped around my bottom teeth, and pull down, hard. Like if I could separate my jaw from my skull the buzzing in my head would stop. Not a literal buzzing, but the buzzing that comes from helplessness- an internal scream constantly reminding me you’re just a shadow of you. It wasn’t that I’d lost my mind, exactly, it was that I could no longer grab ahold of the things I’d always found important- in myself, but also in the world around me. I felt untethered to the convictions that had grounded me before.

So the water would be running cold and I’d be there, mouth gaping and waiting for the thing to crawl out of me, whatever it was, but it wouldn’t, so I’d rap myself up in a towel reluctantly and crawl out shaky legged from the tub just to stare at my own reflection for a couple minutes. Which was ghastly, and sorry looking, and made the buzzing worse, and then I’d get dressed knowing I’d just have to try something different tomorrow, something to knock me back into myself.

And that’s all it was. Trying and trying. I had nothing to lose, and with that comes a sort of empowerment to try anything and everything to get out of the shadow state, to get the thing turning me inside out to get bored already, slither up out of my throat like a tapeworm starved for food. I turned to all the usual things, but I couldn’t write, except in all caps, my head is splitting in two, over and over again until I fell into fits of sleep, which meant the thing had swallowed my creativity, and that wasn’t saving me. Booze was just sludge in my belly, making me bitter and slow, and I was too afraid to hike alone because of the quiet, and what might happen if I walked too far with only my head, splitting in two. Weeks of this. Time moving too slowly.

And there was no great shining light that broke through the sky and snatched me up from the depths of myself, though I know breakthroughs of that sort are not altogether mythical.  I was not due for any revelation. I knew that time was the only thing that would solidify the parts of me that had become so translucent, so unsure, that I would have to wake up every day and rewire myself. Get far enough away from the bad thing and the memory gets too fuzzy to affect you the same way. There are more bad things, of course, but time and distance, so far as I can tell, are a remedy of sorts. So that’s what I did, impatiently, but consistently, I moved farther away.

That we as humanity will find ourselves, at different points and for different reasons, dangling on to the last rung, exhausted. And we will curl up in our bathtubs and stare hollow into our reflections and think “I’m just a shadow of me.”

There was one thing, though, in all my trying, that stood out against the rest. It was the reading of other people’s poetry, musings and revelations, that muffled the buzzing long enough to put it into perspective. Atwood and Bukowski, sure, but even the works of small-town poets from a different state, alive in the same moment as I, prose stumbled upon in beach town bookstores and other unlikely places; anything that hit me in the chest. Because I, hanging on to this last rung of ladder, was not the first one here. I, at the bottom of the bathtub. I, pulling jaw from skull. I, turned inside out, could see very clearly that it’s been a history of this. That we as humanity will find ourselves, at different points and for different reasons, dangling on to the last rung, exhausted. And we will curl up in our bathtubs and stare hollow into our reflections and think I’m just a shadow of me. And for what it’s worth, in these seasons, we can turn to the works of others, who have seen the bad thing before us and who can remind us in words so reminiscent of our own experience, of course. How very bad it is. But hold on, why don’t you. Hold on.