The napowrimo website today provides a link to Percy Shelley’s “A Defense of Poetry,” where he says most famously that poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.
His belief is that poetry is magic and that poets are kind of like wizards. I’ll buy that. I mean, I don’t consider myself a wizard by any stretch, but I know the magic literature can work on the soul. I have read poems, and essays, and novels that have turned my mind and heart and my life absolutely upside down. So the assignment today, in Shelley’s honor, is to write a poem in which mysterious and magical things occur. I decide to talk about Percy’s wife Mary, and how her masterpiece worked on me, mysteriously, magically. To this day, Frankenstein is one of my all-time favorite novels.
In Which Mysterious and Magical Things Occur
I read the novel Frankenstein for the first time,
in 2001. I was recovering, as we all were,
from 9/11, but I was recovering further and more
deeply from my own personal crisis, unhappily corresponding
with this international tragedy. I was already shattered.
Mary Shelley’s novel shattered me further,
but in the most mysterious and magical ways.
I saw myself in there unlike I had ever seen
myself in a work of fiction. Both monster and
creator, every page resonated
with my own inner hell, my tumultuous storm
of anger and guilt and ineptitude.
So I did the thing. I wrote a book.
It would take me nearly a decade,
fiction writing as inner work, before
I emerged as something whole and new.
And I did emerge. And I thank Mary Shelley
for that, for allowing Rilke’s dictum to ring
true inside my soul, that maybe the dragons
in our life are really only princesses, and
that everything that frightens us is, in its deepest
essence, something helpless that wants our love.
My monster. My coming home. My battle against an
inside beast. I was, unlike Victor Frankenstein,
ultimately victorious, but that victory was
and always will be bittersweet. So much
gained. So much lost. And I realize that this
is a terrible poem, but nevertheless a moment
that needs to move through me, a record of a
moment of trauma made bearable and explicable
through literature, a dragon that becomes
a princess, something helpless the needs
my help. And I do what I can. I do what I can.