May 6, 2005

Everything in Life is Divided

by Cortney Davis

FRIDAY, 6 MAY, 2005
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Poem: "Everything in Life is Divided" by Cortney Davis from Leopold's Maneuvers. © University of Nebraska Press. Reprinted with permission.

Everything in Life is Divided

Everything in life is divided:
twenty-four hours that fade from day to night,

the sand at Martha's Vineyard, where we vacationed last year,
separating us from the ocean

where we swam, then returned to our blanket,
the two of us making one marriage,

sharing the apple sliced to reveal the identical
black seeds of its surprised face.

Even our bodies can be halved, although less evenly:
lungs partitioned into lobes, the heart's blood

pumped from right to left, the brain's two hemispheres
directing our arms, our legs,

our lives into the two possibilities of the Greek mask.
My life's work, too, is divided—

one side of my desk, unfinished poems;
on the other, nursing books with dog-eared pages.

Aren't we all somehow divided?
Like when my daughter was in labor, my first

grandchild emerging into the room's blue air,
suddenly entering new territory,

and how, when after the delivery my daughter kept bleeding,
I couldn't look at the newborn in the incubator

but stood fast beside my child, the woman who once
slipped from my life into her own and now had divided herself

while I balanced in my hands Joy and Fear, cradling them both
until the bleeding stopped.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of the man who wrote The Phantom of the Opera, Gaston Leroux, born in Paris (1868).

It's the birthday of Orson Wells, Kenosha, Wisconsin (1915). He made his Broadway debut in Romeo and Juliet at the age of 19. He founded the Mercury Theatre when he was 22. When he was 23 he came out with his famous broadcast of War of the Worlds, which caused great hysteria on the East Coast. And when he was 26, he made his masterpiece, the movie Citizen Kane.

It's the birthday of the poet Randall Jarrell, born in Nashville (1914).

It's the birthday of the first man to try to understand how things that happen to us as children might affect us psychologically as adults, that we don't always know why we do the things we do, and that talking about it might make us feel better. That was Sigmund Freud. He was born in the little town of Freiberg in what was then the Austrian Empire (1856) on this day.

He started out as a medical doctor and scientist, in Vienna, studying the anatomy of eels. One of his superiors told him that because he was Jewish, he would never go far in that line of work.

So Freud decided to go into the field of psychology, which was less crowded and where he thought he might be able to break new ground. He was interested in the subject of hysteria. Most hysterics were women, it was felt, at the time. And they were given various treatments, most of them horrible.

Freud learned that some doctors were treating hysteria using hypnosis, talking the patient out of his or her symptoms. So Freud learned hypnosis himself and developed what he called "the talking cure," getting people to tell stories about their own lives. He thought maybe the symptoms of the hysterics were the result of stories they'd never been able to tell anybody. To relieve them of self-consciousness, he had them lie down on a couch so they wouldn't have to look at him and he sat behind them as they talked and he encouraged them to free associate.

He developed the idea that his patients were not conscious of all their desires and fears, that their unconscious minds could reveal themselves in various ways.

He came out with The Interpretation of Dreams in 1899. He went on to write many more books, many of them read by the general public because of their frankness about sexuality. Sigmund Freud's ideas are no longer part of mainstream psychotherapy, but he had a huge impact on literature.

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