My first thought bled like

reckoning—hemorrhaged, starved,
then suffocated, so I kicked against
the goad of childhood, watched the
sickened photographs of me develop.
I sensed my tendons being
nibbled, grew in horror, felt so stupid
that words like “muscle” and “vein”
seemed fragile. I choked on the jugular
detail, swallowing nauseous
nutritious spittle. I fidgeted till
my tailbone rattled down rock
slides in steep playgrounds, recovered, tasted
sores. A bruise burgeoned, queasy
with curiosity, heightened by
change’s own blood-vertigo.
Hobbled by foreign Achilles’s fortune
I joined this man’s army, sprang
to attention. Disease was
sex’s malediction on forgetful
cures; envenomed enema-
talk hardened a heterosexual
then found me driven by proud
hypochondria’s sudden fruition
to dream diagnoses, through
which I seemed human.

Questions and Answers

What inspired “Psychosomaton”?

“Psychosomaton” was inspired by my own hypochondria. For some reason, I have a really intense squeamishness about the inside of my own body: blood, tendons, and vital organs etc. I still faint dead away whenever I have to have blood drawn, and if I start to think about anything remotely medical, I frequently imagine that I have contracted some horrible disease, or that I have some chronic ailment like a heart murmur. One day I started to wonder if I could write a poem that celebrated this aspect of my personality, of which I am usually somewhat ashamed. So I took the word “psychosomatic” and merged it with “automaton” and (uncharacteristically) came up with the poem’s title before I had written anything else. The rest of the poem simply followed from the resulting premise: that one’s physical growth could actually be powered by involuntary revulsion at one’s own body, just like an automaton is powered by a source it doesn’t entirely control.

What poetic techniques did you use in “Psychosomaton”?

Once I had the premise for this poem, the major decision I had to make was about form. At the time when I was revising this poem and sending it out, I was trying to reduce my dependency on rhythmic patterns of regular stresses (I tend to write in iambic or anapestic tetrameter, using lines with four stresses that echo a generic pop song’s four-beat phrase). So instead of allowing the lines of this poem to flow in the usual four-beat units, I chopped them up according to syllable counts. I used a modified form of the Japanese senryu (which has a haiku-like structure of lines measured by number of syllables: 5-7-5) and ended up with lines that had either 5, 7 or 10 syllables in them. This formal restriction gave the poem the kind of off-balance, awkward feeling that I wanted to express. It’s almost the only poem from this period that I still like; I have since decided to wrestle with my pop song demons in other ways.

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