Melancholia — Robert Nelson
Take a look at my face and examine the joy
that my costume expresses and actions employ.
I have trouble disguising my world-weary frown
which is etched in the mask of an obsolete clown.
My career was to laugh and encourage delight
by an abject grotesqueness that also brings fright.
I’m eternally twisted, distorted and morphed
with extravagant pride in what ought to be dwarfed;
I’m enormous and tiny, a knave beyond scale
who makes light of the tragic or sorrowful tale
but who then inexplicably waxes morose
when the story is happy or tender or close.
My ontology crumbles in limp contradictions
that romance the soul in illogical fictions.
I liken my station to death. It’s the part
corresponding the best to my desolate heart;
because death, although charged with a murderous task
is constrained to assume a lugubrious mask.
You can never make eye-contact, never set eyes
on the figment of death in its morbid disguise.
It’s a lean and absurd euphemistic conceit
that our curious eyes never candidly meet;
it’s impossible ever to know than by dying.
The people who claim an encounter are lying.
Inscrutable death, it is you who I’ll be.
That unknowable thing at the end, that is me.
Who am I underneath this inscrutable mask,
a disguise for deflecting whatever you ask?
Is it I, the original person whose face
these deceptive unnatural layers displace?
Or perhaps is it he, the old man whom you see
whose theatrical pathos is mimicked by me?
My persona is doubled and folds your surmises
in doubtful and cryptic equivocal guises.
Who speaks in your mind when I cast you a gaze
or I mutter my hardships in taciturn ways?
Irrespective of who might inhabit this gown
the combined institution is only a clown;
it amalgamates both of us, youth and a codger,
a derelict tramp or a whimsical lodger,
a one who is kitted bizarrely for show
and who travels in places where vagabonds go.
I’m a hobo of dreams. I am hope’s bricoleur.
I’m a scrounger of jokes. I’m regret’s connoisseur.
I’m a salesman of fun that attracts no belief.
I’m a happy purveyor of clandestine grief.
Let my sorrows deride these disguises of joy
because sadness is passive but chortles destroy.
For as long as you’ve lived you’ve suppressed your despair
to preserve the illusion of fondness and care
to pretend that the world has an end like a joke
that’s relayed by a clown in a luminous cloak,
when in fact there’s a cavernous gulf or ravine
that belittles your guts to the core of your spleen.
So you too have adapted to flatten your frown
And adopt the duplicitous smile of a clown.
You consult with your psyche and note the abyss
and the rickety bridge that connects you with bliss.
What commends itself now but dissimulate well
to avoid the conclusion of plunging to hell?
But if that is your footing in hedging the fall
you’re aware of the absence of railing or wall.
At the precipice laughter will never avail.
It’s the verge where encouraging sentiments fail.
It’s the chasm that drains your resilience away,
enervation that burdens the length of the day.
If you tumble, your consciousness ceases to think.
There’s no limit to which you are destined to sink.
O to languish and relish the platform below
and to settle the gap with the grounds that you know!
To be reconciled, that is our last aspiration:
to tread in the void and feel firm affirmation!
The unknown is my element. Nobody knows
the caprice that my get-up will never disclose.
My inscrutable face, although kind and benign,
is without a reliable meaningful sign;
and in this, I resemble the riddle of death
that we only discern with our ultimate breath.
Even then, it’s unknown, because how do I know
where my fondest relations with others will go?
Never mind what is death in the moment of dying.
That’s morbidly kitsch and impiously prying.
I’m talking of death in the sense that one’s dead
and the subject surpasses the moment of dread.
The relations with others don’t suddenly die
in the moment that passes your consciousness by.
All the others hang on. They relate to you still.
There are promises, vows that they want to fulfill;
they continue to dream and unconsciously speak:
it’s your love and esteem that they desperately seek.
The relation intensifies, heightened, of course,
by finality’s trigger to endless remorse.
Every moment suggests a frustrated review
that is filled with regret and irreparable rue.
But although you take stock that it’s bound to occur
there is nothing to which your surmise can refer.
You’re alive and these almost predicted reactions
are only conjecture and idle abstractions.
In fact, you don’t know. What will happen will be
but who knows at what time or what kind or degree?
There’s a conference of sighs, a symposium of tears
that’s replete with anxiety, sadness and fears;
but you’ll never find out. Both the joy and the moan
are a part of my element: me, the unknown!
Authenticity! Where did it go? If I hide
can I claim it more fully and deeply inside?
If it isn’t myself, can I look from outside
and observe where my qualities really reside?
If the pronoun of ‘me’ is exchanged for a noun
and I calmly convert myself into a clown
I take stock of my mask as a wily convention
that tactically adds to my self-comprehension.
I realize how much in the house and the town
is a mask like the one that is worn by a clown,
how we juggle our humour and gladly pretend
how we’re happy to tryst with a cousin or friend;
we dissimulate pleasure and hence get along
even though by the inside the outside is wrong.
We make out that the chocolate or shopping is great
where in other regards they’re the things that we hate.
Yet it isn’t a lie or dishonest; it’s just
that our natures are built to adapt and adjust,
to move sideways, rotate, to go up and go down
and adopt the chameleon cheer of a clown.
It is needed wherever your promenades go.
It’s the guile that the clown and philosopher know.
So in knowing this mask I might thus understand
how organic identities shrink and expand,
how the soul may be relative, swell and contract
as the context advises to add or subtract;
and from here, I can see the completest extension
that stretches the powers of witty invention:
the last adaptation, the ultimate breath:
it’s the mask that contains me to countenance death.
If you study me carefully, what do you see?
There’s a clown and a person beneath who is me.
But there’s someone beyond us, autonomous, free,
who constructs enigmatic relations of three.
It’s the person who looks, the photographer, you,
who directs and interprets the things that we do.
This interpreter then has a role in the scene
that determines what is, what will be and has been.
She’s the mother of vision, a one with ideas
that might temper and trump my ephemeral fears.
She’s an organ of projects and plans and invention
exceeding the clown’s and my own comprehension.
She knows how to know where her knowledge cuts out
and predicts in advance what its theme is about.
This lenticular oracle sees in the dark
to transform what is vague into something that’s stark
or whatever is fixed she unties till it’s loose
to uncover its lost metaphorical use.
This creative maternal photographer lives
by the generous virtual life that she gives;
but as what she creates can transcend her mortality
sadly, she cannot outrun that finality;
she, as a person, cuts out at the end
by a logic that no one can ever transcend.
It’s too much to absorb. I recede and look down
from my ponderous perch as a kind-hearted clown;
I consign my regard to the side and hold back
where I relegate fear and distress to the black.
Melancholia isn’t pathology. Why?
It’s the natural feeling of saying goodbye.
It’s an act that is wrong and unthinkably true.
There is nothing on earth that I’d rather not do.
To commit to those syllables tears me apart.
It’s a word like a hammer for breaking my heart.
I arrest its untimely impetuous falls
in its love of the anvil that chills and appals;
I resist preparation. It means to accept
what is baleful and never sufficiently wept.
I am anxious and try to control my distress
which is also a grief that I cannot suppress.
To have held my unhappiest sentiments down
with provisional solace by grace of a clown
is impossible; even the clown becomes sad
and reflects how my mood is contagious and mad.
But it isn’t on me that my anguish should dwell.
There are two who are forced into saying farewell:
there’s the person who stays and the one who departs.
It’s the hideous mirror for traumatized hearts;
it’s the shared dizzy-state of symmetrical grief,
a disease held in common to cripple relief.
When I plunge in this pool where my confidence drowns
and transcend the macabre grotesqueness of clowns,
I need only reflect on the hurt for the other
and wretched with sorrow say bye to a mother.