When I was a junior in high school, I was having a rough time. Learning the extent of my diagnosis–paired with all the readymade awkwardness of a withdrawn teenager–created the perfect storm for despair. Friedreich’s ataxia + puberty = melodramatic existentialism and emo music.
For some reason my American lit anthology for English class kept opening to a certain page. Maybe the page was located in the exact middle seam of the book, but for whatever reason, I would randomly flip through the book and land on the page with the poem I eventually memorized.
“For the Dead” by Adrienne Rich (1929-2012).
I dreamed I called you on the telephone
to say: Be kinder to yourself
but you were sick and would not answer
The waste of my love goes on this way
trying to save you from yourself
I have always wondered about the left-over
energy, the way water goes rushing down a hill
long after the rains have stopped
or the fire you want to go to bed from
but cannot leave, burning-down but not burnt-down
the red coals more extreme, more curious
in their flashing and dying
than you wish they were
sitting long after midnight
This poem still means very much to me. Through it, I found and still find a small glimmer of the worth of life.
Be kinder to yourselves, pilgrims.
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