If I am the root of my problems, and I am, then what can I do to find solutions?
Welcome to our inaugural Writer’s Notebook column, in which NER poet Zach Linge thinks out loud about the path of pain—how it impacts us and those around us, and how it leads to a poem like “Branches.”
One day, junior year of high school, I came home to find my room reordered, the contents in every drawer and cubby rearranged, my journal read and re-stacked, put into its new place. While I was growing up, there was no information my mother kept from herself. “I’m your mom. I know everything.” She’d make a joke of it. She wasn’t joking. I was so convinced of her knowing everything that, when I hit puberty, I stuck slivers of tissue in the nail holes in my wall: I was afraid she was using them to watch me at night. She loved me so much, with such terror, she could’ve eaten me up.
Researchers talk about the urge to pinch a baby’s cheeks as a form of emotional self-regulation. The thing is so cute, you have to hurt it.
You know how it starts: your lover’s ex texts him. You read the text, then their conversation. Suddenly, you’ve stuck your hand in every pocket around, looking to find anything, to confirm a suspicion that your lover is dangerous. What do you expect to find? Anything. Want, for some, leads to violence. I have an urge to eat almost everything I touch—oil paints, pine bark, my leather desk, inch-long baby fingers, they’re so cute. And even if I don’t do it, what do I do with the urge? And if I don’t actually harm what I can touch, what other violences do I permit myself? My partner gave me the password to his phone and his computer because he’s not hiding anything. I used it.
There are so many ways my love for the life I have enacts suffering on those around me and on the bigger world—and each presents first in the home.
If I am the root of my problems, and I am, then what can I do to find solutions? Focusing on my fears has never solved them. Acting out makes them worse. Looking to what’s been modeled for me means propagating violence. So, where do I start? There’s something to be said about the power of inventory and confession, a brutally honest account of the self as a first step toward amending one’s wrongs. But both inventory and confession have to be followed with action to turn into amends. This poem suggests, at its end, that silence might make a good start. Listening to what another wants to share about their suffering might be one way to operate outside the stubborn problems of the self.
Read the poem “Branches,” from NER 41.1 (2020).
Zach Linge (pronouns: they/them/theirs) has poems published or forthcoming in Poetry, Puerto del Sol, Split Lip Magazine, and elsewhere, and a refereed article in African American Review. Linge lives and teaches in Tallahassee, where they serve as editor-in-chief of the Southeast Review.