Artwork for Sharon Black's poems

Five Poems
Sharon Black

Know Thyself

What parts of me you don’t know
are suddenly lavishly decorated
accompanied by copious notes,
a row of grim warehouses
with studio potential and glory
to the little pink bike messenger
delivering manila envelopes
fat with mud.

The black dog is friendly, we think.
It’s the cream-colored one that’s been known to snap.

Blessed are basements you incorrectly assume
all houses come with.

I prefer to be surprised so I told you
to keep the program to yourself.
That didn’t come out right.
It’s also not true.
Last thing a control freak needs is another surprise.

~ ~ ~


I shouldn’t dwell on it but I do.
I live in the dwelling
of what I think about.

From where I sit you look different.
Everyone does.
Dwelling on anything distorts
but it’s not like I have a choice.
I dwell on incidents, scenes
that transpired—I pick them up,
put them down like a vase
or candy dish, a nail file—
not because I’m idle but because
I’m interested in narrative structure.

Easy for you to say don’t dwell on it
but it’s where I live by myself
under house arrest.
I know it’s better to be free
out in the yard waving my arms
at the bus or ice cream truck
or walking downtown like you,
wilting violets stashed
in the buttonhole of my coat.
If only what happened hadn’t
insisted on a place of its own,
much less I call it home.

~ ~ ~

Four Pathologies

I. The Head Banger

     the world is hard to soften
     with my own head thinking
     my thoughts hurt

     you use your knuckles
     I use my head
     no one answers

     better keep knocking

II. The Skin-Picker

     Life is that plane of important-things-to-do I just missed.
     Again. I’m down here on the ground
     on hands and knees gardening
     in the abundant field
     of my own dermatology.
     Behold the geography of me
     as jets overhead lull me
     into their trance.

     I know I should leave nature alone—
     but how to resist these beds,
     so tempting is the meditation
     of all I must mend.

III. The Stutterer

     Every few words
     is the snow blower
     in the driveway,
     first accumulation
     of the season.
     You stand over it
     yanking the cord starter,
     until one of the revs
     catches full sentence.

IV. The Rocker

     What greater solace than to move
     without going anywhere.
     Motion that is stasis, the best
     and neither of both worlds.

     When I die my soul will go on consoling itself
     in the ghost of my body, my one dream come true.
     Sitting in a cornfield rimmed
     with bare trees, I’ll be rocking—
     Rocking in plazas bedecked with scratchy leaves,
     itinerant musicians, and pigeons
     with iridescent necks—
     in cavernous theaters I’ll be rocking
     as actors in the tiniest lit spaces rehearse
     revivals of Chekov and Ibsen.
     I won’t need a maternal hand on the cradle
     or drugs or some other comfort like love.
     I won’t let the vastness of the universe get to me.
     Not if I’m rocking.

~ ~ ~


Being made to choose
Being washed overboard
Being raked into a pile

The hostile act
The whole charade
The smoking lake

Being taken to the cleaners
Being asked to tag along
Being turned into iron works

The slow burn
The stone wedged in
Being unsure
if there’s room underneath

A silhouette made out of lace
An army of one
A reasonable freight rate

Being told we’re all out
Being charged on two counts
for having touched it
Being ruby-throated

The wishbone syndrome
The fungible expectorant
The practical savagery

Being turned into claymation
Being turned into run-off
Into golden delicious
Into a shtick to warm up the audience

A working farm
A display rack
A dream containing a tiger
inside a cow, oh, and the shock of it
shot out of a rocket
The mud of what’s been dug up
under the flutter of anonymous white butterflies
of what you’re thinking

Being told you are not contributing
you put your hands over your ears
Being told you have forgotten what we were like
Being turned into a house with loose shutters
and then the wind with a piece
of plastic in its arms.

~ ~ ~

On Seeing Through You

Seeing through you is important, but not
for the reason you think.
It’s not about having you figured out.
It has more to do with scenery.
Seeing what’s on the other side of you.
Even if it’s only the filing cabinet
you’re leaning against, or the refrigerator
cluttered with announcements for events
that are already over. Because you could also
be standing in front of one of those rare
white peacocks that, if spotted, brings good luck.
It’s nice to not have to ask you
to move out of the way. Seeing through you

has always been strategically useful
because there’s the Pacific Ocean,
there’s David Smith sculptures—
a world of wonders you can’t help
getting in the way of.

         If I have to secure your favor,
do your bidding, at least I can look
you in the eye and not miss the sun
setting on the Acropolis.

Sharon Black’s Comments

“Know Thyself”
This is a poem about the unknowable wonder of the self. Part I is a disorienting sort of selfie. And the assumptions and miscues of Parts II and III only mislead—despite appearances, despite words (including poetry). I don’t see this as a dark poem, though. I may have become a writer because I had things to say, but now I’m just in it for the mystery. And since it’s so hard, reading a person (self or other) or a situation correctly, there’s no shame in being confounded—the shame is in thinking you’ve figured it out, assuming you understand what it is you’ve overheard.

The idea of the verb “to dwell” (psychologically) and the noun “dwelling” (as in domicile) has been played with before, most ingeniously in Emily Dickinson’s “I dwell in Possibility” (466). My take is a more dysfunctional one. Here the act of dwelling on something is obsessive, isolating. What we think about takes on an architecture of its own—in this case, one that resembles a prison.

“Four Pathologies”
I’ve always been fascinated by coping strategies, even, or especially, destructive or shameful ones. These four conditions are about isolation as much as shame (shame is the ultimate isolator). I try to find a kind of logic operating in the conditions. The head banger tries to domesticate his/her world cerebrally, soften it, gain access to it. The skin-picker’s compulsive “gardening” (of their own flesh) is an anxiety of interface between self and world (plane to be caught). Unfortunately, this coping strategy keeps the world at bay (missed plane). The third condition, stuttering, is a communication disorder that has a lot of shame built up around it. This piece is probably the simplest one of the bunch. I’m basically just illustrating the condition through a winter metaphor—the frustrating, exhausting act of standing over a snow blower that’s hard to start. Lastly, there’s the rocker. I’ve read about mental patients who rock back and forth for hours. I like to see this as a way they, through rhythmic movement, successfully maintain their own peace/equilibrium with the world. As someone who can’t sit still, I can relate.

This is a free-floating stab at the question of existence, addressed here simply by a variety of its manifestations. What is it? There are different forms of agency or lack thereof in the poem and everything’s mutating. Being is fraught. It’s confounding and thrilling, but also there’s heartbreak and humiliation.

“On Seeing Through You”
Sometimes I like to take expressions of speech literally and run with them. What if seeing through someone is to not only having them figured out but to also magically be able to see the objects/views that they are standing in front of? Without knowing details, there’s a power imbalance in the poem between the speaker and addressee (friend, spouse, boss, mentor …). Any kind of servitude-shame that might be going on is deflected by the speaker’s claim to this particularly visual dexterity. That the speaker’s world view is undiminished, maybe even enhanced by the situation—even if he/she is not in control of the relationship—is the kick. Or is this coping strategy a lie that maintains the power dynamic as is? That would be the victim-interpretation, but if we want to wiggle out of the dark reading, let me add that anyone possessing such an imaginative vision will not stay down forever.

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FRiGG: A Magazine of Fiction and Poetry | Issue 48 | The Shame Issue | Spring/Summer 2016