The day after the Dean of Michigan State College admits him
to Lansing Sparrow Hospital for rest, a naked Theodore Roethke
barricades himself behind a hospital mattress
refusing sedatives. He won’t even take one
when they try to hide it in a beer.
He’s working on instinct’s last nerves,
a meaty bone’s wisdom rides his mind.
But a brave man gives nothing away, shows a pale modern eye
to the doctors and the therapies that monkey around
in that hydroelectric century.
After his night in the woods, mute under a tree,
he’d emerged like a fawn with a stiff, drunk heart,
like Nijinsky becoming God, his body
monochrome in the silence. He slipped in.
I want to say so much and cannot find the words
Nijinsky wrote in his asylum diary,
I was sorry to leave the tree because the tree understood me.
Roethke heard it all: the abatement of bark, the stripping of it
by the tiniest bug, the needle. Underneath you, there it is.
(There’s what?) That dark that sniffs your salts,
your ditch-hidden angers soaked in ethyl alcohol,
mounted on paper. (What dark?) This dark, doctor. Tune up,
listen, inhale, for Christ’s sake. Don’t try to pull that stuff on me,
says Roethke, sharpening his tools in the barricade,
still tender in the habit of the child, his cargo
that one luminous brain back in the brain’s cave.
Copyright © Persea Books 2016
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