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  • Writer's pictureDaniel Elder

Descent into Nothingness

My poetry is almost always tailored for musical use. In the summer, however, I wrote a rare non-musical poem as a private expression of grief. In it I explored both my inward reactions and my outward observations of unfolding events.

What resulted was something raw, stuttering in short phrases, and—in an odd twist considering my love of Elizabethan style—metric yet completely non-rhyming. It also purposefully tapped into a sort of horror theme, prying open the dark crevices of my soul.

At first I was determined never to reveal these words to the public. The poem should and would stay in the darkness where it belongs. With the passing of several months, however, I’ve begun to realize that my journey is more than my own, and my experience relates far beyond myself. My descent into the dark is really our collective descent. If I've discovered something, anything, in these words, I realized I should share it.

I haven’t proof except in the depths of my conscience, but I assure you, Reader, that there is something horrific blooming in the shadows behind our marches, beneath our headlines, and between our words. There is something sinister leading us together down a dark descent. One day soon we may not recognize ourselves, or each other.

This poem features one particularly risky word—black—as the chosen synonym for “dark” and to function as a representation of prevalent themes and slogans. Take it for what you will, Reader, but think carefully before you react. Everywhere I look I see souls so utterly convinced of their benevolence. But beware; even our most noble ideals can be turned to evil if we lose our bonds of humanity.

First written to express my personal pain as ideologies turned tyrannical, the text has aged into a representation of our collective loss of self. The narrator in this poem finds his way from the brink. Will we?


The black is warm.

Its strange embrace

feels as a friend

I never knew.

The black leads me

by trembling hand

and trepid step

across its dusk.

It beckons down

a silent way,

an alien calm

just beyond sense.

Many nothings

line the blank wall

that isn't there

nor ever was.

My footfalls sink

and disappear,

almost as if

they never were.

The black leads on

into the deep

away from light,

away from breath.

And as I drift

I feel less me.

I am more it.

A mirror yawns

an empty stare

as nothing nears.


no sound,

no beat-

ing heart.

No more to fear.

It stretches nil

in front of naught

into something

not known, but there...

...and in the space

that was its head

a feeble call

with one last breath

now rends the void

with violent life.

Two ghosts of eyes

shrink from a beam

of blinding bright

from where I trod...

and then my eyes

were eyes and then

my hands were hands

and then my feet

were feet and then

I ran,

I gasped,

I saw,

I heard,

I felt,

I wept,

I knew.

I was.

I turned just once.

The arms were wide.

I shuddered, fled,

forgave my fear...

Forgot. But still,

The black is there.

Its warm embrace

felt as a friend

I nearly knew.


note: The careful reader may notice the alteration of present tense (representing the infinity of nothingness) and past tense (representing the sense of self through experience).

And now a brief intimate confession; it's particularly relevant to the poem. Until this year I had long developed my sense of goodness, my sense of competence, and my sense of confidence by deriving the feedback I received from others, whether about my music or about my personality. The strength of this was that it tied me closely into my community, but its weakness was that I couldn't afford to think entirely on my own. I suspect some of you sense a similar experience in how you censor your speech and reasoning.

Over time this began to stifle me. I felt depressed every time I opened my social media apps and saw wide consensus I wasn't allowed to challenge; I even began to dread concerts and conferences for their increasingly single-minded visions. In nothing could I feel safe to be genuinely myself. Audiences had grown to love my musical vision and my musical vision was an extension of my personal vision; why then didn't I feel they could love my personal vision directly?

About six months ago that single-mindedness seemed to fuse into a singularity and ignite. Violently. Having finally had enough, I experimentally rattled the walls of that cage. What resulted was absolute chaos. Close friends clucked or fell silent. Colleagues raged with an almost religious fervor. I faced for the first time a total collapse of that communal bubble on which my identity was helplessly dependent. My world fell in on itself and I couldn't breathe; I couldn't exist. I was exiled not only from my community but from my own consciousness. The light went out. I very briefly considered the comforting notion of not having to wake up to following day. This poem depicts that time of nearly losing myself. And just like the narrator I was saved by a quiet voice deep within, speaking on cue as if on an automatic fail-safe; a voice which hadn't been allowed to speak in far too long. As I learned to listen again the light came back on, brighter than before. Over time I have continued to strengthen it day by day, trial by trial, revelation by revelation.

I now know what my conscience feels is good, and I needn't first check it for approval with those around me. I'm free. I'm an inspired man. And I'm weary, but I'm hopeful. With all my heart I wish the same for you.

Peace and hope to all who read this,


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