My Natural History
By Caitlin Levy
Discussed: anxiety, depression
This poem is special to me; it is connected with my own journey of living with anxiety, longing, and what it means to be in my body.
I take my walk to the Museum of Natural History
dodging the wild tourists.
The sky above me fades
with my own dark.
tightens with air.
The young couple passing,
their calm Spanish tongue.
How easy for them,
to walk, speak with one they love,
I want to be the
21,000 pound whale
suspended from the ceiling of the Hall of Ocean Life.
I am as calm and graceful as the dead.
At fancy dinners, purple lights are strung around me,
and below my belly, socialites dine
and chat about the mayor.
I like how they look at me, marveling at how
I hang from the sky.
I feel sure
I will not crash at any moment, up there
above the stuffed lions.
I will not even think it.
But I am not the whale
and make a U-turn toward home,
where I dip my face in cold water,
letting my head hang an inch above the sink.
They told me in the hospital
it was like diving head first
into a pool, my heart slowing
to help me survive
the terrain of frozen water.
I’m not sure how I got here,
knowing only this cool life against my skin,
how to heal the nameless living of my body.
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I wrote this poem on New Year’s Day. During a walk to the Museum of Natural History that day, I experienced an anxiety attack. It was a strange, surreal moment of actively taking care of myself, seeking respite, and yet feeling the world caving in. I immediately rushed home and pulled up my Google Docs to write, after splashing my face with an abundance of piercingly cold water. This felt quite profound to me: I didn’t know why I had felt this flood of panic, and I still knew exactly what to do to cope.
After sharing it with my mentor, Susan, she suggested I incorporate imagery from the museum into my poem. It was interesting to think about this from the perspective of my own “natural history,” embracing the interconnectedness between my metaphysical existence and that of beings no longer alive. Reading this poem back, I can feel the sense of longing—longing to understand the imagined ease of a “young couple passing, their calm Spanish tongue.” There is a loneliness to anxiety, to any kind of distress, when one thinks they are alone in it.
In the poem, I think, “How easy for them, to walk, speak with one they love, breathe.” No one is alone in it, though, and I hope that readers find solace in this piece.
Caitlin is a mentee with a love for poetry, arts and crafts, and puns. She can often be found geeking out about science with her friends, writing spontaneous songs, or reading by a window. She spent last summer studying slam poetry with Urban Word, and she's soon going to return as a counselor at her book club camp. Above all, she's immensely grateful for the Girls Write Now community.