Dead Is The New Black

March 11, 2009 § 3 Comments

John Berryman, poet, who jumped from a bridge in 1972, waving goodbye

John Berryman, poet, who jumped from a bridge in 1972, waving goodbye

A guy from Philip’s company jumped out the office window yesterday. Philip didn’t quite know how to talk about it. He’d never met the man. He seemed to both of us more of a casualty of war than an individual meeting his private fate, though the two can’t be separated.

I thought perhaps he was shorting financial stocks on the day of the big rally. It’s just as likely something in his personal life deteriorated over the weekend. But there are so many suicides lately. You can’t help thinking of the people who jumped from the twin towers. Maybe one of them woke up that beautiful Tuesday planning a dive, but you kind of doubt it.

The last person I knew who killed himself that way did have bad things happening in his personal life but was also a high-functioning paranoid schizophrenic (he worked for The New York Times). My mother is certain he thought hostile forces were coming for him and he was trying to escape. Of course all suicides think hostile forces are coming for them. The only difference is that some of us realize the forces are in our minds.

No, I’m not a suicide. I’m writing this, aren’t I? The dead don’t write. At least, they don’t write to me. I’ve never even come close except for the night of my first date with my husband—I was suicidal before he asked me out, not after—but I have suicidal ideation, as the shrinks call it.

“I’m going to jump out the window!” I said to my doctor several years ago.

“Go ahead,” he replied. “We’re on the first floor.” Smug little bastard…I forgot we were in the new office…

I like that phrase, though, suicidal ideation. It rolls off the tongue. You could use it to name a child. Suicidal Ideation Jones. Or Suicidal Ideation Napalm, if you want the correct initials.

My father used the car-in-the-closed-garage method, classic for the time and place (mid-60’s suburbia) and his character type (pain-avoidant, fastidious about his person). Two  teenage brothers I knew from Texas shot themselves while on LSD, my friend Susan’s father hung himself, and the others used pills.

You know all those life insurance policies that disallow benefits in the event of suicide within three years? I bet the ones past the three-year mark are all being yanked. Check the fine print. And keep in mind that your kids would probably prefer it if you pulled them out of their too-expensive schools and organized a family bank heist gang, or drove to Cleveland and squatted in an empty house.

Suicidal ideation isn’t meant to lead out the window. It’s like those sexual fantasies you have about…you know the ones I mean…you’d never really do that. In your mind, you’re allowed the most extravagant depravity. Keep it there.


John Berryman

Dream Song 127

Again, his friend’s death made the man sit still
and freeze inside—his daughter won first price—
his wife scowled over at him—
It seemed to be Hallowe’en.
His friend’s death had been adjudged suicide,
which dangles a trail

longer than Henry’s chill, longer than his loss
and longer than the letter that he wrote
that day to the widow
to find out what the hell had happened thus.
All souls converge upon a hopeless mote
tonight, as though

the throngs of souls in hopeless pain rise up
to say they cannot care, to say they abide
whatever is to come.
My air is flung with souls which will not stop
and among them hangs a soul that has not died
and refuses to come home.

Dream Song 29

There sat down, once, a thing on Henry’s heart
só heavy, if he had a hundred years
& more, & weeping, sleepless, in all them time
Henry could not make good.
Starts again always in Henry’s ears
the little cough somewhere, an odour, a chime.

And there is another thing he has in mind
like a grave Sienese face a thousand years
would fail to blur the still profiled reproach of.  Ghastly,
with open eyes, he attends, blind.
All the bells say: too late.  This is not for tears;
thinking.

But never did Henry, as he thought he did,
end anyone and hacks her body up
and hide the pieces, where they may be found.
He knows: he went over everyone, & nobody’s missing.
Often he reckons, in the dawn, them up.
Nobody is ever missing

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