John Berryman

Berryman’s Dream Song 207

I like Song 207 because it suggests why most people never have a clue how you’re feeling, and it’s not entirely their fault, either. Outside of a Small Circle of Friends, most of us really don’t want to know what other people are feeling, particularly if it’s likely to make our day any worse than it already is.

Of course, most of us feign interest in our neighbor’s welfare, but God pity the neighbor who makes too many demands upon his neighbors:


-How are you? -Fine, fine. (I have tears unshed.
There is here near the bottom of my chest
a loop of cold, on the right.
A thing hurts somewhere up left in my head.
I have a gang of old sins unconfessed.
I shovel out of sight

a-many ills else, I might mention too,
such as her leaving and my hopeless book.
No more of that, my friend.
It’s good of you to ask and) How are you?
(Music comes painful as a happy look
to a system nearing an end

an empty question slides to a standstill
while the drums increase inside an empty skull
And the whole matter breaks down
or would it would, had Henry left his will
but that went sideways sprawling, collapsed & dull.)
How are you, I say with a frown.

Isn’t this precisely how most conversations go.

“How are you?”

“Fine, fine”

“How are you?”

Even in a fairly advanced stage of Alzheimer’s disease my mother could carry on these kinds of conversations. They are so ingrained that most of us never stop to think how meaningless they really are other than a simple way of showing that we recognize the other person.

No wonder that someone really suffering finds it so difficult to reveal his inner feelings, knowing that such personal revelation is seldom welcomed by any but the closest friends, if he happens to have any.