A Box Full of Darkness - Christina Lovin
Updated: Nov 28, 2019
“Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. It took me years to understand that this too, was a gift.” ― Mary Oliver
My writing is dark. My poems and prose are inhabited with the traumatized, the dead, and dying, whether animal or human. To me, the pathos (emotional appeal) of writing is as significant as the logic. In his life-changing book, A Little Book on the Human Shadow, Robert Bly describes a long, heavy sack that each of us drags behind us from childhood. The sack is filled with the negativity and darkness that has come into our lives: reprimands, trauma, self-doubt, and fear. Bly maintains that in the black depths of that sack is where our creativity dwells. I have to agree.
I find no topics off limits for my writing. My first book of poetry, A Stirring in the Dark, is filled with the pain of divorce and deaths of both my parents. Echo, the second book, relates to the often unhappy issues of growing up female in the decades between World War II and the Viet Nam conflict. One section of Echo is peopled with women (famous and common) who were murdered, some of whom I knew personally. I have a compulsion to explore the darker sides of life and loss.
My mother’s death and the fact that I could not see her in the last few months of her life tore me apart. I couldn’t access grief, however, until I witnessed a deer hit by a truck some months later. The vulnerability of the deer, floundering with four broken legs, conjured the image of my mother, who had fallen and lain on her floor for hours before help came. Those two events came together in a sonnet sequence (‘Event Horizon’) that helped me deal with her death and my own helplessness in the face of her passing.
Another poem, ‘Pound’, recalls my childhood when I would often visit a nearby animal shelter. In the poem, images of dead dogs piled in trenches brought up, in the mind of a child, photos of concentration camps. Harsh, dark images, to be sure, but that poem in its grisly view of death went on to win two poetry competitions.
My personal struggle with Postpartum Depression (‘These Are Not My Hands’) is told in juxtaposition with the story of Texas housewife, Andrea Yates, who drowned her five children in a psychotic rage. Writing that peers unflinchingly into the blackness, holding only a lighted match to illuminate those shadows, can somehow lighten the reader, as well as the writer.
The story behind ‘Two Doves’ had been on my mind since I was a young adult. A man my family knew back then had been tried and convicted for sexual abuse of children. Like many predators, he offered something with which he could lure children away from the protection of their families: a farm, complete with many farm animals. Many of us had spent time there; most had escaped unscathed. This time, however, it was personal. The children involved were close relatives. A young child told what had happened. The man went to prison.
The untitled story went through several iterations with different time periods and characters. At last, as I searched the Bible for the scripture, “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth", I stumbled upon the judgmental passage from Deuteronomy that is read near the end of ‘Two Doves’. That discovery led to the story turning sharply. The darkness deepened. I created a fictionalized religious sect and set them in an imagined locale. It is left for the reader to determine what the two doves represent.
As Neruda states in his essay ‘Toward an Impure Poetry’: “Those who shun the ‘bad taste’ of things will fall flat on the ice.” Writers should be unafraid of the darkness around them (and inside themselves). Further, they should embrace it. Human nature demands an examination of those people, places, and actions that exist outside the realm of sunshine. Without shadows, there is no perspective.
Christina Lovin is an award-winning writer of poetry and prose from Lancaster, Kentucky. Her short story 'Two Doves' will appear in the Stories About Penises anthology. Orders are now available.
‘Books That Will Change Your Life: Robert Bly on the Shadow’
‘These Are Not My Hands’ (New Southerner, page 43) https://issuu.com/kybuck1965/docs/new_southerner_literary_edition_2012
Neruda Essay: ‘Toward an Impure Poetry’