Do Not Go Gentle Into the Blue Line to Gresham

I don't quite get poetry. I don't know why. Until today, I had yet to meet a poem that really, truly moved me. Poetry is a tool for the truly pretentious, truly uninspired and truly lazy writers of the world to steal their way into greatness, so that people like James Franco can later act in movies about them.

Poetry, to the dark voices that live in my mind, is cheating.

That's why my own poems are tongue-in-cheek jokes. I wrote Danny Dizzle not because I truly felt that a certain Rudyard Kipling poem desperately needed to be interpreted into Snoop Dogg, but because it was a writers' group exercise and I hang around too much with Valerie, who tends to break out the white girl gangster-speak now and again.

And it was due to a writers' group related fiasco that I met a girl who read me a beautiful poem by Dylan Thomas. The first time I saw her, she was sitting on a bench near a friend's house, waiting for the same bus I was. I was behind her, and for some reason the first thought that came to my mind was that I couldn't tell whether it was a guy or a girl I was looking at because of the big puffy coat. After that I realized that it didn't really matter whether it was a guy or a girl and wasn't my business besides, which is when I saw the frilly lace of her undergarments peeking out from her pants and decided that it was probably a girl, unless it still wasn't which is all right, but it all didn't matter because you're not supposed to be looking at women's underwear, you stupid ass.

I sat down on the bench beside her and she turned around and smiled at me. I'm glad she didn't know what I was thinking, but then again, I guess she wouldn't have cared, based on what happened shortly after. We took the bus down to the Max light rail station. I was on my way to a writers' group meeting, or, more specifically, I was on my way to totally miss my writers' group meeting since apparently there are two coffee shops twenty miles apart with exactly the same name, and I was about to go to the wrong damn one.

But anyways, I once again joined her on the bench, this time at a different transfer station. After a while, I had that good ol' sense of Doubt picking at the back of my head- I had been down to Portland tens of times before, and it should be permanently ingrained in my head by now how to get there, but my certainly that I was going the right direction had led me hilariously astray before, so I might as well ask someone who probably knows more about these things than I do.

“Does the train to Gresham go to Portland?” I asked her.

“Can you say that again?” she said. I guess I had kind of mumbled it.

“Does this train go to Portland?” I asked again.

“No,” she said. “That's on the other side.”

“Damn,” I said. Now I had triple doubts. Google Maps had distinctly told me to get on the Blue Line if I'm to go to Portland, and the side of the tracks I was currently sitting in had a distinctly blue quality to its benches and signs.

After about a minute, she said: “Oh wait, yes, it does go to Portland. And that's this side of the tracks. You'll want to get on the Blue Line to Gresham. Sorry, I've not been around here for a while, and I still need to get a little re-oriented.”

“Cool, thanks,” I said. “So, you said you've not been around here, were you going to school?”

“No, I'm getting my life back together. My life's really fucked up. I've had a lot of shit happen to me, and now I'm trying to get it together. You know how when you're writing a story about mental health? I'm at the end of that story.” Her voice was raised and a little harsh, like a stern mother lecturing a child, except I didn't feel like I was being lectured. I think that this was just how this girl talked.

“I see,” I said. I liked her directness.

“I've had tons of shit,” she said. “I almost died. I've stared death it in the face. My pulsed dropped from 160 to 70.”


The reason that I didn't dismiss her has everything to do with the fact that I've been working on a post- a treatise, if you will- about what happens when people talk about things that other people don't want to hear. The reaction is always overly shrill and negative, which drives me mad. As someone who comes from an “irregular” background that makes people uncomfortable when discussed- even when they ask about it- I, too, get particularly riled when people show reluctance to hear anything slightly uncomfortable to their pampered nerves.

I was mostly caught off-guard. I thought it was refreshing. I had asked her which one of the Max rails goes to Portland, and she opened right up about death and dying and her experience with cancer, no problem.

“I've never had a life-threatening experience like that,” I said. “There was one time when I lost my ability to speak and understand words for a few days.”

“I was awake for four days,” the girl replied. “I was supposed to be taking sleep aids, but instead I was taking awareness pills.”

The Inner Moron who lives in the back of my head- who usually pops up during conversations with strangers in the interest of being polite- said, “I suppose you were... trying to be awake by any means necessary?”

“No,” she said. “They mixed up my medication. It was really bad for my health, and they blamed me for it.”

“Oh,” I said. The Inner Moron promised not to say anything for the duration of the conversation.

“I got cancer twice,” the girl continued.

The Inner Moron quietly thought, but luckily did not say, “Oh no! Double cancer!”

“And now I'm at that point where I have to deal with all this bureaucracy and shit, and I can't get back into school. Everybody treats me like there's something I've been doing wrong all this time. They're so judgmental.”

I told her that I had a passing familiarity with how most mentally stable Americans treat those unlucky enough to have unstable psyches, which is basically, “Hey you! Stop being crazy. Get over it!”

“That's right!” she said, excitedly. “That's exactly what people do. Everybody thinks they've got it all together, but nobody conquers their inner demons. Have you heard of Dylan Thomas?”

“No,” I said.

“You've got a Kindle, right?” she said, gesturing towards the aging but faithful Sony reader that I was holding.

“It's a Sony,” I said.

“Can you look him up with it?”

“No, it doesn't have wireless,” I said. I had my phone in my pocket but I had powered it off because I hate using it.

“I want to read you this poem, I think you'll like it,” she said. Even though we had known each other less than five minutes, I believed her.

She pulled out her own smart phone and read me the following poem by Dylan Thomas, Do Not Go Gentle Into the Night:


Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.


And for the first time I was moved by poetry. For some reason I could [almost] see what she claimed she was seeing as she read it. I could see her withering away on the hospital bed, and here these words floating across the darkness of her dying thoughts.

“I've heard that before,” I said. “I don't know when and I don't know where.”

“I could hear these words when I was dying,” she said. “I stared the devil in the face, I realized that I had to conquer my inner demons. I thought I had, but I hadn't.”

Luckily the Inner Moron did not mention that the only experience I've ever had with devils has to do with a lawnmower.

“You have to conquer your inner darkness,” she said. “Don't deny it. Embrace it, but still keep the goodness inside of you. Everybody's got darkness.”

“I've done that,” I said.

“Everyone thinks they've done that,” she said, but not unkindly.

“Well, I'll try.”

The Blue Line to Gresham pulled up. She took a seat near the front, and I would have joined her but there were no seats left. I took a seat near the back.

It's not every day that I meet interesting people. I kind of wish there were more people like her, and that I had more conversations like that. It was short, intense, honest, and a little weird. It was certainly not what I was expecting when waiting for the Blue Line to Gresham.

I should tell those inner demons of mine that poetry isn't so bad.

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