Poetry: Selections from Matthew Freeman
I'm dead. I thought that I should tell you that up front.
It's the only reason it's okay for me to write this.
And I've been thinking about the word “Beat” for quite a while.
It's just that my thoughts and memories are scrambled
and a lot of what I know came out of having endured psychosis.
I grew up reading Ginsberg and Kerouac and as
a lapsed disturbed Lutheran I loved how they linked
“Beat” with “Beatitude”. That's what it's all about. And later
at NYU they made us writers take an acting class
and the teacher was always talking about beats. I wasn't
quite conscious back then but some part of me was listening.
I got kicked out of there anyway.
Now, I have been thoroughly beaten down but we can dispense
with all of that. I've covered that ad nauseam.
I'm thinking about the clear vision I had
when I was rolling around on the carpet in the day room
on the psych ward and I saw this psychedelic hippie
with these laughably huge boots coming towards me
like he was going to step on me
and conflate every version of the word at once
and I thought maybe the Beats were a horrible society
who sat around silent in smoky rooms
and tapped their feet at each other when they wanted to hook up.
Imagine that! But later a woman came up
from a different ward and sat in the luxorious chair next to mine
after I'd cooled out and I tried tapping my foot a couple of times
but each time she tapped hers harder
and I realized the message was I needed to be perfectly still.
We hadn't spoken but I said thanks when she got up to go.
“For what,” she said. It was like in the observation room this guy
would raise his arms and each time I'd raise mine higher.
I remember we had a devout older man who would come near
and clap his hands loudly in order to perform a dispossession.
I was brought temporarily back to sanity by some miracle
and no longer believed that I owned the hospital
and as we were outside smoking the new young therapist walked by
and when she got close to me she coughed
so I said let's talk and I said,
“I've learned the tools of analysis, and I learned them on my own.”
“That's so sad,” she said, eyes so bright and shining.
Then we set up a time to meet but as is always the way
I was discharged
before it came up.
His Grand Return
What's going to happen is
when Greyhound fingerprints
the empty Diet Pepsi bottle I left
on the bus for no other reason
than just to be an asshole
because I felt like it
they're going to send their henchmen after me
and I'm finally
going to die a noble and heroic death.
One might wonder
what a loaf of bread looks like
after having been flooded
out of one's apartment for six weeks
and come back to the typical blocking device
between one and one's perception
and one's perception is all messed up
and in desperate need
of a very specific type of drug.
You feel that this is why you feel they won't
let you back into your childhood church.
And they're letting all kinds of assholes in.
One time I did something rather intelligent
as I was getting a ride home
from a music show and poetry reading
from my dear friend Medina and her daughter
because while little Cassandra and I
were sitting in the car waiting on her mom
“Remember how I read a sonnet tonight?
I bet you didn't know that my sonnet
had a whole lot in common
with those beautiful drummers we saw.”
“Really?” Cassandra said.
“Yeah,” I went on, “we were all
operating on strict meters.”
So I've added that to this world.
But when you awaken
and everything becomes a poem
that's when you're in trouble.
Because somebody somewhere along the line
told you it wasn't possible.
I'm not doing anything at all, though, you think.
Then you need some structured activity, something
counters. We'll get you off your ass!
But I typed up and sent out ten poems,
you think. And for that matter
I'm not so certain my blood is even flowing anymore.
The talk continues and guilt abounds.
The laws of this world evidently apply to you
even if you think they don't.
You can't be a baby anymore and stop your meds
even if you feel like hiding out on the ward.
You should become a celebrated professor!
But how in the hell can something like that happen?
You can't say anything about how poems arrive, you don't
know anything about anybody's poem.
You've got your spleen and your Ativan.
Now these are called Spring things,
and they're no different
from the wine and the bread.
Although they could be flesh and blood,
depending on your denomination.
Who could've known you'd see
just a bit of hell again today
and then rally by the time it was time
to watch your stories. You were telling
your analyst how
you need to get delivered every day.
And then suddenly and loudly,
“My God! I just got that! 'Delivered'!
As in getting born! I wonder
why that took me so long...”
Possession is a type of language.
It's like being arrested,
one thing applying to something else.
It's like Being taken into custody.
Without all of this
capital would not exist and the psych wards
would empty out.
It's hard knowing
everything is the same.
I used to admire those souls
who put up such a grand resistance.
But now, by inexorable means, they
are not here to see a bit of ice fall from the gutter,
or a despot removed, or the gathering of the
wedding parties in Forest Park
getting ready for their beautiful photos.
It's fun to have learned so much
and to know who you are
and to have almost completely
come out of the wretched horrific nonsense
and beaten that poor devil back to the point
where language got so totally clear
and your old friends recognized you
and you're acting as if
a war were still going on somewhere
and your blood is beginning to flow again
but believe you deserve peace
when peace used to be always someone else's
house, someone else's lawn, car, pool,
peace was another family's sobriety
and another family's sanity--
like the most beautiful piano concerto you've ever heard
coming through the open window in early summer
with your door closed tight
and you're sitting there trying to read Flaubert
and you're waiting on a voice you aren't sure will ever come
and no way, you don't love
every single person, and to be honest
you never even prayed for it,
and years later
you get this wonderful message
from someone who mercifully drops the “Friend” bomb
and you're meeting each other at Meshuggah Cafe
and you know that when you walk down Delmar
irony will still be waiting to torture you
but you'll call that “Purity.”
Matthew Freeman's seventh collection of poems, I Think I'd Rather Roar, is soon to be published by Cerasus Poetry. He holds an MFA from the University of Missouri-St Louis.