A Post Modern Painting, a Poem, and a Panic Attack

The minimalist painting that sparks the poem.
The minimalist painting that sparks the poem.

So a few months ago I had a panic attack. It was a short lived episode, but I was with friends and it just humiliated me. The worst part was how understanding and helpful everyone was. It was maddening and surprising to realize that I was the only one upset with myself for freaking out…I felt like I would just die from the kindness and acceptance I was met with.

The feeling was not limited to that night, and for a long time it haunted me as this strange little emotion, a frustration with the virtues of humanity which I couldn’t find words for. I worked for months trying to make a poem out of it, but I routinely scrapped everything I came up with except for the phrase “dying of mercy.” Eventually I just gave up on it.

Two weeks ago, I needed a name for a prop painting in a murder mystery, and jotted down “Dying of Mercy” since the phrase was still lurking in the back of my mind. I figured it would finally be used for something and I could let go of it. When my dear friend Zaq volunteered to actually paint “Dying of Mercy” for the prop, I was mildly amused that my failed poem would become an actual piece of minimalist art. After the prop painting served it’s purpose, Zaq left it with me. Still amused, I hung it on my wall across from my bed. Lying down that night, I saw it sideways in a final conscious moment and thought I saw something in it I hadn’t seen before. Today, I rehung it sideways, sat down in front of it, and wrote.

I knew that this poem had been on the tip of my fingers. In the end, all it took was a post-modern painting to pull it out of me.


I’m dying of mercy
As you offer to me
An invisible horizon
On which I can watch the sun set,
Unburdened by the fear
That it may vanish from here,
Never to rise again,
Out of darkness ill-met.

The north star rises to my right,
And half a sun bleeds into night.
It is too much for me,
To think all’s forgiven.
To tell me I am deserving,
Destroys all I’ve been preserving:
The sole identity
That I have been living.

My heart is sickly bright,
Now broken and bleached white,
Reduced mechanically
To shapes it should not be.
But lost in the color of grief,
I find some semblance of relief
In my dying fragility
When you stand beside me.

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