In our column Poetry Rx, readers write in with a specific emotion and our resident poets—Sarah Kay, Kaveh Akbar, and Claire Schwartz—take turns prescribing the perfect poems to match. This week, Claire Schwartz is on the line.
I was betrayed this past year by someone I deeply loved and trusted, and whom I thought loved and trusted me. The experience felt almost surgically, cruelly precise in the way it mapped onto my history of trauma, and so I have been triggered while also overwhelmed with loss. This betrayal has been deeply unsettling to my sense of myself, my ability to trust others, and my belief in the possibility of love and partnership in the future. I am struggling to find myself again. Do you have a poem for me?
Lost at Sea
Dear Lost at Sea,
I’m so sorry you’re experiencing this painful and destabilizing betrayal. As Kaveh crucially reminded us, a poem alone is insufficient support as we work through our histories of trauma. Not as a remedy, then, but as resource in what I hope is a vast constellation of support, I offer you Derek Walcott’s “Love After Love.”
The time will come
when, with elation,
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror,
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,
and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Revel in the declarative stability of that affirmation: “You will love again the stranger who was your self.” It’s a missive from the other side of this wreckage. Read it aloud to yourself. Hear the truth in your own voice, and forge an opening toward that future.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you
all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
I love these first two imperatives. They are sufficiently pointed to penetrate the haze of grief, and yet allusive enough for the holy and eternal ritual practice that is self-love. That third imperative, though, feels a bit trickier. At first, “who knows you by heart” seems perhaps to refer to the other to whom you ceded parts of yourself. Read differently, it is “the stranger who has loved you // all your life … who knows you by heart.” Even when your attention was turned toward your relationship, you were there all along. You do know yourself by heart, Lost at Sea, even in those moments when you feel most at bay. Now, give the care you were giving away back to yourself. Move from the sacrifice and sustenance of bread and wine to the poem’s opulent final directive: “Sit. Feast on your life.”
—CS Read More