My therapist says trauma is simply an encounter with something that we cannot make sense of. I struggle to make sense of this. My therapist is skilled, practices the technique of self-disclosure, establishes rapport with me by confiding about her own trauma. As a young girl growing up on a farm, she witnessed the long, bloody birth of a calf in a barn. No explanation is the default. She says that trauma is stored and released in certain parts of the body, which is why we cry unexpectedly during yoga, arching and bowing our backs through the familiar sequence. Cat, cow. Why being overcome with feeling makes our throats shake. The vagus and the vague. If poetry troubles sense and multiplies the senses, that would make poets the professional purveyors of trauma! Just think! Teachers, performers, and poets laureate are paid to drive around traumatizing people, telling them how valuable, how necessary it is to be traumatized, even being thanked for the service. I have a plan: At the beginning and end of every poem, every work of art, the person responsible for it should get on their knees and beg for forgiveness.
The professor is mild-mannered, dresses in tasteful khakis and lumpy shoes. He is the kind of person who leans approachably, without any irony or self-possession, against his desk at the front of the room. We are a mixed class: Half of us are writers who are embarrassed and ashamed because we spend too much time writing and not enough time studying literature—its histories, theories, great pasty men—and the other half are devoted to the study of literature, but too embarrassed and ashamed to admit that they want to write themselves. Who apologizes to whom? The professor says, The thing about you writers is that you’re always thinking: How can I use this? What he means to say is that our ability to operate shamelessly, to separate reality from responsibility, to consume, is limitless. Our loved ones die in a fire, and all we want is a flawless description of the fire. I crackle in my plastic chair. The professor is not wrong.