In his debut memoir with poems, Macdonald looks back on his schizophrenic breakdown at age 21 and his subsequent healing.
In this short, deeply affecting book, the author describes how his directionless confusion in 1972 developed into tormented guilt, as he increasingly began to believe that he was a failure, a sinner and even Judas himself. With the help of friends, poetry, doctors, medication, prayer and electroshock therapy, Macdonald gained peace of mind and re-established his life, work and friendships. Throughout the book are poems that Macdonald wrote at the time, which move from terrified desolation to renewed hope. Both in prose and poetry, he beautifully evokes the horror of his situation as it slowly closed over him. As his friends became strangers to him, he wrote: “You—the new day, / Love in a flower. / I—that taut bough / Broken by the lashing gale….Songs of the street bird / Are nearer to you than to me.” One chapter that simply describes Macdonald’s indecision about making a short trip conjures up his tormented helplessness: “Each time the darkness of the countryside seemed more impenetrable, my isolation from spiritual reality became more complete.” Everything seemed to tell him of his sin; a cock crowing, for example, “was the sign that I was denying the Christ in people because I was failing them.” While the language here is occasionally opaque, Macdonald often finds interesting ways to twist or omit words, in a style reminiscent of Gerard Manley Hopkins: “[B]rown nightbirds / Bleaking the terror of day”; “Rough, wooded lands / Aspire a hill.” Images of old age and desolate nature abounded in the young man’s poems, until he began to recover: “Rain ruined the festive dance / Out in the gardens of the spring, / But hotter days are seasoning the old grey face / Who met me today.” A thoughtful epilogue offers some suggestions about better ways to help the mentally ill and provide “a place for all the misplaced.”
A hopeful work that’s quietly frightening in its evocation of mental illness.