I write for catharsis: to release, to relieve, to reveal. Writing poetry, believe it or not, helped me in my recovery process more than anything else. My journal was a friend I could talk to; it was a place where I did not have to hold back. It accepted me for who I was. One of the exercises I found most helpful was to pick an object (abstract or concrete)-- in this case, a color. After reading Maggie Nelson’s “Bluets,” I decided that I wanted my prose poem to be written in a similar fragmented style. Writing in a list, as Nelson does, allowed me to transform a chaotic and disordered infinity one bite at a time, to savor and expand each individual association I had with the color black. As my life progresses, new memories and emotions associated with black will be created; my list will never end. Taking one color and looking at it as infinite helped me gain perspective. I discovered that no matter how small something is, its impact can have unlimited strength. In the future, I am certain that this poem will continue to expand. In fact, I don’t think it will ever be completely finished. “Catharsis” is about my fragmented and confusing journey towards self-acceptance, one I wish to share with others who have ever felt small and helpless.
1. Black—the enemy that is always by my side. The children of the Pandora’s Box, the inescapable death and loss and mourning. And it refuses to leave my side. Maybe I should be grateful to have Black. Black is always there for me at my worst times. He is there for me always, for the worst times never seem to pass.
2. I squeeze my eyes tightly to take a break from reality for a couple seconds. And then Black comes. In the darkness that Black brings me as a “Get well soon” gift, I think about my mother. She said I was selfish; she said it was impossible for me to find love. I wanted to tell her that Black loved me for who I was. She would think I was crazy.
3. Black was there to help me with my loss. My grandmother had recently taken her last breath, and Black held my hand at her funeral. Black was everywhere and somewhere and nowhere and it was surreal. The dresses stained of tears were black. The air was black. The clouds were black.
4. I am in a fight with Black right now. That murderous side of him, I have no empathy for. I used to feel bad when the cultures shut the door on him, scared he would bring tragedy and death. That day I welcomed him with open arms was probably the worst mistake of my life. Black became too needy. And I found it funny how every time he appeared, something awful mysteriously happened.
5. I remember when I was a child and used to beg my mom not to leave me alone. I memorized how many pages left until the end of the bedtime stories she used to read me, dreading to see the last word forming at the tip of her tongue. I squeezed her hand and ached with fear. My head pounded as her fingers touched the light switch. I wanted to tell her the truth. I wanted to tell her that the Black she trusted as part of the family was abusing me. I wanted to tell her of the bruises I blamed as clumsiness. I wanted to tell her that I didn’t think there was a monster under my bed. I didn’t need a monster when I had Black.
6. I visited the continent on which humans spent their days as newborns—oblivious of what was to come. The elephants, the giraffes, the cheetahs, the zebras. This place definitely was the creator of life. Black would never fit in here and I was relieved. But soon I realized something. Under the burning sun, my dark skin was becoming darker and darker and darker until….until I was Black.
7. I had just come back from the hospital, where a doctor told me I was not allowed to play tennis. My prominent bones were so angry it scared me almost. I really thought I could murder that old man right then and there. And I wanted to so bad that only when I thought about it did my tense bones relax a bit. I decided to sneak outside and play tennis. What a joke! Other teens were sneaking out to do drugs and I felt bad for actually getting exercise and being healthy? Is this real life? I practiced my serves some more and more and ran lap after lap to train for tryouts. But suddenly I saw Black from the distance. Black was riding on my bicycle—my bicycle. He didn’t even ask to use it. As Black came closer and closer, it became harder and harder to breathe. And I was spinning on a carousel once again. Until Black sedated me.
8. I am trapped in this bubble that Black blew for me. NO, for himself. Black was the lock on the door making it difficult for me to come up with a run away plan that could potentially work. Black was the burnt toast I was forced to stuff in my mouth at seven in the morning. Black was the nurse that took my vitals and refused to let me leave the bubble to get some fresh air. Black was the twenty-four hour night. Black was the asylum that ensured I would never leave insanity.
9. This morning, I watched television before I woke up. Many innocent civilians were being brutally murdered by the people who were supposed to protect us. The dead had black skin. They were Black. I thought about the hatred Black experienced in his everyday life. It was like he was still wrapped around the promise of slavery. And yet he was always so good to me. He never talked about his problems, but he always listened to mine. And I was beginning to fall in love.
10. My teacher asked how I was feeling today. I told her that I felt Black. She asked me to elaborate, but I couldn’t find the words. How could I possibly describe the worst, yet most natural feeling in the world? How could I betray the creature that never abandoned me when so many others did? The one constant in my constantly changing world? Black was the sandpaper that scratched away at my skin, leaving it raw and vulnerable. But I still remember Black holding my hand at my grandmother’s funeral. It was there, just as it had promised. Yet I couldn’t help but wish that it broke its promises.
11. Black, they said, was the color of Hitler’s soul. I wanted to stand up for Black, because Black always stood by me. Black made mistakes sometimes, but he was only human. Was he capable of such cruelty and violence? Was he capable of such ignorant bigotry? All I knew was that he was unconditionally loyal to me.
12. The nurse told me that I could not have visitors since I didn’t finish the burned toast that was dryer than the Sahara. But Black somehow managed to sneak in past security. My eyes lit up as I realized someone loved me, yet I never felt more helpless.
13. I was not allowed to celebrate Christmas with my family. Instead, they laughed and ate warm gingerbread cookies without me. But Black felt bad, so he offered to stay by my side. No, he didn’t offer…he insisted. He told me that happiness didn’t exist and that darkness would not stab me in the back like everyone else did. I wished he would just hold a sharp dagger and slit the spine of my back. I realized I wanted him to stab me in the back; I didn’t want a toxic friend.
14. I look down at my wrists, stinging like the time I spilled lemon juice onto my gaping cut. I need to unwrap the chains that pained me so much that I began to feel numb. I need to feel. I need to let go of Black. I need to let go of the boulder that crushed the fragile bones of my shoulders. I need to let go of the illness that killed my grandmother. Black was always there for me, but he was never really my friend. And in that moment, I learned why they called hate the most dangerous word.
15. Black is my past. Black is my present. Black does not have to be my future. My therapist smiled after I said that. And so did I.