I’m Shira Erlichman and this is The Slowdown.

In my early twenties, in a year of intense aloneness––of confronting a bipolar disorder diagnosis, family estrangement, and moving to a new town––I took refuge in what I could touch. When I’m suffering, the world takes on a tangible hue.

After work, I’d skateboard straight into the Connecticut River. I found myself eye-to-eye with otters, who plunged under the dock into further darkness. Pebbles glittered in the water, my feet touching their thousand eyes. At night, my girlfriend took me square dancing. As I spun between partners, each stranger’s gaze met my own. I clasped hands, and released.

My depression’s claustrophobic velvet seemed to lift, momentarily. Times of deep suffering present an odd awareness: everyone has eyes, I realized. The doctor describing side effects, a stranger before she spins into another’s arms, the otter meeting my gaze with the intensity of a slippery monk. These eyes swell with meaning, with inference. My own eyes, at the time, scared me. They felt feral in the face of grief. It’s why Jews warn against looking in mirrors after the loss of a loved one. That year I feared my darkness was pouring out of my peepers, giving me away. I cried, a lot. Thomas Adams said, “There is no coming to heaven with dry eyes.”

I flew into that river. Maybe it called me. Maybe each droplet in its ancient body wanted to be a witness, compassionate, a sort of friend. When eight months later my mother came to visit me, our reunion was threaded with patience and calm. We went to the river. A loose rope the neighborhood kids loved to jump from dangled at its muddy outskirts. To my surprise, my mom handed me her glasses, and grabbed it. She flew.

“How’d you do that without even seeing?” I asked when she bobbed to the surface.

“It’s because I couldn’t see.”

Today’s poem, from the book Shifting the Silence by painter-poet Etel Adnan, encourages us to vault head-first into life. To, as she writes, “get wet, and even hurt.”

by Etel Adnan

The trees are yellowing,  giving the air a metallic
tone, shaking the imagination out of its lethargy.
The outside world brings much more to me than
what we call the inner one. Yes there’s all the hor-
ror we know, but Cash Creek in Yolo County, the
upper Hudson, the Nile under its pharaonic hues,
Mount Shasta under the rain,  and the mountain,
the  one  which is mine,  take  me into their  own
identities, they silence the world.

I  want to go rafting,  not only on rivers but on any
experience,  the mental ones particularly,  feel the
joy of frantic concepts, of their freedom mainly. It’s
tiring to analyze,  cut thinking into bits,  scrutinize
happenings,  so  much labor for mediocre results.
Let’s jump and dive,  go with winds,  let’s get wet
and even hurt, let’s give the Yellowstone River the
chance to toss us the way it does tree trunks and
salmon, let’s use its ways on our dormant brains!

Where  do  painters   stand   in  all  this?   Usually,
nowhere. They seldom say, or write something as
revelatory as their works can be, structurally non-
translatable.  I  miss listening to jazz music,  or to
Schubert,  and if I had the chance,  would  rather
watch  a  tiger  run  for  real  than  read  my  most
beloved poets. But poets are poets. Nothing will
dislodge them. Even when in their most pathetic
moments, they’re badly needed.

"from Shifting the Silence" by Etel Adnan from SHIFTING THE SILENCE copyright © 2020 Etel Adnan. Used by permission of Nightboat Books.