When I get sick, things get very, very dark in my mind. I spiral downward into the morose thoughts of a depressive, luxuriating in my misery, knowing it is likely temporary. In the throes of corporeal suffering, I often turn to poetry. Poetry seems to speak when my sore, raspy throat produces nothing but squawks.
Mysterious, isn’t it?
A turn of light
Above some stumpy
The way a screen porch
Frames a bunch of haggard trees,
The way we squint
At what we love.
“Honeymoon” by Cornelius Eady
Between nose blows and cups of comforting tea, I read Jane Kenyon and Pablo Neruda and an old favorite, William Wordsworth. Poetry of death and aging yields unexpected meaning. Mary Oliver and W.H. Auden become my muses. In my own writing, I use more expressive and melodramatic language, likely influenced by Nyquil and misery. Characters are more likely to be frail or murdered in the novel or story I work on for the day. Vonnegut seems a lot funnier.
Ink that enchants me,
drop after drop,
guarding the path
of my reason and unreason
like the hardly visible
scar on a wound that shows while the body sleeps
on in the discourse of its destructions.
“The Blow” by Pablo Neruda, Translated by Ben Belitt
Five Decades: Poems 1925-1970
I rarely write my own poetry. Not since I wrote an angsty poem about a dead high school classmate have I been interested in writing verse. It was put in the high school yearbook next to the picture of a beautiful 16 year old girl. The poem was quite awful. I don’t know what the adults in charge were thinking.
for forty years
the sheets of white paper have
passed under my hands and I have tried
to improve their peaceful
emptiness putting down
little curls little shafts
of letters words
little flames leaping
“forty years” by Mary Oliver
New and Selected Poems, Volume Two
I once wrote a Haiku about my cat in a sunny window. My words formed the shape of a cat. I was 10. Since then, my words seem to take less shape. This is the moroseness of a flu bug. Other people’s writing always seems better than my own. But it’s not a bad thing to turn down the volume of one’s own narcissism and listen to what words have been assembled by others.
Dead my old fine hopes
And dry my dreaming but still…
Iris, blue each spring.
Women Poets of Japan by
With my desire for brevity and clarity as a writer, it is odd that I shy away from writing poetry. But it has always seemed a magical art and that I am not ephemeral enough in my thinking to be lyrical. I want to leave the magic unrevealed. I don’t want to know how it works. I don’t want to tinker with it and take it apart. I just want to accept its purpose in my life to inspire, comfort and remind me of the beauty of simple language. Especially when nothing else penetrates the fog of snot.
If you would leave off your play and dive in the
water, come, O come to my lake
Let your blue mantle lie on the shore; the blue
water will cover you and hide you.
See, I would simply write “Skinny dip, yo.” But what an entirely different frame a poet can give the scene.
For now, I must languish in bed,
wrapped in yesterday’s clothes that
wend around me like old phlegm.
No, I’m not a poet. And yes, I need a shower.
Here are a couple of online blogging poets:
Heed not Steve‘s haikus.
He amuses me often,
which doesn’t take much.
Kathryn combines artistry and poetry.
15 thoughts on “Flu as Poetic Inspiration”
jump around and fill my brain
Ha-inspiring in so many ways, Ruth!
No matter how you are feeling, you shouldn’t take it out on fictional characters.
– signed Ombudsman for Fictional Characters.
(I hope you feel better soon – but the flu certainly has not crippled your style. Well written.)
Dear Ombudsman for Fictional Characters,
I wrote a story. A steamroller just pressed you into the cement like a cartoon character.
-signed Author of “Nanny-nanny Boo-boo”
Thanks for the good wishes. Some of my best writing happens when I’m completely stoned on cold medicine. That concerns me.
Thanks for the link, Michelle. I’ve written more poems than I care to admit and still don’t think of myself as a poet.
I’ve learned to tell when I’m on the edge of falling sick because, when I am, I grow (more) surly in my thinking and tend to run heated, imaginary arguments in my mind – nasty, visceral arguments I feel in my, well …viscera.
I hope you feel better soon.
You’re welcome, Steve. Glad to be able to mention your blog.
If surliness were a measure of me falling ill, well, it would be very hard to differentiate from some of my healthier days. When I start reading and/or writing about death everywhere, there’s surely a fever waiting to break!
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You mention haiku
And resistance is futile.
I must make one too.
They are compelling little things, aren’t they?
I love them and I’ve read some beautiful ones, but I cannot quite take them seriously.
Thanks for the shout-out, Michelle! Hope you’re well instanter. I do know how phlegm suffuses the entire body, mind, and spirit. When thus bug-drugged, I have a tendency to head *away* from the oblique and ephemeral worlds of poetry for something more concrete and self-evident that (I think) I can cling to—if I’ve any hope of thought at all. Obviously, even when germs have made you a human slime incubator you’re clearer-headed and more able to think in the abstract than I am at my best. And I do mean that kindly. 😉 Good health to you, and here’s to happier days ahead.
Thanks, Kathryn. I hope to feel better soon as well. Although my keyboard may be re-infecting me as I type this. I probably should give it a wipe down.
I think the effects of the flu make me a little sillier and more open – perhaps that is why poetry is comforting. It becomes more appealing to the senses when I’m not thinking about “the writing”. It’s something to think about when I feel well again. Right now, I need to snooze some more…
Love all these poems, Tagore, Oliver and Neruda belong to my favorites too. Thanks for sharing! I like to write haikus, but lately I’ve written “other stuff” rather than poems. I guess it’s all about mood. I hope you feel better soon.
Thanks, Helen. I’m starting to feel better, but have lost my voice. My family keeps doing a little dance. I just don’t understand…
When I’m sick I can’t fathom poetry. I reach for Stephen King–especially “The Stand” where everyone dies of the flu.
Ha – excellent. Perhaps it is my fragmented, floaty thinking when I have a head full of snot. Or perhaps it is all the focus I can manage! Still sick, but upright, so that’s something.