This poem is pinned to my fridge door.
It has spoken to me more clearly than perhaps any poem I’ve ever come across. It pins down something which I’ve felt but failed to articulate more times than I can say. In fact it is the inarticulacy of the poem itself which first grabbed my attention: “When the something withdrawn (you cannot tell exactly what or when) flows back into the blood” – you can’t say what it is or how it came to be, but you feel it, more so when it lifts than when you are in the thick of the gloom.
Perhaps it is what Winston Churchill called ‘the black dog’.
I’ve never thought of myself as depressed in the clinical sense we talk about in terms of mental health. For me, mercifully, it has never been so all consuming so as to knock me out for weeks or months or years at a time, but I’ve had those days. Only days at a time but I know others who’ve faced a battle of greater endurance. I consider myself lucky on that count, but it only makes me empathise more with those who suffer prolonged periods of depression, stress and anxiety.
I’ve long believed in prescribing poetry as a means of maintaining good mental health. We should pay as much attention to the state of our mental well-being as we do to the number on our scales. There’s a lot to be said for ‘Mindfulness’, often scoffed at by the cynical. I’ll admit, this sceptic doesn’t quite have the attention span to meditate for an hour a day but I can appreciate that feeling of tuning in to something more acute, a sharper vision that throws a spotlight on how the light hits a tree or the raindrops on a skylight. I don’t know the science behind it, but I know that I don’t notice those things on a black day when I’m walking head down, grumbling internally about the pedestrian traffic on Bold Street.
What you realise in those moments, “that nothing is so lost or gone to waste that it cannot start again“, that is the feeling I wish I could bottle and gift to those friends who are under the weight of the black dog. Failing that, I offer Coming Back by Stephen Romer.
Coming Back (for James Malpas)
When the something withdrawn (you cannot tell
exactly what or when) flows back into the blood
and you return from the damned into your own
(where living is at last to be living now
which the damned cannot know); when your beloved
is again beloved, and morning shows a tree
dressed in light, meaning and memory
at peace in its leaves; when your thought is cool
as linen and you go downstairs to receive
a letter from a friend with total recall
who tells you what you were, and you listen
with attention to rain on the skylight
which tells you what you are:
then you know
that nothing is so lost or gone to waste
that it cannot start again; as when you leave
the city for the pulling air and the sea
which turns upon itself and fills you, something
bows you down to the ground, bows you weeping
down to the sand, weeping there and giving thanks.