What a beautiful and curious book Don’t Let Me Be Lonely by Claudia Rankine turned out to be. Rankine is a poet who had three collections under her belt when she published this book that is and is not poetry in 2004. I say it is poetry because it is beautifully lyrical and written in short pieces that could be poems except they are prose paragraphs, essays of a sort. Only each essay doesn’t even fill a page, is sometimes only a paragraph long. But each piece connects together sort of like a collage, accumulating and building up to a whole picture. Many of the poem-essays can stand alone and are gorgeous little gems:
Forgiveness, I finally decide, is not the death of amnesia, nor is it a form of madness, as Derrida claims. For the one who forgives, it is simply a death, a dying down in the heart, the position of the already dead. It is in the end the living through, the understanding that this has happened, is happening, happens. Period. It is a feeling of nothingness that cannot be communicated to another, an absence, a bottomless vacancy held by the living, beyond all that is hated or loved.
The book moves around many themes, death, grief, unhappiness, forgiveness, sadness, life, and most of all, loneliness:
It’s what we can’t do for each other.
What do we mean to each other?
What does life mean?
Why are we here if not for each other?
Even though the poem-essays are questioning, sometimes melancholic, sometimes baffled, and sometimes tragic, the book is not depressing. There is a softness, a gentleness to it that is present throughout no matter if it is about personal tragedy or the World Trade Center. And the book itself ends with a number of poem-essays on hope:
Such distress moved in with muscle and bone. Its entrance by necessity slowly translated my already grief into a tremendously exhausted hope. The translation occurred unconsciously, perhaps occurred simply because I am alive. The translation occurs as a form of life. Then life, which seems so full of waiting, awakes suddenly into a life of hope.
Loneliness never goes away, it is something that is and always will be with us, a part of the human condition. But with hope, with reaching out a hand to someone else, for just a little while we can forget our loneliness:
Or one meaning of here is ‘In this world, in this life, on earth. In this place or position, indicating the presence of,’ or in other words, I am here. It also means to hand something to somebody — Here you are. Here, he said to her. Here both recognizes and demands recognition. I see you, or here, he said to her. In order for something to be handed over a hand must extend and a hand must receive. We must both be here in this world in this life in this place indicating the presence of.
The whole book builds toward being “here” and recognizing the presence of someone else; recognizing another person’s existence, and what that existence entails — messy, sad, lonely, grief and hope filled life.
It is a beautiful and affirming book. The language is gorgeous. The poem-essays are often accompanied by small drawings or photos that provide additional impact. I read the book in less than a day. I had stopped about three-quarters of the way through thinking I should save the book and finish the next day. But when casting around for something else to read, nothing appealed except Don’t Let Me Be Lonely. So I finished it. I am glad I did because I think it is meant to be read in one day while all the connections and layerings are mingling around in the brain, fresh and pliable. I enjoyed the book so much I will gladly give one of Rankine’s poetry collections a go sometime.