Saturday, February 19, 2011

Solipsistic Regrets for Jennifer

Me, 1990

Today's challenge from One Stop Poetry is to dust off an old poem that celebrates and begins to speak to our origins as poets. Here's my offering with a commentary that follows.


These days
I stomp on pain-staking ground
shifting beneath my feet
crumbling under my sole and you
stumble over my disturbances
and me:

      heel ball toe
I dance alone in darkness
to the beat of remembered tongues
speaking lips words unspoken downcast eyes
for fear of seeing and unseeing
a child hurt and told
not to move because
He says so.

   She sat and sits there still
a dark live thing bone in hand
pressed by a will too big to escape
the press the prod her body's surrender
to a hand feeling and unfeeling
the sun's beat against her back
her squint for turned heads
in fear of remembering hands and un-remembering
hands before they touch
un-being because
she must exist to hurt.

   Night like mercy came and comes
a veil to cover myself to express
my mad dance my breaking
of old ground beneath bare feet
before summer.
I speak by heart
an unpracticed passage written
by remembered hands on my body
and forced performance
to choke on furious fingers
remembered and stuck
in my mouth down my throat
told to suck and take
in dirt between flesh and thumbnail
like exacting measures of poison
for the healing I half-believed.

   I hesitate in darkness, listening
for the unremembered sound of my flowing blood
and alert to false echoes like a howling dog
bemoaning a pitch imperceptible to the human ear
yet howling still


These days
I do not want to be
alone and still
I hurt you .

because I am frightened by your unspeakable shadowy form
because I am an unremembered ghost
because I am sorry for my pain
because I am mad with desire to touch the space of myself in you
because I need myself these days.

because I desire broad daylight to dance
with you on ground made new
by the together of our feet,
these days, still
I am asking for second chances
to be to love
myself and more
to offer you
in return.

Ami R. Mattison
July, 1991

On “Solipsistic Regrets”

This poem is my earliest surviving poem, previous ones having been tossed, burned or perhaps tucked away in the forgotten remains of my past.

With the exception of re-formatting the font, I’ve left this poem exactly as I’ve found it.  The elder poet in me begs to “fix” it. At this early stage in my career, I had no clue about line breaks or punctuation, much less an understanding about how to use words to their best effect. So, it remains as is, a reminder that I began somewhere else and fortunately have greatly improved.

I was 25 years old when I wrote this poem to my first girlfriend. It was towards the end of our 5 year relationship, and we were breaking up. I wrote this as a way to explain how the events of our break-up were triggering old scripts of violation and abandonment in my life.

When I titled this poem, I’m pretty certain that I had just learned about ‘solipsism’ or the theory that the self is the only reality. And I remember I felt that the word suited my sense of how I’d become caught in a morass of my past and how my memories of it had suddenly become my present reality.

This poem was the first time that I ever wrote about my history of childhood sexual abuse.

But what I remember most vividly about this poem is how I felt keenly that there was no other way to speak of my experiences except through poetry. A letter, a conversation, or a story wouldn’t do. Only poetry could possibly begin to tell of these experiences from my past; only poetry could speak how I felt in that moment when I wrote this poem.

It was a powerful lesson: poetry is necessary; it speaks for us when nothing else can.

© Ami Mattison


  1. This is incredibly powerful. I hesitate to say I 'enjoyed' it because that isn't at all the right word. I appreciate it - that's the word to use. Thank you for sharing.

  2. poetry is necessary...and a voice that allows us to touch places that we could not otherwise...its therapeutic for us to crack open and let it flow...i am sorry you went through the should never happen...i am confronted with it on a regular basis with the kids i work with...ugh...some intense emo and vivid imagery in your poem...its real, leave it that way...smiles.

  3. I think the last two stanzas are powerful and stand up to what you're writing now. For a first serious effort, it's amazing, clear evidence that there's a voice to be reckoned with, here.

    I loved reading your comments after. Especially the last line. So true!

  4. So many emotions expressed eloquently, powerfully through imagery and addressing Jennifer directly. Also reads empathetic and cathartic. Thanks, Ami

  5. so necessary, so vital. thank you so much for sharing this.

  6. I think this shows, Ami, that poetry does save us, by giving us that voice that otherwise would be silent. It bears witness but more than that, it speaks to the need each of us has, "to love /myself and more".

  7. A lot of blinding clarity and personal insight in here--that often overwhelms the writing process and drags it hither and yon off into the weeds--this manages to stay (rather frighteningly) on message, and ends as strongly as anything I've read from you. A fine piece of work as is, and however tempting, hindsight revision I think would take something away from it rather than add.

    I also agree completely with your very true words at the end.

  8. Wow! I'm loving each and every one of y'all right now! Thank you for your kindness and generosity.

    It felt like a real risk to post this poem because I have a kind of unspoken rule not to post poems that so starkly name my past abuse--of which there are many. And this poem was never intended for an audience other than Jennifer.

    Yet, I found the challenge to honor our early poet selves to be so compelling, and I feel now that my risk has been rewarded. Thank you!

  9. I too am torn to tinker with old poems, but I think that leaving them as is gives recognition as to where we were, and where we have come. It sounds like your road has been a tough one. Knowing that you have the strength to go back and look at that, speaks so much to where you are today. That sounds worthy of a celebration. Happy Saturday to you.

  10. thankyou for capturing what today is about......this is wonderful and yet so very sad...i am reading your comment and i am glad you took the risk...the poem was such a good writ...thanks pete

  11. I relate entirely to your poem and to your past abuse and to your comments. Its a little freaky because the exact sentiments of this rather classy poem (your first on this kind - you were clearly going places)I have written about too-and always poetically. I write stories now as well, but I will never write about those experiences in plain form. Its too stark, I couldn't find the words. It would be too 'unveiling' - but in a poem, the words almost expose while they conceal. This perhaps makes no sense at all?

    Anyway, well done on your bravery. I took the cowards road and posted a rare happy upbeat poem instead. I was so filled with darkness then, and that would have been a more honest route to take. But hey. Shah. X

  12. Thank you for sharing a profoundly powerful piece of extremely fine writing. This is an amazing first poem which shows incredible insight and self-awareness, as well as the effect of past hurts on present loves. Stunning writing. Thank you for the explanation after, which helped me to understand what the poem was saying better, when I read it for the second time. So well done.

  13. Ami,

    I am so loving you right now. this was eloquent, & vulnerable, & fierce. thank you for sharing the poem & the commentary.