“Sentimental Hogwash” by James Davis May

James Davis May


A man who hasn’t thought seriously about killing himself
in over a year walks out of the living room
as the father in the movie stumbles toward the bridge
in order to jump from it. There are, after all,
things to do in the kitchen, pans to soak
and plates to rinse, and no one is watching him,
or the movie for that matter, his wife trudging
through a stack of student papers, his daughter
drawing dragons on a sketch pad, and the feeling
unfurling like a fever was so mild at first it seemed silly,
something that until then was dormant but now threatened
to make him cry, and though he isn’t afraid to cry
in front of his family, he didn’t want to this time
because they might worry, and then he would worry
that the depression was coming back again.
It’s snowing in the movie, the actor’s face obscured
by a five o’clock shadow and a sizzling agony
that’s surprising for a supposedly heartwarming film.
The lie is that seeing the world without you
will make enduring this world easier,
that you’re some sort of butterfly flapping its wings
birthing not a hurricane but a music that saves
everyone you love from ruin. The truth is
the world would be just as terrible without you
as it is with you in it, give or take a little pain
and pleasure. There’s nothing left to do
in the kitchen, so the man sits back down
and watches the father and the angel shivering
as they save each other in different ways,
and then the man’s wife looks at him and says,
“Thanks for coming back. We get lonely
when you leave,” and he apologizes and promises
to stay until the end, a scene that he knows
is sappy but loves anyway, even though
it will make him cry a little, just loudly enough
that he can’t pretend that no one notices him.

from Poets Respond
December 20, 2022


James Davis May: “It’s the 75th anniversary of It’s a Wonderful Life‘s wider release. This year was my first time watching the film since recovering from a major depressive episode, and I was struck by how George Bailey’s near-suicide scene depicts despair.” (web)

Rattle Logo