A Theory of Falling

What a good use of time falling is
& regardless of the into, i.e. a pile

of leaves, their rustle, a love, the little
sigh a bed makes when a body meets it.

By falling as with most things I mean
both the sensation and the metaphor.

Already I have too many metaphors.
Too many ways to say my heart is a bad

flower blooming. But to fall is useful
as a metaphor because it contains both

an into & out of. Because of the ways
I can’t say all summer with the heat

an urgency I stood by windows & refused
to look out, there was a tree’s history

written on the floor, whatever I am inside
is an am I understand in a way the out slides

away from my grasp. Grasp, too, is useful.
The hand as a portrait of negative space,

an absence that says maybe. It is important
to remember the body is a space that is

its own whole & yet hollow. You can’t
imagine it: the network of cells spidering

a thought from brain to finger, the abdomen
stuffed not like a doll’s but with the same guts

you see spilled from a possum, roadside.
I would like sometimes to stop thinking.

I would like sometimes to be able to stop
myself from doing most things, to fall into

an absence in which I am unaware
of the concept of absence. To fall

into an into where I can imagine
the hand is just a hand, and enough.

Click here to read Emma Bolden on the origin of the poem.

Image: “Did we sleep long?” by windingnumbers-unwind, licensed under CC 2.0.

Emma Bolden:
“Do you ever think about how weird sleep is,” my best friend asked me. “Like, where do you go?”

It was years before Billie Eilish whisper-sang that question through the speakers, years before anyone else I knew had articulated what I asked myself so frequently. “Yes,” I answered immediately and definitively. “It’s like you just vanish, then you wake up with the feeling that you’ve been somewhere, but there’s no way to find where that was.”

Were I to describe my life during the pandemic, I’d use the same language. I lived and worked alone at home. Part of me remained grateful that I had a home and a life. Part of me felt that life slipping away. I woke and walked and worked and slept, then woke again to do the same. I felt like I had vanished from the world, and in turn, the world vanished from me.

Since I can remember, I’ve written poetry to understand what I experienced. When the pandemic entered my life, poetry vanished, and with it my last lifeline. How was I to understand where I’d been without a language to do so?

In April of 2021, the world around me woke up to hope again. I decided it was time to try to wake myself up, too. Each night, I read poetry, and then — hesitantly, sometimes painfully — I wrote. The poems were about definition. “A Theory of Falling,” one of the first from that month, tries to define the feeling that I’d simply slipped off the surface of the world I’d known — and away from the self I’ve known.

None of my poems come to a definitive definition. Instead, they’re more about the act of trying, the necessary struggle to name and know one’s experience. When it comes to something as unthinkably horrific as a global pandemic, there are no definitives. Like in sleep, there’s ultimately no way to know, exactly, where we have been, but hopefully the act of examination, of definition, of struggling to know the unknown, can help us to see where we need to go.

Emma Bolden
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