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, Sarah Kay is on the line.
Original illustration by Ellis Rosen.
I have never felt this way about anyone before. At first, I didn’t understand what I was feeling, but I’m sure of it now. I have fallen in hate with someone. He hurt my friend, who loves him, and she’s still with him. I don’t wish him any pain, but I want him to cease being a threat to my friend’s happiness. It has taken up residence in my heart, and it feels like poison. Poets, this is the first time I have loathed someone, and I don’t know how I can go on like this. I was going to ask if you had any poems for hatred, but perhaps my real need is for a poem for unearned forgiveness.
Dear First Hate,
I don’t know if you inhabit the same corner of the Internet that I do, but my corner has been abuzz this week with new diss tracks flying between prominent rappers. In light of these diss tracks, some conversation has turned toward people’s favorite diss tracks of all time. The responses have been delightful and surprising, including “Be Prepared,” by Scar, in The Lion King, “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch,” and “The Last Midnight” from Into the Woods. So while I am definitely not delighted to hear that your friend has been hurt, I am just a little bit delighted by your letter, because it gives me an excuse to share one of my favorite diss tracks of all time, the poem “Grief, Not Guilt” by Jeanann Verlee. In it, Verlee writes:
I wish you a tongue scalded by tea.
A hangover. Burnt toast. Stubbed toes. A lost job.
I wish you weeping in the shower. Salt in the sugar bowl.
A wish list of sorrows. Grief, not guilt.
The list of hexes continues, ranging from the almost funny (“flat tires, soggy pasta, a tax audit to fail”) to the truly haunting (“a room wallpapered with my photographs. / A chamber filled with empty bassinets”). The poem is so dexterous that even without details, we readers are still left suspecting that whomever this poem is directed toward must have done something truly horrible to earn such wrath. Our empathy never leaves the narrator. Such a poem feels cathartic to me. Sometimes having someone else’s diss track to listen to and sing along with is a way to force some loathing to exit my body so it doesn’t poison me with bitterness. I hope this poem gives you a thrill and maybe a laugh and maybe a place to pour some vicarious loathing into. Because then you do not need to actually wish bad things upon this specific man. Because the trap is that if you really do wish horrible things on the man who hurt your friend, the risk is that they might come true. And if your friend is the kindhearted person I suspect she is, she might feel inclined to tend to all his new hurts and misfortunes. Instead, know that the universe keeps track of the miseries we inflict on others. Don’t worry about him getting his. Worry about being a fierce protector of your friend’s heart, as you already are. In the meantime, start collecting great diss tracks to sing along to, for when you really need to let off some steam. When she’s ready to see him plainly, in her own time, you’ll be ready. With a playlist.
—S. K. Read More