Sometimes when people say, “You are not what happened to you,” what they mean is that you’re not doomed to forever base your identity around your trauma, and I agree with that.
Other times, what they’re handing you is this shorthand for, “Get over it,” or maybe, if they have tact, “Why do you keep coming back to this?” and I think that’s bullshit.
Recently, it’s become important to me give into my drive to seek out companions whose pain is similar to my own. There’s something to be said for learning to treat your own wounds, or just to breathe through them, or at least pretend they don’t exist for a while so you can sleep for a few hours/make yourself something to eat/sit through a necessary-but-ultimately-superficial social interaction like small talk in the break room at your job. All of those things are important, and I don’t think we should necessarily shun the parts of our lives that force us to climb off of our own personal masochistic hobby horses and live in the real world and interact with each other. But life is long, and the majority of it is colored by our pain, whether we like it or not. So, what harm is there, really, in preferring our closest relationships to be with people who understand that pain intimately?
All of this abstract garbage is simply to say that when I read Noah Cicero’s poem “Prison Childhood,” I felt the fuck out of it. This was back a few months ago when Nature Documentary had just come out. I was on a Greyhound bus at the time, taking what felt at the time like a rather scandalous trip to spend a weekend in the arms of someone I’d realized I was pitifully in love with. This was a big deal. Up until then, I’d been convinced that the mutual sense of intimate understanding between us was something we’d constructed, like a confirmation bias on ecstasy it made no sense to believe in. I guess in some useless attempt at pragmatism, I’d convinced myself that feeling broken in a similar way to someone else wasn’t a valid reason to pursue them, or to love them, even if I already did love them.
This revelation was still very new to me the afternoon that I read this poem for the first time, and I was immediately and acutely aware that even just a few months prior, I wouldn’t have believed a single word of this poem, because this poem is about the importance of finding someone capable of understanding your pain.
The wounds required correlation, he says. If your arm was cut off by a sword, you have to find / someone else who is experienced with shark attacks. / . . .If your life was easy and all you got was a bruised knee, / you have to find someone with a sprained wrist.
He says, Shark attacks can’t love broken collarbones.
Noah Cicero’s pain isn’t my pain. I didn’t have a prison childhood. But I have spent a lot of time feeling like a shark attack among broken collarbones, blaming myself for every lapse in understanding that occurred as a result. I’ve spent a lot of time forcing distance between myself and those most likely to understand me, convinced there was something lazy or irresponsible or even pretentious about wanting to be seen and wanting seeing to feel easy.
And you know, as much as I love this poem, I still don’t completely buy it when he says that shark attacks can’t love broken collarbones.
I still think they can – or at least, I think some can. But for me, it’s only ever been lonely, and this poem came to me at a time when I was just learning how to stop feeling so ashamed of that loneliness. This poem came to me when I was sitting on a bus with my stomach in knots desperately seeking permission to not believe, just like Noah Cicero in this poem, that simply having things in common worked.
And all of that garbage is to say that I love the shit out of this poem. It is my professional opinion, as a person who just started having feelings around four months ago, that you should order Nature Documentary and let this (and all of the other poems) punch you straight in the mouth.
Kat Giordano is a poet and massive crybaby in Pittsburgh, PA. Her poems have appeared in Maudlin House, OCCULUM, Indigent Press, The Cincinnati Review, and others. They have also been known to show up trembling on people’s doorsteps in the middle of the night, too traumatized to explain what they’ve seen. She is one of two editors of Philosophical Idiot and can usually be found overindulging in her shoddy mental health on Twitter at @giordkat or occasionally at katgiordano.com. Her debut full-length collection, The Poet Confronts Bukowski’s Ghost, is due out in June 2018.