The day 13 poem prompt of the 2018 National Poetry Writing Month challenges me to write a poem in which the words or meaning of a familiar phrase are up-ended.
I chose the phrase whatever doesn’t kill me makes me stronger. My upending is in the poem’s title. Besides the prompt, my inspiration for this poem stems from reading Christopher Hitchens’ Vanity Fair article regarding the maxim, and the entire series he wrote during his tribulation with cancer.
Indeed, successful resistance often strengthens. That is the principle of inoculations against disease, doing regular exercise, preserving through addictions, or recovery from mental setbacks such as depression. The problem arises from the universal application of the maxim, no matter who first said it.
First, it may kill you (and someday something indeed will). Secondly, things (like whatever) can and do leave you weaker, not always stronger. In my opinion, despite having taken the shot against shingles, I contracted the illness because I had been ill repeatedly over months and my immune system had been severely weakened. And there is the age thing (it’s not just a number). Being ill did not kill me, but it did make me weaker, more vulnerable, and not a bit stronger. Shingles does not make you any stronger either.
Here is a good article about Hitch’s Vanity Fair piece. And the poem…
First Weakened Then Dead
I am my body and my mind
‘tis me nature to be friendly and kind.
Then you entered me, quite uninvited
You’re a vile corruption of cells divided.
You took my strength, my pride, my hair
Weakened what I am, if you ever care.
We both suffer, but it’s you we must kill
In my losing battle to save my will.
Die I must, that’s what they say
But I hope to find some other way.
(Bill Reynolds, 4/13/2018)
I’m a Kelly Clarkson fan, especially since watching her coach on the TV show, The Voice. I’ve included her 2012 hit in the interest of leaving you, literally, on a positive note.
From birth to death, look both ways.
Mind the gaps and the cleaver maxims.