C.E. Chaffin

C.E. Chaffin, M.D., FAAFP, is a contributing editor for Umbrella and the former editor and publisher of The Melic Review. Credits include The Alaska Quarterly Review, The Pedestal, The Philadelphia Inquirer Book Review and Rattle. His new volume, “Unexpected Light” was recently released by Diminuendo Press: http://www.cechaffin.com/light.html

A number of reviews are available here: http://cechaffin.com/reviews.html. He also teaches an online poetry tutorial. Inquiries can be made at http://www.cechaffin.com. A new article has just appeared on him in The Writer, the oldest writer's magazine in the U.S. (print version only).

To a Friend in the Bell Jar

If I could swaddle you in my arms and whisper,
“Despair is not incompatible with love,"
tears would fog your John Lennon glasses
and drip down your beard.
You don't want me to see that.

You walk the supermarket like a ghost
where fluorescent lights siphon your spirit
and the shrill colors of cereal boxes
sharpen melancholy. You can't make
a decision as trivial as which cheese to buy,
an anxiety that makes you imagine the relief
of a plastic bag over your head
or gulping all your useless pills at once.
You can’t help thinking this,
just don’t take the shortcut.

Listen: You are not your depression,
it's your lizard brain malfunctioning,
the prosencephalon and mesencephalon
in reptilian cahoots, your neocortex
capitulating to ancient phylogenies--
in other words, it’s not your fault.

Listen again: Though it feels more real
than the loose vertebra begging fusion in your back,
depression is unreal--unreal I say,
a temporary funeral of the imagination,
a death mask that suborned your face
in a shrunken facsimile of where a smile dwelt
in the white forest of your beard.

Before I leave you give me
some apples scored with worm sign.
“They're good for applesauce,” you say.
I haven't the heart to refuse.

Fishing on the Lost Coast

Where heads of bobbing kelp can be mistaken
for seals and often are,

where tables of rock skirted in mussels
form terraces for tidal fountains

and the spawn of foam slides back
with each receding swell

while the swirling detergent between
greywacke pyramids crashes

beneath the stone captain's chair
from which I watch brilliant monofilament

ribbon and bow in the light
and young gulls cruise north to outgrown rookeries,

where I must distinguish the feel of a weight
scraping over bottom stones from a nibble,

ignoring the kelp sawing at my line
without being tempted to set the hook

as the dance of ocher sea palms bends back
with each onrush like group limbo

and I lean against crumbling shale over green bedrock
honeycombed in igneous white,

while the indefatigable surge scales jagged aprons,
spilling over funnels and down chutes

into the small cove, above which I lie in the oblique sun
and reach for a poem that doesn’t fit

inside this poem, a poem about the sea’s
hypnotic urgency and overpowering menace

so that I quit fishing altogether
to devote myself to the setting sun,

a gold coin of molten white set sideways
into a thin ripple of fire

as coolness drapes the shore, the land and sea
suddenly washed by blues and grays while bugs fly out

from the headland into the impending dark,
deer creeping tentatively behind

and I take my empty bucket
back to the salt-dewed car.


Again we meet, Medusa
and stones cannot cry.
Yes, I remember that face,
the unshaven pastures of my cheeks
bloated by hangover,
my eyes purple wells—
so I drink too much.
Wouldn't you?

Awkward giraffe,
I lack speech to say
"These leaves have lost their taste."
Music affects only irritation,
touch frightens and food sickens.
My psychiatrist says,
"You suffer from anhedonia."

Looking down a well
water and darkness do not soothe.
It's hard to explain
because the gray muzzle in me
moans for lack of howling
at the sickly orange moon
beneath the smog line.
How dead that moon appears—
like my own pock marks in a mirror.


Copyright © 2010 C.E. Chaffin