On Suicide, Silence, and Poetry

From: My Father Before Me

Suicide is a paradox: self-expression through self-annihilation. It’s the last word: perfect, unanswerable. The content of the message is ambiguous, and the ambiguity can never be fully resolved; a suicide leaves behind it a wake of silence. I have wanted to fill that silence. I have filled it with Daddy, come back. I have filled it with What kind of man could do that to his family? Or Life is essentially absurd; he who mocks it most relentlessly is most relentlessly alive and honest. Or Poor man, sad man, deeply troubled for years—he’s to be admired for lasting as long as he did. I have filled it with I must try not to live as he did—silently, suffering silently, out of shame or pride or fear or some intractable habit of obscure origin.

            And I have filled it with poetry. Or, no: poetry has risen from that silence and contains it. Of that which is most unsayable and wreathed in uncertainty, I have found, to my relief and comfort, poetry speaks.

            In the private act of reading or writing a poem, in the solitary immersion in language, in its exquisite balancing of meanings and its nuanced music, I have felt most deeply myself, most intimately aligned with my sense of the mystery of existing, with my sense of being small and temporary compared to whatever it is that is operating beyond me, maybe through me. A poem can feel like an intermediary, a minister, between me and the bewildering universe. It completes an electrical circuit between the known and the unknown, between my own individual experience and the shadowy operations of the reality of which that experience is a part. That might be why, reading a good poem, I feel a jolt.