“psalm to the devil” and “land of the desolate”

Today I am sharing two poems, both of which were featured in the 2014 edition of Kula Manu, the literary journal of Brigham Young University — Hawaii. The first, “psalm to the devil”, was also the first-place entrant in the journal’s poetry category.
 

psalm to the devil

O fallen son,
Though I may fall,
My death shall be but for a moment;
Thou art fallen forever.

O son of morning,
How the foolish think they are wise!
Though I might be made low,
THou shalt be made lower.

O shining one,
How hast thou lost thy lustre;
Thou art shrouded in darkness,
But I have found light.

O adversary,
Rejoice not in my weakness:
When I fall, I shall arise;
Thou shalt descend into nothing.

 
This poem is inspired by Isaiah 14:12-15 from the King James bible, and was written to express the struggle of finding optimism when it feels as though you are being dragged downward. Like the verses from Isaiah, I hope that my poem invokes the thought that, however powerful the opposing forces might seem, they are finite and defeatable.

 

Land of the Desolate

It came in a moment, they said.
We couldn’t have known, they cried.
We’ve been through enough, they wailed,
Then wept as their pleas were denied.

In vain, they grasped for a light in the dark,
But in spite of the smoke, there was not a spark.

They shuddered and breathed in the dusty air
And blinked, unseeing, with empty stares.

Sunless day became starless night
As they fought back the chill and mourned their plight.

A land once called holy, now only ash.
One darkness must come for the other to pass.

Only once they were blind could they truly restart,
For broken eyes see into an empty heart.

They gasped when the light of the first dawn broke.
At the heart of desolation lies a glimmer of hope.

 
This poem is directly inspired by the accounts in the Book of Mormon that describe three days of darkness that came over the land prior to Christ’s coming. However, in a broader sense the verses also are intended to express the concept of repentance and redemption, and of finding hope and truth while surrounded by darkness.

Past, Present, Future, and Locked Doors

I’m someone who is prone to contemplation: about life, death, eternity, and how I relate to the universe. Since two of my greatest passions are religion and science fiction, this is probably my own fault. If I quit reading scripture or space opera, maybe I wouldn’t have to spend as much time worrying about the future. As it is, though, I can’t go back to fix that past. Instead I’m doomed to always worry about the future. It’s just my lot in life, I suppose.

This fate is not without its upsides, as it provides me with near-endless ways to redefine my understanding of the universe. I am drawn to stories, a trait which I think is common in human beings but particularly important to me. We tell our history and all our greatest myths and legends through story, with links of causality connecting the events in an ongoing web through time and space. An event is not simply an event; it is one link in the great fabric of human experience. Then, just as important as the logical links of causality, there are also the abstract links of theme, symbol, emotion, and association. These are the links that I find most fascinating. They are, in large part, what makes us human, yet also what helps us to transcend simple humanity and connect with something more profound.

Because that is what the abstract connections are all about: that quality which is called profound, and moving, and soul-stirring, and spiritual.

Still, I can’t deny that there is a downside to my contemplative fate, and that is the worry. It’s easy to get too bogged down in abstract thoughts and patterns, and to worry about how your story is going to play out. Will it follow the traditional arc, patterned after the stories that came before, easy to understand and predict because in a sense it has already happened, but unoriginal and sometimes tragic? Or will it take you somewhere else entirely, off the charts and away from the predictable frame of reality, exciting yet exhausting and frightening in its unpredictability?

It’s terrifying not to know everything.

The problem is, when you realize you don’t know everything, it’s all too easy to fool yourself into thinking you know nothing.

At the back of one of the many buildings in the garden of the Summer Palace in Beijing, there is a door. It’s not a door you can walk through, nor look through.  The entirety of the space within the frame is filled with bricks, of the same shade and shape as those that make up the wall surrounding it. It was put there sometime around 1898, when the Empress Dowager decided she’d had enough of her nephew the Emperor and his attempts at reform, so she ordered to have him placed under house arrest and many of the doors sealed up. He lived under house arrest, Emperor in name only, for ten years.

Most of us are lucky. We aren’t emperors of a dying empire, locked in a room by a power-hungry aunt and prevented from knowing what other people don’t want us to know. Our view might be obscure, and we might not be able to know everything, but we can still see. And hope tells us that there is a chance we might someday see more. Perhaps even, says hope, our knowledge might be perfect.

I don’t think I’m a very hopeful person, at least not naturally. I think that’s why I try to remind myself of it every day. Hope is not an easy trait to hold on to, but not everything has to be easy. After all, life doesn’t reward you for doing things the easy way. It rewards you for finding what’s good, and holding on tight, and helping as many people along with you as you can. Life rewards hard work, and endurance, and optimism. It rewards taking what you have and making it better. Sometimes our efforts get us locked in a room with a walled-up door and boarded-up windows, but at least we know that it wasn’t because we didn’t try. And somewhere, somehow, if we’re lucky, our efforts might just mean something, to someone.

Whether by luck, fate, or divine blessing, locked doors can be opened. And when that happens, I hope the future they lead me to is a good one. I hope it is full of light, but not so much that I forget the darkness that made me love light in the first place. I hope it’s full of peace, but not of the complacency that too often follows. I hope it’s full of art, and life, and beauty of every kind. And I hope that it’s full of potential, because life without progress is no life at all.

Open doors of a Roman ruin

O Death

The following is a personal essay I wrote for myself, as a therapeutic measure to help me find optimism in my depression. I am sharing it because I think it represents an important side of depression that should be talked about, but the anecdotes it retells do not represent my usual thoughts. Though true, they are intentionally extreme examples.

When I was born, I have little doubt that my parents thought I was perfect. I suspect they don’t think so anymore, but then again it would be dishonest of them if they did. While it’s unlikely that I’d had the chance to make any noteworthy mistakes by the time I reached five minutes of age, I’ve more than made up for it since.

Until I was eight or nine years old, I didn’t even realize that I wasn’t perfect anymore. That’s childhood arrogance for you, or perhaps just childhood lack of interpersonal awareness. The problem is, this epiphany about my lack of perfection occurred nearly simultaneously with my realization that I wanted to be perfect.

It was a volatile mix.

By the time the reaction reached its peak, I had spent a dozen years being told that God wanted me to be perfect someday. Of course, the same people who said that also told me that God would help me become perfect, but my pubescent, hormone-addled brain hadn’t written down that part. I just knew that everyone else was more quantifiably perfect than I was, and I was never going to get anywhere.

It’s not that I ever wanted to get nowhere. It’s that I didn’t think I could do any better. It took me a very long time before I realized that even though I wasn’t perfect, I still wasn’t worthless either.

The funny part is, you always think you’re getting better, and then something else comes along to remind you once again how your brain still thinks you’re worthless. That’s the thing about brains. They are so set in their ways, they never seem to get the memos you try to send them.

Do you know what it’s like to believe that you’d be happier dead? Not wishing that you were dead, just wondering if it would be better.

Have you ever stood next to a busy intersection and wondered what would happen if you just jumped right in?

Have you ever leaned against a fifth-story window and imagined what all your friends and family would do if they found you, with a broken neck and a puddle of blood, on the pavement below?

In all those wonderings, it never occurred to me what would happen in my end of the aftermath. Would I have floated along to the world hereafter only to have the Lord Almighty look me in the eye and say, “What the hell were you thinking? You weren’t supposed to be back for eight more decades! I had so many great things lined up for you to do!”

Life is a series of choices, bringing us from point A to B to Z and onward. Sometimes that means choosing to keep going, even if every fiber of your being save one won’t see the point. The Lord would have saved Sodom for the sake of ten honest people. I’m not nearly so depraved or defiled, so perhaps the tenacious will of one fiber can make up for the overwhelming apathy of the remaining spirit.

If I’m strong, true, and maybe a bit lucky, someday I will be able to look the Devil in the eye and say, “O Death, where is thy sting? O Grave, where is thy victory?” Such is the fall of Death and Hell. My God is not gone, the Devil cannot take hold, and the Lord still has mercy on my soul.

I had my chance to not be born. I came here anyway, and dammit if I’m not going to make the best of it.

Important Note: I am not, nor have I ever been, suicidal. I have never attempted nor wished to kill myself, or to die. This piece of nonfiction creative writing simply attempts to express the feeling of apathy that occurs when one is caught between wanting to live and not caring one way or the other.