It is said, both in terms statistical and general, that once one experiences a breakdown the likelihood of the demon’s return goes up rather remarkably; after two one can almost count on keeping the hearth warm for the cold dead wind that ruins the heart, rips the mind in two.
I think often of Auden’s line, “and the crack in the teacup opens/a lane to the land of the dead.” In madness the crack turns into a canyon. The canyon floods with the detritus of the mind as it destroys itself, like a virus gone crazed with fever. Occasionally one can watch the destruction as one might a film, or a televised hurricane 1500 miles away.
Stand with me on the canyon’s edge: there streams by a long built plan for teaching Yoga, there lies under it the friends and fellows I had longed to know. Next to it, caught in a merciless eddy, is the vision of Love and Family that supported the frail frame. It is in pieces now, chunks and shards that pierce the skin straight through. I am made of paper. I am made of air.
I am water with no container.
It is pathetic to beg the ex-husband at the exile’s gate. On gashed knees, weeping, eyes dilated and swollen from desert dust. In the image created by a fractured mind, the children are about to die, they are dying, they will die, and the mother is already gone. Receive this body, Husband. Receive the children, restore them to Unity and Grace.
Suicide is selfish. Of course it is. The mother’s body must move, must attend the classes, must locate the checkbook, must exercise the facial muscles to smile at the teacher. The mother’s body must eat enough to keep the bones from showing through, must drive the car, must make the doctors appointments, must tend the tears on the perfect round faces. The mother’s voice must be tender. The mother’s mind must be wise. The mother’s heart must be an alchemist tutored by Dionysus: she must present the dead heart as a fleshy, open, pulsing thing. At least until the innocent shut their eyes at night. Only then might she climb the canyon walls, and watch a fool’s life drift and drown, let the dead heart release its poison and stench.
First child, after the dead identical twin boys. First living child, late winter birth. Instantly, spring was upon me, and the wisdom of the infant spoke to me during the quiet afternoons. I would lay him down on the large soft bed, skylights overhead, attic window hiding us like birds in a high branch. He spoke in pictures, images that imprinted themselves on the chambers of the heart, and coursed through the body.
Land. Land green and soft. Water. Salted air, quiet nights. Porches filled with creaking floorboards and contented animals. Eyes wide at dawn, greeting the child, the dark hills: we are lovers and we love also the tended animals, the children, the flowers that grow wild around the border of the house. Our bodies move with force, with purpose, and we shape our lives as the ocean shapes the shore. Sensuous lines, unpredictable, natural. We create a protective web of Love, Beauty, fearless Waking.
Never did I let it go, the obsession with land and sky and water. Even when the husband could hardly look at the wife without feeling a grip at the base of his long throat, even when work in the dirty downtown city became a balm and respite from the obtrusive woman prattling without end. He saw me as an amorphous monster, even as I dreamed of horses and deer at twilight.
I think perhaps I am insane all the time, and when the Depression comes, arrives like the corpse of an animal, heavy and still, it is only then that the weight forces open my eyes to see. Crazy woman. Unbalanced creature.
There will never be the green spring and the blue with no horizon. It is for the poets and the beautiful to live such a life. And so I have a visitor in my home. She has been gone awhile. I think she has much to tell me before she takes her leave. In the silence and solitude of my life, I think she never will.
As fast as I can, I must stitch together a mask. It is made of thin hides and raw cut jewels. Onyx for the eyes, hair of liquid quartz. It must fit to perfection, as a Duchess’s kid glove at her lover’s masked ball. The stitches are invisible, they are made from mother’s milk. Every morning the mask must shape the face no longer there, the face that in the night sat in terror, a solitude indescribable. I love my children. The love will make the mask fit, no matter the barbs underneath.