I Can’t Beat

Jim Rebstock, a friend of a friend, has lived in Japan for twenty some-odd years, teaching English and literature to mostly Japanese students. His distance has not dulled his extraordinarily keen understanding of human emotions, as I found after I read the following poem (posted here with his permission). He wrote the poem after he read my wedding anniversary blog post, sent to him by our mutual friend. I choose to think my blog post was the sole inspiration for the poem. No matter, though, his words express more clearly than I ever could the way I have been feeling lately, since the death of my wife:

I Can’t Beat
Jim Rebstock

Hanging alone in the dark
Without light or warmth
Or someone else’s warm hand in yours.
Your body says “whiskey”,
But it’s really your heart saying,
“I can’t beat.
The weight of the darkness is smothering me.
I can’t beat.”
Tears, like a blade,
Driving into your burning heart,
Driving into your burning gut,
Hemorrhaging, burning, bleeding,
Tears that lap at the ceiling
As they fill the rooms,
That you can only force out of you as rage.
Screaming at the empty rooms,
Bouncing off the walls,
Cresting and frothing in waves
Crashing over your head,
That beat you down,
Pull you down,
Dash you against those empty walls,
Get in your nose and mouth
Like vomit you breathe back in.
You’re embarrassed to go outside.
Embarrassed to shake your fist
At the night sky
At god
At Nature
At your neighbors,
For not being her.
The trees might hear you.
The neighbors might hear you.
But your screams flow between the trees,
Not bounce back at you.
Your knees wet in the grass
As you arch your back
And you retch your anger,
Your fear,
Your hopelessness
From the very root of your manhood
Out of the cavern of your grief,
Propelled by your lungs
Which will never be able to hold enough
Air to clean all of this out of you.
As you cough
And choke
And slobber
And scream,
The trees listen.
The leaves talk to you
In the language of your body.
The soft ebb and flow of molecules between cells,
The inhalation and exhalation of the leaves.
Are they laughing at you?
Softly, slyly?
No, they are offering murmured comfort.
A lullaby almost as old as soft waves on a sandy beach.
You could do that,
Go outside.
But you stay inside
Screaming at the empty rooms
Projecting her ghost
On the empty walls,
The color that she chose,
Cold in her absence
And you drown in your sour, burning rage.
Your heart saying,
“I can’t beat.
The emptiness is crushing me.
I can’t beat.
The rage is burning me.
I can’t beat.
The tears are filling up all the spaces
She used to walk.
I can’t beat.
I can’t beat.”