Three More Ways to Give Up

Three More Ways to Give Up

by Angela Doll Carlson June 06, 2016

"Meaningless! Meaningless!" says the Teacher. "Everything is meaningless!" Ecc. 12:8

If I’m not careful, I might be tempted to circle the wagons so tight ain’t nobody getting in or out. I am now beating the news bush daily, more than daily, looking for clues to the future.

I shake the Internet like a Magic 8 ball, asking question after question, about politics or religion, parenting, basic plumbing, or that mysterious rash on my ankle. Google is my answer man, my pusher man, my soothsayer. God, we are a mess. I have already given up, many times.

“I’m done!” I shout to the heavens. “Time to circle the wagons!” I shout to my husband. God, we are a mess.

One. Stumble in the night. Curse the darkness. Read William Stafford.

The books are stacked next to my bed. At one time, they were as high as my hip, but now I knock them to the floor in the middle of the night by accident.

The sound wakes my youngest son, who is snuggled into my bed because of a storm, because of a bad dream, because of the sudden cold snap and not enough covers. He sits up and looks at me, and I say, “it’s all right” while I restack the books, smaller piles this time, like a string of islands poking up from an ocean.

The next day I take a book from the top of a stack­, sit in my bed with a mug of hot tea. I cuss at the laptop, and then the news alerts that pop up on my phone. I cuss at the condition of the planet, the kitchen, the country. Tuition is too high, wallets are thin as birch leaves, the book on my bed falls open to that certain poem I marked not long ago. The words leak out onto the bedspread before I can stop them–

Your exact errors make a music that nobody hears.

Two. Eat too much ice cream. Go to the gym. Read Langston Hughes.

We used to be able to turn off the news, but now it seems almost dangerous to try. The information age seeps in through all the cracks in the day– blinking signs on the highway, the familiar ding signaling a message from my phone, or the guy behind me in line, or the lady’s phone next to me in the locker room at the gym. Her locker door hangs open and she hides behind it while changing, as we do, peeling off the spandex pants, and breathable cotton tanks now soaked with sweat.

We catch sight of one another for a brief moment, exchange the casual, “Aging is hard” look and go on about our business.

I hear her phone chime; she stops her spandex wrangling to check it. She sighs, then chuckles, then sighs again, and I slip on my shoes, close my locker, and shuffle out the door. “What now?” I wonder.

Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.

Three. Pick up the dry cleaning. Play chauffeur. Read Mary Oliver.

Only poetry can save us. I’m convinced of it. I think about the fact that there is never a line at the dry cleaner. The north-facing plate windows are filled with plants of all kinds. The light offered is indirect at best, catching rays from the east west sunrise sunset angles of Armitage avenue. 

The plants do fine though. Rosemary in pots, different from the hardy shrubs I grow on my patio, these are tender and fragile looking, fragrant as anything. Ferns, begonias and palms of one sort of another, all crowd the sill, fighting for attention and yet strangely complimentary.

I wait a long time for the counter person to find my husband’s shirts. The news plays on a small television screen but there is no sound, only picture. The type scrolls with primary results, poll results, news from the Middle East, news from the popular culture, Beyoncé and Jay Z and Kardashians. A radio plays music from somewhere near the counter, delicate and tonal. Chinese? I don’t know.

Later, in the car, children are climbing in from school, throwing backpacks in first with one heavy thud after another. We talk about the day, the stress of homework and bullies on the playground, the latest video games, the news that makes sense in relation to the smallness of that minivan.

We glance quickly past the influx of elections, and instability of the world at large, and we hone in, close, on the large events of being alive, learning, breathing without having to think about it. We are dialing numbers that will answer on the other end in familiar voices, soft voices, encouraging voices. Only poetry can save us.

it will always be like this,
each of us going on
in our inexplicable ways
building the universe.


*One: William Stafford – You and Art
**Two: Langston Hughes – Dreams
***Three: Mary Oliver – Song of the Builders

Angela Doll Carlson
Angela Doll Carlson


Angela Doll Carlson is a poet, fiction writer, and essayist whose work has appeared in Thin Air Magazine, Eastern Iowa Review, Apeiron Review, Relief Journal Magazine, St. Katherine Review, Rock & Sling and Ruminate Magazine, among others. She has published two books, “Nearly Orthodox” and “Garden in the East.”

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