THE BEAUTY WITHIN 


Beauty, I’m told
comes from within
From the depth of the heart, 
not from the skin
From fierce independence 
softened by grace
From the splendor of hope, 
not just the face

I didn’t see this coming, 
yet I accept it as true
I was seeking my equal 
the day I found you
When I look in your eyes, 
my heart is inspired
And I think to myself, 
“She is filled with such fire!”

I was captured by beauty, 
but I’m held by respect
For what makes you strong 
makes you perfect
I’d gift you my heart 
and my soul, if you please
If you walk by my side, 
not to follow or lead

Perhaps one day 
we’ll share deep love and desire
Built not upon beauty, 
but these strengths I admire

THE ARTIST AND THE ROCK by Dennis McHale, 2017


(Painted Rock by Christine Onward©. Used by permission)

rock

This poem is dedicated to Christine Onward, for her love and support of artists everywhere who she honors in exhibiting their incredible works of “colour” online.

“I am a Rock! and yield to none!”
The swelling words of a tiny smooth stone,
“Neither time nor season can alter me;
I am abiding, while the ages flee.
The pelting hail and the drizzling rain
Have tried to soften me, long, in vain;
And the tender dew has sought to melt,
Or touch my heart; but it was not felt.
There’s none that can tell about my birth,
For I’m as old as the spinning earth.
Generations of man arise, and pass
Out of the world, like the blades of grass;
And many a foot on me has trod,
That’s gone from sight, and under the sod!
I am a Rock! but who art thou,
Painting beneath the restless bough?”

The painter was shocked at this rude salute,
And lay for a moment abashed and mute;
She never before had been so near to here
A rock that spoke, this mundane sphere;
And she felt for a time at a loss to know
How to answer a thing so coarse and low.
But to give reproof of a nobler sort
Than the angry look, or the keen retort,
At length she said, in a gentle tone,
“Since it has happened that you were thrown
Into this river that’s become your home
From beneath this tree, as a child I grew,
Now listening to a stone, so hard and new.”

And so it shall be, this Rock that speaks to me,
I will cover it with paint, and then we’ll see,
And quickly adorn with the stroke of my brush
It’s time, it’s season, it’s storm, it’s touch,
Not the gentle dew, nor the grinding heel
Shall ever subdue, or make it feel
Abandoned, unloved, unwanted, alone
For I’ll paint this rock and take it home.
But soon, from this Rock, she sunk away
From the comfortless spot where the pebbles lay.

But it was not long before the soil broke
The artist sat once more ‘neath mighty oak!
And, as she painted and painted; the colors spread,
The Rock looked up, and wondering said,
“Modest artist!  Please, I shall never to tell
If you covered me in paint, this granite shell;
See the pride of the river has swallowed me.
Won’t you pick me up? Won’t you set me free?
Am I to meekly sink in the darksome earth,
Never to attain my potential, my worth!
And oh! how many more will tread on me,
While you sit and paint beneath this beautiful tree?
Your artistic vision towering towards the sky,
Can transform such a Rock as worthless as I!
Useless you release me, for centuries here,
I’ll be sitting in this riverbed from year to year.

But never, from this, shall a complaining word
From the painted Rock again be heard,
For the artist transformed it, without and within,
Gave it new purpose, and love again.
The Rock its vow she could never forget,
It lies brilliantly painted in painted silence yet.

HEAVENLY SOJOURNER by D.L McHale


In the quiet spaces of my mind
there is  a softly sleeping figure
with the relaxed repose of an angel.

I kiss her cheek and lightly stroke her autumn hair
with a hope that she might slightly stir,
becoming minutely aware of my presence,
if only for an instant.

Heavenly sojourner, you are there in my dreams
laughing with me under the wild canopy of my fluctuating soul;
in between moments of consciousness
in between exhalations and eye-blinks.
I am caressed and buttressed
by the elegant strength of your tender spirit.

You are freedom after centuries of imprisonment.
You are a heavy rain after a cruel drought.
You bring the stars closer to my eyes.
You pull colorful spiral galaxies toward us
with your heart-bending gravity.

We explode like kaleidoscopic fireworks,
splattering a longstanding dream
across the churning night sky.
Refilling our palette of sensuality
with shattered rainbows.

We bend down to pick up the myriad jagged pieces,
our heartbeats bouncing again and again
to the hypnotic rhythm of evening descending;
our hands touching, our eyes devouring .

Our minds uniting, and our bodies shaking
as fiery desires are sporadically quenched
and rekindled, slowly dying down to embers
of nirvana whose warm afterglow
is eventually extinguished by the cool,
refreshing stream of our parallel thoughts
drifting weightlessly towards the sandy shores of eternity.

SECRETS by D.L.McHale


Should you desire to be hateful — to dissect an innocent heart from the inside, to bury a soul under its own weight, bind it in secrecy. Afflict it with a power it cannot share, knowledge it cannot teach, truth it cannot practice.

Secrets are dangerous not in being told, but in being kept.

What is locked in the heart is so vulnerable and precious; it is a force meant to be reflected upon, reconciled, and released. Perhaps some secrets are too burdensome to be unleashed in shameless entirety or in direct confidence, and those are scattered throughout time in legends, myths, in art and poetry; masterpieces littering each single experience with whispers and with shadows. The secrets and their fragments we may be blessed or cursed to encounter are not for us to harbor, but to share as we see fit:

When we share foolishly, they instruct us; when we share wisely, they enlighten others.

In life, we accumulate so many secrets — they settle under our skin. They imprison us in our own minds, trap us with our own wills. Sometimes such secrets efface our very desire to live, for being alive is no more than sharing secrets:

Taking them on and letting them go.

For those who are truly living, there is no such thing as a secret, for to hear a whisper is to be whispered oneself. Being alive is standing on an ocean shore listening to the tide or marking the centre of a gust of wind or smiling quietly at a stranger’s conversation or holding the unshed tears of a close friend, inhaling the hushed morsels of existence and inserting ourselves in their place.

When we do this, we take the wind and give to it our being, and thus the burden of being is lightened for all. We cannot hold secrets dear, we can only hold them in vain. We are merely vessels after all:

Filled so we may be emptied, emptied so we may be filled again.

 

 

THE LIFE AND DEATH OF MY CREATIVITY by D.L.McHale


It is said that one of the prerequisites of creativity is to have had experienced childhood trauma. Read the works of any great Irish writer (Frank McCourt, Oscar Wilde, James Joyce) and you will clearly see that youthful pain and suffering fueled much of their creative genius.   And while I do not claim to be remotely on par with these incredible storytellers, to read any of my writing is to know that  childhood trauma played a significant role in the determination of my creative voice.

To be honest, my youth unfolded like the discarded first  draft of a story that could have been so much better. There simply weren’t enough stretches of peace or joy in it to attend to the edits necessary to have made it bearable.  It isn’t that I am filled with regret for all of the things that might have been.  It’s more that I am blanketed in a sadness for the sheer waste of it all.

Intuitively, I know that my broken juvenile years  can’t be the full measure of why I write the way I write.  Something deeper, more sinister, is afoot. Something bigger and more malevolent presses my pen to the paper.

For me, the value of nothing out of nothing comes something. The nothing started even earlier than the moment when I began to write.  I have no doubt that what little creativity I possess is the function of some neurological quirk; that I have just enough of psychosis or depression to fuel an interesting poem here, an article there. That creativity (if that’s even the word for it)  is not, in any circumstance, the product of “talent” or creative muse, but rather arises more as a testament to a damaged mind that perceives the events of life from a slightly more skewed or twisted perspective.

Perhaps it was the combination of the two: an injured adolescence and a form of brain damage.  When I was four years old, I fell down the stairwell of the two story duplex my family lived in while my father was stationed in the Navy.  I was rushed to the hospital because the fall had resulted in a crushing blow to the frontal temporal region of my skull.  Surely, my brain was impacted, if not forever altered because of this accident.  Combine that blow with the endless physical and sexual trauma that rejoined the family the day my father retired from service, and then, perhaps  I can begin to put my finger upon my “creativity.”

Ask yourself…what can be more creative than scrambling daily throughout your entire childhood to find a place to survive.  Out of necessity, the damaged mind constructs a false reality in which to take shelter. It is this false reality that takes form in the expressive arts.

I may never know what truly fuels my creative process.  The sands of time that fill the hourglass of my life have nearly run out.  While I am by no means an old man, I am, nonetheless, a tired man and my time upon this tortured plane of existence called “life” can now be measured in moments rather than years. I will leave behind me no great works of art, no lasting legacy of poetic genius.  Even the memory of me will fade before the ink is dry on my final written word.

Mine has been a lonely walk: solitude whispers a silent story. And as we all know, life and living require interaction. But I was born alone, have lived alone, and will undoubtedly die…alone.  And that doesn’t require creativity.

THE SEAGULL AND THE MOON by D.L.McHale


seagull
Moon night

I had a dream last night where I watched the moon swallowing the stars,
greedily ingesting the sparkling tapestry of the heavens, asserting a vain primacy,
ever becoming brighter and brighter until I could no longer look directly at it.

Silver clouds, in whispered wisps, shrouded this celestial midnight consumption
shape-shifting across the evening sky, spitting regretful droplets of sorrowful rain.

Abruptly I awoke,  bathed in cold light, my face caressed by a bitter breeze
wafting through a carelessly open window, and there, on the windowsill,
quietly sat a majestic seagull.

His waterproof coat of feathers was luxurious.  His animal spirit was fierce and strong.
The red dot, like resilient drop of blood, accented a brilliant yellow downward-curved beak
as his stony black eye fixed upon me with knowledgeable contempt and exacting judgment,suggesting that in my waking I had somehow slandered the significance of this extraordinary night.

One by one, molting black-tipped feathers fell like accusations upon my pace-worn wooden floor until the whole of it was carpeted and this noble scavenger fell naked backward into the nocturnal void squawking in his naked, downward death-spiral…

“I am Life! I am Death” …words whispered like dank petrichor with dawn’s rising light.

What was I to make of this?  Was I awake, or was this my awakening?

I could not the discern what was real and what was not, but in that way of knowing that cleaves not to understanding, I knew.

I knew this was my last night.

I watched as meandering rivulets of rain painted my window like random-flowing veins,
transparent rivers of pain creating artfully disturbing and distorting prisms through which the lunar light filtered into my bedchamber swaddling me in hazy sheets of bewilderment and appalling fear.

I, too, was being swallowed into the voracious belly of the moon.  My final breaths, like puffs of steam, floated before my sleep-filled eyes and like the stars ingested before me, my light faded into nothingness.

And the moon, she smiled.

I AM READY by D.L.McHale


wip

Artwork Courtesy of DeviantArt©2016

“At the end, I was deteriorating faster than I could lower my standards. “

Autuor, Anne Lamott

The years have swept my face
carving time in deep crevices
thinning my skin with relentless cold
Like a child pushing milk teeth
my smile is likewise gapped
though my innocence lays broken
like this child’s backyard toys

These days, I pretend I am busy
that I’m working, that I’m writing
but I’m not doing anything
I just didn’t want to appear artificial
in these my final fading days

I have known glorious moments of fame
where my words stoked the hearts of man
and my poems filled a woman’s tender soul
but all these thing mean very little to me
I am into the finality of the here and now
the past is such a strange thing for me

Oh, loving her was indeed an incredible journey
a wonderful everlasting treasure hunt
I found emeralds in her soft green eyes
and sparkling diamonds in her radiant smile
golden coins tinkling in her laughter
her kiss as soft and pure as harvest wine
but like all treasure, she lies buried now
while I am castaway upon these lonely shores

My life is a dead space, expired time
if you would describe it in colors, a grayness
The changing seasons no longer cut
by snow and rain and sun and falling leaves
but rather, like clouds pushing darkly
against one another in a stormy sky
my days blend beneath a blotted sun

I know the number of my evenings are few
and my remaining mornings fewer by one
but I am tired, and I am alone

…and I am ready

 

HOMECOMING by D.L.McHale©


The royal robes of winter’s night
tightly bind me in its blue-black grip
The shadow of majestic purple mountains
kneel upon the fields of frozen graves
ancient tombstones, like granite faces
hemming the barren valley floors

An amber moon spills its bitter glow
through naked branches like brittle
fingers clutching a button-less cloak
Icy winds whip swirls of fog across
lifeless lakes, and on broken wings
doves fall from a voiceless sky

In a distant village, old ladies warble lullabies
to their dying husbands; soft verse cutting
like jagged blades through thick cherry smoke
bleeding from pipes clenched in broken teeth.
The children, with bellies as round as their joyless
eyes feed upon fermented peaches and dance
on knitted bones, playing hide but please, don’t seek
for we are tired, for we are weak

I have walked a lifetime to return 
to this is, my kingdom, stretching as far as the blind
eye can see. Built upon the shifting sands of hope lost
This, both kingdom and the shoveled grave
My head crowned in a spray of dying stars;
my spirit drowned in muted prayer;
my hobbled feet cut upon jagged stones.

This is my destiny, my hell, my home.

SHE FILLED ME WITH A LASTING BREATH, by D.L.McHale


She whispered softly in my ear
such tender words to ease my pain;
soothing verse to calm my fears.
Though, she was gone when morning came,

The essence of her love remains!
Here even in my darkest hour
soft echoes of her song sustains,
which fills me with a lasting power.

Where has she gone? my life unwinds!
If I must die, I’m so resigned,
for dying unites and gently binds
my heart to hers, two souls entwined.

She filled me with a lasting breath;
Once more within my arms I hold
the height of love, its width, its breadth,
spanning dreams that now unfold

So cast me down into death’s abyss,
But allow once more her lips to kiss.
I shall not pray for more than this –
Once more I love…eternal bliss

LOVE IS A MANY SPLINTERED THING by D.L.McHale


Love…

Whole platters of
Expectation
Handled timidly by
Waiters
and
Waitresses
of desire.

Carelessly slipping
Through now
Trembling fingers,
Once bold and sure.

Tragically
Tumbling beyond
Last moment grasps,
End over end,
Sadly spewing its
Delicious contents
in a hopeless
Death spiral.

Nothing remains
but a shattering
Introduction
to the cold, hard
Floorboards of reality.
Love is a many
Splintered thing.

BEHOLD, MY LIGHT by DLMcHale


 

I wrote this poem a few years ago the night I visited the haunted
lighthouse in St. Augustine and then I lost it….until tonight!

Behold, my light so brightly burning
Guiding wayward sailors home.
Covered in breaking waves now churning
Battered ‘neath the angry foam

Awake, my Captain; tend my fire
The ships are blind upon the sea
Night has come so dark and dire
Bring them safely home to me

Push back your fear and never fail me
Do not tarry, nor think twice
No time for prayers on bended knee
The sea demands her sacrifice

Many a keeper survived the commotion
Tending my flame with ardent care
Many more forever lost to the ocean
Swept from my winding, icy stair

I am the hope of every seamen,
Warning of the rock and shoal,
And you, my Captain, tend my beacon
With all your heart and weary soul.

 

ONE LAST DANCE by D.L.McHale


Lovers and Dancers

In Spring she danced with her true love
Each step in softness, lights descending
From the silver rays of moon above
Terpsichore's guidance never-ending.
Summer found her slightly winded
Though to her lover’s hand she held
And while this dance more quickly ended,
Within his arms all fears were quelled.
Upon a chilled wind Fall did follow
Fatigued, she cried, “No more to dance!”
He prayed to her beloved, Apollo,
“What price secures another chance?”
In Winter’s snow she found her rest
His tears upon her funeral pyre;
Now holding close within his chest
One final dance, his heart’s desire.

ILLUMINATION


(Dedicated to Jules)

We always sleep with curtains drawn,
in the soft blue light of morning,
I rise and pull the black velvet tight.

 You stirred, half-asleep in a pool of desire 
then stretched your hand back to my thigh 
our bed a ship in sleep’s doubled plunging 
 
wave upon wave, until as though a lighthouse
      beam had crossed the room: the vase between
 
the windows suddenly ablaze, a spirit,
        seized, inside its amethyst blue gaze.  
 
What’s that? you whisper. A slip of light, untamed,
       had turned the vase into a crystal ball,
 
whose blue eye looked back at us, amazed, two
       sleepers startled in each other’s arms,
     
while day lapped at night’s extinguished edge,
            adrift between the past and future tense,
 
        a blue moon for an instant caught in its chipped
                 sapphire—love enduring, give or take.

OUR BURNING LOVE by D.L.McHale


How long will  our love be kept waiting,
our trembling hearts anticipating,
yearning reflected in half-closed eyes,
refusing sleep when passion lies,
with spoken words clearly stating –
how long will our love be kept waiting?

For love is purely mesmerizing
we tightly embrace as the sun is rising,
come fill  this man’s heart with joy,
for daylight brings my heart’s envoy
in nature’s work there’s no disguising,
what we share is purely mesmerizing.

Your burning love makes my shadows bright,
and carries us through to dawn’s first light,
dancing circles turn around,
feeling the Earth’s beat underground
on this blessed day and shortest night,
the sweetest love makes shadows bright

IT IS THE SEASON by D.L.McHale


image

“God talks in the trees.”
— Thomas Merton, The Sign of Jonas

It is the season of sleeping late 
while dreaming of red-orange trees 
shuddering in the evening breeze. 
These are the short days
when the thirst for warmth suborns desire 
and Eros kisses summer love goodnight.

It is the season of crimson sunsets 
pouring slowly, like thick molasses, 
over church steeples and frozen riverbeds. 
When snow-pregnant clouds float lazily 
across flower-less meadows
and lovers seek shelter beneath heavy quilts.

It is the season of naked trees, 
with branches like fingers extending 
toward the setting sun, tracing delicate arches 
across the rose autumn sky.
Those days when the blackbird flies southward
into the night beneath crystal constellations.

It is the season of surrender, 
when burdens, like the yellowing leaves, 
fall silently to the frozen earth
and tired bones warm themselves before tended fires.
It is the season of dying in the palm of God’s hand;
comforted in the knowledge of spring’s resurrection.

NOSTALGIA by D.L.McHale


image

In my mind’s recess, a soft caress
of memories and days gone by
A kaleidoscope of love and hope
And answers to the “Why?”

I fall within and live again
Those magic days bygone
My thoughts set free in reverie
Warmed by a setting sun

Another time in perfect rhyme
Now formed in my revision
I’m lifted up as I fill my cup
With reflection and a vision.

Within my dream, or so it seems
The best of times has past
Yet still somehow, I cherish “Now”
And tighter still my grasp

Outside my mind my thoughts unwind
And now today returned –
For yesterday is still no way
To face the future’s turn.

DEPARTURE by D.L.McHale


image

Plant my sorrows ‘neath soils deep
I will not pray, nor shall I weep
    bitter secrets, mine to keep
    bitter harvest, mine to reap

I dreamt of the rapture, dreamt of the pain
I dreamt of the fire, of the iron chains
This tortured heart beats cold and quivering
This tortured soul, fatigued and shivering.

Into the waters my steps descend
For this is the beginning of the final end
     Let the rivers wash my tired bones
     Let the currents carry my body home

Self-Reflection by D.L.McHale


image

I am the ripe green apple, 
plucked from Eden’s garden
Contemptuously bitten, 
no hope for God’s pardon.
I am Achilles heel 
that hobbles my stride;
Odysseus’ curse, 
my insufferable pride..
That lock of hair 
claiming Sampson’s life, 
And the brother of Able, 
I’m Cain with a knife!
I am the snakes coiled 
in Medusa’s dark mane –
Like a lance to the boil, 
my mercy is strained.
I’m the brew in the cauldron 
of deep-forested witches –
The ugliness that comes 
from Frankenstein’s stitches.
I am alone and afraid, 
but too stubborn to change;
Hopeless and lost 
and most certain deranged!
I’m broken, defeated, 
and reeking of sin,
The lowest of cowards, 
the most evil of men.
A life, ever wasted 
on cheap wine and women,
My descent into Death 
is just now beginning.
This ghost will remain 
as my specter of shame –
I’d rather be dead 
than live more of the same ~

UNDERSTANDING DENNIS by D.L. McHale


 

***TRIGGER WARNING: This post contains small mentions of self-harm and institutionalization.***

Today I want to talk about something that has been swimming around in my head for weeks. I guess you could say this post is an accumulation of high emotions, stress, and some really tactless things I have heard from people who meant well. There are a few in my life who actually understand where I’m coming from… thanks Jeri and Susan and Julie and my sweet Nikie. I’m not going to unleash 40+ years of preteen, wannabe rebellion drama on to you; please know that all of this is coming from the heart; an excerpt from my life.

Following this post, I share a poem I wrote that attempts to sum up my dysthemia (chronic depression) in an easier, entertaining format. Depression is hard to put into words for those who have never experienced it. Sometimes a poem helps. Maybe.

To start off, I have been struggling with depression for at least 45 years. In middle school I had some issues with my classmates. A lot of them thought I was strange because one day I wanted to talk to everyone, huge smile on my face – and then the next I would withdraw or lash out angrily at anyone who dared look at me the wrong way. It was a time when I was just starting to realize that I was different, that something akin to a sezure was going to assert itself at random moments in my brain and in my life.

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There was never relief at home for there was horror in that house visted continuously upon myself and my five siblings. I avoided going home at all costs. For a while, I had no way of coping besides throwing ridiculous tantrums to push people away; I stopped talking. Nobody knew what to do with me, so my mother started making me read and write to bring my grades up. When I actually became interested in reading, and especially writing, it became a coping mechanism. To this day, writing is my one place I can retreat to be heard and to find peace..

In high school my depression quickly escalated, especially during my sophomore and junior years. I was still reading and writing to cope, but I had absolutely no motivation in my education. I didn’t skip to be rebellious, I skipped because the anxiety of walking in to class was too much to bear. I can remember seeing the doorway to any of my classrooms, knowing there was a teacher and other students on the other end feeling like my lungs collapsed.

It took little to no thought, almost as if on instinct, for me to turn my feet in the other direction and skip my afternoon classes until the day was over. I was not bullied, I wasn’t hurt in any way by any of my teachers or students, there was no substance abuse when I skipped, but my parent’s couldn’t comprehend what was wrong. All they knew was that I was very quiet and withdrawn and nothing seemed to be helping.

Around this time, I started exhibiting self-harm behaviors: climbing rooftops and jumping, running away for a week or two at a time, taking full bottles of whatever was in the medicine cabinet. Once, I even took all of my mother’s birth control pills. But perhaps the most alarming was locking myself in my bedroom and choking myself with a belt until I passed out. I practiced hanging myself. Anything to escape the fear, the anxiety…the darkness.

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By junior year I was continually self-harmful and hiding it from my only friend and my family. When my best friend found out she told her mother and she contacted my parents. The result was several trips to a psychiatrist that I absolutely loathed, and a therapist who was so unbelievably optimistic she could have been in Legally Blonde, but wearing baby blue 24/7 instead of pink. I stopped hurting myself (for a few years) but I still skipped class daily, read books to the detriment of my social life. Naturally, I gravitated to dark writers…Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Sylvia Plath, etc….and continued to be either withdrawn or aggressive with my family. During this time I was on medication, under the guidance of my psychiatrist.

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I stuck to this uncertain way of life for a while, finding two friends struggling with the same situation I was. They were my support system, one of which I still talk to today. By the time I finished high school and started college, I had stopped taking my medication. I didn’t think there was a need for it anymore.

My first year was academically successful, but my mental state was getting increasingly worse and more unpredictable than usual. I was suffering. I managed to walk to my classes without freaking out about being watched until I sat down, and the dark fog would envelope me, but I was learning to function even in that darkness. It was a huge step forward. My academic advisor, however, was not happy with the lack of motivation in my education and prompted me to take on more classes. I’m not shoving the full blame of my ensuing emotional breakdown on him, however I do feel that my need to please him and avoid conflict was to take on 19 credits, an internship and an on campus job….all of which led to more depression.

I barely made it through my first semester before I was so emotionally and physically exhausted I could barely get out of bed. I was forgetting to eat and getting 3 hours of sleep on a daily basis.

During this time I talked to several different people to get help. I talked to the free on campus counseling, to which some of my friends went with me for support. It was great to have that outlet, but it wasn’t helping enough. I was so malnourished I lost nearly 25 pounds in the span of a month. Finally my roommate took one good look at me and told me if I didn’t get out of bed the next day by 12pm he was going to send me home with his mother if he had to. I ended up dropping out of college my sophomore year and coming back home.

I took the rest of the semester off, just focusing on eating, sleeping , and most importantly, not killing myself. This later thought was new…and I thought about it a lot. I spent most of my waking time trying to gather my courage to end it all.

By next semester I was re-enrolled in a college and went back on medication.

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Therapy appointments were twice a week until I was back at a healthy weight and attending school on a regular basis. But I discovered a way to participate in all the social mayhem that one encounters in college – alcohol.

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I had no way of knowing then what a devastating role alcohol (coupled with depression) would eventually have on my life, and in time, my marraige. But for the moment it worked. I experienced the false happiness of being under the influence. I could talk to people. I felt happy. And I had sex. A lot of sex. It numbed me. But the consequences of drinking began to assert itself: I was placed on academic probation for missing classes or going to classes under the influence. Two weeks later, I dropped out of college altogether.

This began a vicious and arduous cycle of failures that, unbeknownst to me, fed my depression: get a job, lose a job because of my drinking. Date a girl who could not keep up with my drinking. Lose a girl. Over and over and over. My self-esteem was shredded. And all along, like shoveling coal in a hungry furnace, I was stoking the flames of my disease. But as long as I kept drinking, I escaped the onslaught of a full blown depression collapse. The alcohol was killing me and saving me at the same time. I was committing social suicide by drinking as I did so that I did not commit actual suicide locked in my dysthemia.

Because of the alcohol, I was now somewhat liberated from my withdrawn state. I started noticing the strange reactions I was getting from people when I talked to them about my situation. Some of my friends were getting exasperated with my emotional outbursts and my depressive withdrawls, wondering why I couldn’t just “get over” what was bothering me. I tried to describe to them what was going on in my head but “It’s a chemical thing more than an emotional thing” didn’t seem to be getting me anywhere.

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I started noticing that people who have never experienced deep depression were rather tactless when talking to people who suffered from depression. There seems to be this really blasé attitude towards those who are struggling with living their lives as normal people. Having my struggle with depression spelled across my forehead was too much to ask from me in order to get a somewhat understanding reaction from someone else… sorry…it wasn’t worth the effort. I’ve been institutionalized once and ever since coming out and getting my life back together people have been expecting me to just “get over” everything that comes my way. I couldn’t comment on something that was a little frustrating to me without someone telling me I’m “making too much of a big deal” about it.

I could not understand why people felt the need to react this way to someone who has been more than blatantly open about his emotional problems: WHY on earth would they instigate MORE problems and demand answers because they don’t know what’s wrong with them? If I told someone I had cancer, no one in their right mind would even dream of saying “Oh, it’s just cancer, get over it”. They wouldn’t have to know anything about my past, my family, the struggles I’d faced or anything of the sort to act like a decent human being, so why is it okay to say something like that about depression?

Sometimes I’d really like to give people a piece of my mind. It’d go a little something like this:

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Things I’ve heard: “Oh honey, we all get a little sad sometimes.”

My reaction: “I’m pretty sure wanting to kill myself on a daily basis isn’t a little sad. But sure, I feel so much better now that my suicidal thoughts have been completely downgraded, I’m gonna go find a 7 story window to jump out of. Have a nice day.”

Things I’ve heard: “Why can’t you just tell me what’s going on? I’d be so much easier to deal with, I don’t have time to do this with you every day.”

My reaction: “I totally love living in emotional turmoil so I just keep it to myself. The chemical calibrations going off in my brain make total sense to to me but I don’t feel like sharing. I’m sorry I forgot to tell you I had an emotional breakdown scheduled this month and it’s set to go until the middle of December. I’ll put it on the calendar next time.”

Things I’ve heard: “You didn’t look or sound depressed at all! How was I supposed to know?”

My reaction: “I wasn’t trying to tell you. And if I could, there are no words to describe the darkness that envelopes me. Next time I want the world to know exactly how I feel on a daily basis I’ll tattoo it on my face so it’s impossible to miss. I love knowing my personal business is so blatantly obvious to everyone in the world.”

Things I’ve heard: “Why can’t you just stop feeling that way? I mean thinking about it won’t help so just move on.”

My reaction: “Ooooooooooooooooh! You’re so incredibly smart! Let me find my automated ‘off’ switches for my mind, my brain, my heart, my depression and anxiety and I’ll get back to you. Thanks sooooooooooo much for the suggestion. I’ll just add that to the growing list of things I have failed at, and get right on that thank you note for such a thoughtful piece of advice.

-insert loud sigh here-

The point is, my tolerance for people’s complete lack of understanding is getting smaller by the hour. No person who has ever felt the pain that depression brings should ever have to feel guilty for it, especially when the people around them don’t understand anything about what they are going through. We don’t share the same language when it comes to depression. Words to describe what it’s like simply don’t exist. We need to start by having an open and thoughtful national conversation on the topic. And that is not going to happen.

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I’m starting to realize I’m going to have to cut some really important people out of my life because of this. In one way, I cut the most important person in my life out forever, because of the behavioral side affects of my dysthemia and the attempts to quiet the nightmare through a series of alcohol relapses. I will never forgive myself for that. The repercussions of that will echo for years yet to come. I couldn’t save myself….how in hell was I evervgoing to save my marriage? And what in God’s name was I thinking ever letting someone get that close to me. It will never happen again.

Being alone with depression is going to hurt, but I’d rather go through a hurt alone that I can grow out in three days or a week than ever suffer again by havingin my love, my heart, and myself as a person discarded because of the fallout of this savage disease. I cannot long survive a life of having who I am as a person suffering from depression thrown back in my face every day by a world that is afraid to understand.

DYSTHYMIA (CHRONIC DEPRESSION)
by D..L. McHale

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It does not speak English, Spanish, French, or Italian, or any intelligible utterance known to this world.

It is a darkness devoid of spoken words;
a tongue savagely ripped from the mouth of the village idiot.

There are no pressed pages in braille
to sensate dull fingertips, to tap out the iniquity and the pain.

No painting of fingered words in the still air whispering into deafened ears.

It is the molten ashes of Vesuvius, cascading behind clenched eyelids; a scorching of the inner self. It is the babbling madness of Babylon chanting chattering confusion.

It is the silent scream that pierces the morning sky, the shrieking wind that rips the sparrow’s wings from its tender breast.

It is the desperate gasp for air from collapsed lungs, the tortured artery that bleeds the brain.

Beneath the ocean’s swell, the riptide that pulls one asunder to the blue-black abyss,  a dark star consuming itself, devouring light into the shadows of its belly.

A twisted comfort in the unfeeling, a slap in the face of the unsmiling.  Distant and cold eyes – unfocused, unseeing.

A banquet of burning bone and marrow before demons dancing to noteless music.

THE RED SKIRT by D.L.McHale


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You laid your plaited red skirt
on the foot of my bed,
neatly folded as though
in doing so you could somehow
retain your virtue.

In the midst of our fleshy thrashing,
I kicked it to the floor, and you began
to cry, deep sobs that rattled
the mattress springs.

I moved, too reluctantly, to retrieve it
but you said, “Why bother?
You’ve ruined it.
You’ve ruined me.
You’ve ruined everything!”

Making love doesn’t always
mean making sense,
and so I threw my feet to the floor,
pulled on my jeans, and looked back,
although I would never be able to see.

“So that’s it?” you sobbed.
“You bastard!”

I smiled in affirmation, buttoned my shirt,
and turned toward the door,
and as an afterthought, picked up
your once plaited red skirt, tossed it
carelessly over my shoulder,

and left.

THE HOLINESS OF SUFFERING by D.L.McHale


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I am not yet dead.

Do not call this a miracle or raise your hands in praise. 
First, you should know how long I prayed, and how I came to know the silence of the Lord.

He does not arrive in a ball of light blinding on the road to Damascus. He comes in silence.

Lie there night after night and you will come to know the things I speak of.

My God speaks in the tongue of suffering.

I have survived, but do not call that brave.

I rattled this body from the inside out. There are those who dared get close to me who can testify. I could not find its latch.  I would have escaped it if I could. 

I say this to you because I know, you too have suffered — a body can be rummaged through like a medicine cabinet.

The flesh can be unfurled. Stitched, unbound, mended and stitched again.

Nothing is lost; nothing can be unmade.

But do not underestimate how hard it is to die and do not think death will save you.The dead have forgotten suffering.

Remember what I tell you here.

Remember how hard I held on. Remember the long nights I prayed.

Remember: whole days and nights I wandered outside myself. My body opened to wind and latched like a door against it.

There was pain in the opening and pain in the parts that healed.

Remember what I said of prayer: to house the soul in a body is a way of it.

Sometimes we suffer for one another. I am sorry for those who have suffered for me. But mostly, I am grateful.

If you like, we can call it holy.

SNOQUALMIE FALLS by D.L.McHale


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Salish Lodge, Snoqualmie Falls, WA

The ground beneath my feet rumbles.
Softly at first, and then with each step
increasing in its timbre.

The air is damp and mossy with a gray light
filtering through the canopy of spruce and pine.
Wet thunder rises; my ears are muted
by the intensity of a river plummeting
over slick rock lips;
a roiling, massive death spiral.

Half the volume swan dives elegantly
hundreds of feet into a pounding foaming white pool,
while my pounding heart matches the outpouring,
beat for beat.
The other hangs mistily in the frigid air,
gently nourishing the brown-green algae with its spit.

I cannot help but marvel at the sheer anger of it all,
wondering how many open-mouthed bass
thrust forth into open space, gargoyle-eyed as
the river disappears beneath them,
recognize this as the end of their swim?

Death, anger, power…and yet
so serenely beautiful

Rage on, Snoqualmie,
before the winter’s freeze deprives you
of your liquid dance!

 

JUGGLING LIFE by D.L.McHale


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Consider for a moment that we are all jugglers. It is, afterall, what life demands of us; constant juggling – of time, relationships, our attention, responsibilities. We feel ourselves continually caught up in the demanding task of keeping many things up in the air simultaneously, smoothly rotating, round and round.

Suppose then, in our quest to be the best juggler possible, we see that we are juggling three balls: one rubber, one wooden, and one crystal.

In the course of our juggling, we slip and drop one ball. Let’s say it’s the rubber ball. What happens to it? No real damage done, right? It bounces. It comes back to you. This rubber ball might represent your education, your job, your contributions to the community in which you live. It is the decisions you make everyday that defines not the depth, but the breadth of living. In the course of your life you may drop this ball several times…you may change jobs, you advance, you are laid off, you make new friends, old ones slip away, you go back to school…it is constantly moving in new directions.

Do not overly concern yourself when this rubber ball slips and falls to the ground; it will retain its resiliency, bounce back, and everything will be fine.

Suppose now you lose your focus for a second, perhaps a day or two. You drop the wooden ball. What becomes of it? Well, it’s a bit noisier, true, but in all likelihood it will become scratched, perhaps chipped. In time, after a few falls, it may even take on a new shine, a new patina.

This wooden ball represents your health and your spirituality. It changes…constantly. It evolves.  It will not look the same today as it will tomorrow. That is its nature. Be mindful of keeping this one aloft, but do not distress if from time to time it slips your grasp. It, too, is resilient and in the long run, it endures.

But what then of the third ball? The crystal ball? What happens if you take your eye from it for a moment and it hits the floor? What becomes of it?

It shatters! It will not return to you for it is utterly destroyed.

This crystal ball represents your close, intimate relationships. Your husband, your wife. Your Mother and Father and sisters and brothers. It represents your children and their children, et. cetera, et. cetera. It represents family and all close and cherished relationships. It represents the giving and the receiving of love.

If you drop this ball, no amount of effort will repair it. It is lost forever. For this reason alone, you must be acutely and forever focused on keeping this ball in the air at all costs.

As you juggle life, keep this lesson in mind, and keep your priorities likewise aligned. Allow for mistakes in life (the rubber and the wooden balls), but never accept your life as the mistake (the crystal ball!)

LIVING FOR TODAY: NECESSARY CHOICES by D.L.McHale


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Three Roads: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow. Which One Shall I Choose?

The reason most people find themselves stuck in a rut is because they insist on seeing tomorrow as an extension of today, and today as an extension of yesterday. This has been the most difficult, and necessary, lesson of the past year and a half of my life. My ignorance in adhering to this faulty belief invited me to# voluntarily step into mental leg irons that have no key. It has hobbled me in everything I have striven to achieve, for it is a false assumption and a dangerous one at that.

Yesterday is a story that has already been told. The book is closed. The lessons, oh dear God, hopefully, learned. No amount of regret can change the ending of a story that is now complete. How can I ever hope to begin a new chapter if I continue to dwell upon an ending that cannot be altered? My past has served its only purpose, which was to instruct and to deliver me to today. My only regret, my biggest regret, is that the lesson came at such a cost to another.

Today is all that truly matters. Today, I write the story, big or small, dull or incredible…the words are all there – and it is up to me to arrange them as I see fit. I am the protagonist. Only I can determine whether I turn left or right, whether I move forward, stand still or retreat backward. I have come to the realization that to stand still or move backward is to settle for a weak plot. Only in moving can the inspiring stories be written… and written well.

And of my tomorrow? It is nothing more than a blank piece of paper not yet ready for mwhatforwardy pen. If I live with one foot planted in today and the other in tomorrow, all I will have managed to do is straddle the fence of possibility. To be stuck on that fence is to surrender half of the possibilities of today. I have chosen to get off of the fence and plant both feet firmly on the path of “ Now.” The fallacy of tomorrow is the falsehood that I need to “plan for.” Plan for what? All the things I missed today?

This worldview is not clever or unique. I did not come up with it. Smarter minds than mine have been advocating this for eons. I am just serving as the echo of their wisdom. If I choose to live fully at this moment which is today, I have no choice but to surrender yesterday to the sweetness of memory, and tomorrow to the providence of faith.

Beginning now, I choose to immerse myself in the wonder and infinite possibility that is today. I do so with the humility to comes from the sacrifices of others who helped me find my way.

MY SECRETS


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“I have secrets I shall take to the grave with me. But don’t despair…once I am dead and deeply buried, you can grab a shovel and dig them up to your heart’s content. I promise, I won’t mind.”

– Dennis McHale
from “Echoes Across Time”

WHERE I LIVE…AND DIE by D.L.McHale


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How temperamental is the man in me
who misses you but will not call –
because I find the thought of romance
more alluring than actual love?

I drink to burn the voices in my belly
that mock my tenuous hold on sanity.
I buy my smokes one at a time because
I have no vision of or faith in tomorrow,
and I make my living scratching
the underbelly of this wretched world.

This desolate city, crumbling beneath the
broken wings of blackbirds…it is my home.

It is where I live. It is where I shall die.

My pen scrapes past its veneer of civility shedding light upon the ugly, the lost,
the torn asunder.

I take my walks at night under clouds
all dressed in muted black.

I am callous with the hipsters and the tweakers camped by the muddy rivers;
the hookers and the pimps and the holy man and the goddamned garish fluidity of this headache world.

I live in a city of fifty thousand accumulated flesh tombs pretending about the news
and the weather, their minds drifting always back to the same goddamned thing.

How pathetic to be so far away
in space but not in time?

How desperate is the faith convinced by two arguments; both to be and not to be?

When I stumble, I lean against the wall or the lamppost, reading a page of Plath or a passage of Hemingway, and all I can think is how courageous their exits were.

I yearn for their knowledge of the final crossing. I read words, not novels, because words are better spit than woven.

I accept my fate,  gazing at my expiration date
and pouring another drink as I turn off the radio and sit silently in the dark chambers of my thoughts.

I remember you,
but implore you to remember me not.

THE DYING PETALS OF THE POET’S FLOWER by D.L.McHale


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Past the tick-tick-tocking of the midnight hour,
Wrapped in sweat-stained cotton sheets,
Robbed of sleep and feeling sour
Like a muffled drum sounding nothing beats –
In the dying petals of the poet’s flower.

This syrup sleep removes the pain,
While dreams remain beyond my reach.
A whiskey slumber subdues the brain
While my toss-n-turn reveals a breach,
As time grinds on just the same.

I rise to write the poet’s dribble
And gorge upon liters of stale red wine.
Behold, my words, a bastard’s scribble!
Writ upon the passage of borrowed time.
Each tick, each tock, from my life is nibbled

I cannot rest while my muse is clanging
Inside my head a poor man’s verse,
Nor can I stop the incessant banging
As my thirst for libations meets an empty purse!
These words are ripe for a morning hanging.

Upon the tick-tick-tocking of the morning hour,
Sweet sleep descends upon my brow.
Within my bed I hide and cower;
An ink-less pen is a horseless plough –
In the dying petals of the poet’s flower.

Prelude to Writing, “Suicide Sisters”


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Emotionally exhausted and viscerally spent, I have just completed my readings of those I have affectionately nicknamed the “Suicide Sisters” – Virginia Woolf, Anne Sexton, and Sylvia Plath. 

I had hoped to glean some understanding of how incredible writing is influenced by depression, personal anguish and mental illness. Had I known how jagged this footpath was, I might have thought twice before beginning such a journey. 

I literally fell in love with all three of these Spirits. I cried without shame. I physically felt pain at times. At times, especially with Virgina Woolf, I would swear I heard their whispers in my inner ear.

This has been the most difficult, hopeless literary undertaking of my life.  Hope had a way of getting misplaced, if not lost outright, when reading these women.

At times, I had to remind myself to breath. In truth, at times I didn’t want to.

SUICIDE SISTERS by D.L.McHale


My Suicide Sisters!

Would that I could deeply reach
beneath the dark-moist earth
pulling upward closely to my breast
fistfuls of your white-bleached bones –
to feel the jagged edges pressed
against my selfish living flesh;
to smell the late hours of your suffering,
to taste your tortured final verse
upon my dusty tongue.

Oh, my Suicide Sisters!
You each found in Death’s cold embrace
the peace and warmth Life long denied.

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Virginia…did you pack stones enough
to carry you as wetly deep as needed
to sleep through the ages?
Have the midnight screams,
the anguished dreams
settled softly with you on the murky riverbed?

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Sylvia…your babies lay warmly sleeping
drawing their first breaths where you surrendered your last..as then you entered eternal night –
did you fight against the dying light,
or was your savagely betrayed soul
carried softly heavenward
upon the rising cloud of your final breath.

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Anne, surrendered child of the asylum
dancing in sync to the symphony of the insane, voiceless visionary virgin,
depression’s whore
revving the engine, inhaling “no more!”
The world kissed your haunting cheek,
chewing your words with callous spit
Dear Anne, whose words burn brightly still
have you fled this mortal coil and all its ills?

My sweet, courageous Suicide Sisters!

Did the screaming stop, the incessant hum,
as your mortal clocks
struck the hour of “none”?
I did not need your fevered poems
to navigate my way back home…
for here upon your graves I rest
hearing your echoes within my chest!

Where then is my courage?

Are you not even now pulling me to you?
Have I no further verse to write
to guide me over into the comforting silence of our shared eternal night?
The bitter truth that is mine to drink
is not that I write, but that I think!

Your tortured lives are my dying treasure
For what is death but absent pleasure?

DREAMS by D.L.McHale


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the world spins on a tilted shaky spindle
and we hold on tightly with our hopes and dreams
(there is no space for anything but dreaming!)
we defy gravity with our capacity to love and cherish
we are gods treading boldly on a blue-green marble
beneath a sea of stars tossed upon a blue-black canvas
the universe painted in brilliant colors in random rotation
stoking the fires of our imagination with worlds beyond our reach
the non-dreamers toil in despair, and soon to dust return
while we float through infinity and blow kisses to the sun
dream, dream, dream…close your eyes and open your mind
(there is no space for anything but dreaming!)