Against Melancholy

by Nathan McClain

At first it is
Beethoven’s Ninth

I’m thinking of—
not all of it—mostly

the fourth movement,
that rousing crescendo

you might hear
at the end of a movie

where the protagonist
has graduated or overcome

some great hurdle,
cello, violin, then flute,

brass, layering
one another, swelling

towards that feeling
of triumph

I so rarely seem to have,
but often think about,

now maybe
because of the shrieks

and cheers from a party
in the courtyard,

drifting into the window
of my room, where

I’m often alone,
laughter rising

like fireworks, then
I’m thinking of

the feeling itself,
joy, how

it almost seems made
of air, like you

can be full of it,
or sometimes

it’s a child’s
red bouncing ball

that somehow gets away
from you, and you

have to chase it
into a busy intersection,

and everyone’s
laying on their horns,

all that air
vibrating and swollen,

your chest swollen, too,
and maybe chasing it

could get you killed
or crippled at best,

but what feels better
than that moment,

when you catch it,
when it’s yours?

First published in Tinderbox Poetry Journal (Issue 4.3, June 2017)

Writing Prompt: 

With so much to fret, to be anxious over, or to despair, try drafting a poem of at least 30 lines, a poem that consists of a single sentence, that does its damndest to unearth, embrace, and pivot and wind towards joy which, itself, is a form of resistance.


Nathan McClain

Nathan McClain is the author of Scale (Four Way Books, 2017), a recipient of fellowships from Sewanee Writers’ Conference, The Frost Place, Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, and a graduate of Warren Wilson’s MFA Program for Writers.  A Cave Canem fellow, his poems and prose have recently appeared or are forthcoming in Poetry Northwest, Green Mountains Review, Zocalo Public Square, The Critical Flame, and On the Seawall.  He teaches at Hampshire College.