Swimming the Depths

Like a shadow or a friend
this old companion,
shape-shifting cloud,
demon / mentor –
who can tell? –
is always at hand.

We deny the shadow we hate,
man’s best friend
that bites when ignored
and embrace the intimate we crave,
abusive lover whose kisses console.

We accept the love
we think we deserve

but we deserve so much more
than tortures we did not seek.

Parent’s hand across face,
forgiveness / strength sought in bottle,
panic of prolonged pain
that makes you hope for death
but promises not to kill you
these forever walk alongside,
create faithful / faithless
companions of caged animals
whose cries beg for escape
onto page / canvas.

Hello darkness, my old friend,
I’ve come to talk with you again
Water-boarding and bamboo shoots
are not the only forms of torture.
Who are we to define
another’s pain?
Can we dismiss Plath, Williams,
Hemingway, Cobain,
who all felt hope for death
and rejected the promise
not to be killed?

Wading in the shallows
may keep us safe
from swarming sharks,
but can it compare to swimming
the depths?

Art need not come
from mangled wings
but still must bubble
from deep well,
of joyful carnal embrace
or splintered heart
it does not matter.

But our tortures
demand we create.


Notes on italicized text (in the order it appears):
1. The first line of this poem is the final line of the poem “Kindness” by Naomi Shihab Nye.
2. From the novel “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” by Stephen Chbosky.
3. From an unpublished poem by Emily Daniel.
4. Opening line of “The Sound of Silence” by Simon & Garfunkel

©2023 Kenneth W. Arthur