The Traumatic Incident Reduction

Poetry Gallery

  By Healers and Survivors of Trauma


  © 1999   Peter Shefler


When I was very young, after my mother's traumatic death when I was six, I was relegated to the basement of our house, giving up my bedroom to make way for a long series of mostly neurotic live-in housekeepers. The three main things that sustained me through the fear and loneliness were my obsessive stubborness, my escape into fantasy and the arms of the mother earth of the natural world, and a very strong creative urge that seemed - along with depressive and bipolar disorders1 - to run in a good part of the family.

Luckily, I had an aunt (my mother's sister) who was an artist who lived a little more than a mile away on the then dirt roads and paths through the woods. I could visit her on some weekends, and she let me play in her studio, and did not restrict my imagination. One day she gave me a bottle of india ink to take home, so that I could write or draw what I could then not speak.

Of course, at that age, my verbal constructs were not well developed, but my visual perceptions and willingness to explore were swirling always about me, attempting in some way to be defined in representation. Perhaps, though I missed the nurturance of a family, I was lucky to be confined to that basement where I could spend hours or days alone with myself discovering a way out of the isolation of the soul.

Anyway, the marbled paper above was made during that time. In the laundry sink of the basement bathroom - where I would often turn on the shower to the hottest water possible and steam myself in the tradition of the Native American in their Inipis - I found that the india ink my aunt had given me would, by nature of its oil base, float upon the water. If I breathed upon it, it would cat's-paw like the swirling sea, and if touched with a quill it would move where I wished. If a drop of soap where added, it would contract and pull away, and - if a paper were laid upon it at just the perfect moment - the vision could be captured forever.

Just a few weeks ago, my aunt found a file of my old creations, including many pages of these marbled papers that were made in the 50's, so I thought I would place one of them here. The poem was written after the loss of my first real love, when I was twenty. It was the beginning of my first major depression as an adult, and stirred up the many repressed or forgotten emotions and associations surrounding my mother's death that no one had ever talked about and were never wholly resolved until recently 2.

For me, poetry, as a creation, was the most redeeming art that I knew. The simplest, the most pure, and - being now an entity of language - the most powerful form of healing and resolution I could contrive. Often, I would sit for hours by the fire beginning such poems, eyes filled with tears along with thoughts and feelings struggling to coalesce. So much was indeed being worked through. And in working through such struggles, and being with them in the moment, the words would suddenly spill out in what I deemed then some sort of salvation. I hastened then to write them down, and rarely changed even a comma after it was all over. In that instant, I had transformed something. Out of the darkness, at least for me, something became visible; in creation, I could draw a breath again and feel worthy of life.

  1. A wonderful book about bipolar disorder (manic-depression) and creativity is Kay Redfield Jamison's Touched with Fire: Manic-Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament.

  2. See the Foreword to the book, Traumatic Indident Reduction (TIR), by Gerald French and Chrys Harris.