Existential Angst


My thirst: 

When did it surface?
Is it right to lay the blame
on a fly in my DNA, a crack in the egg,
a badly-placed step in the dance of the sperm?
Did it seep in while I swam in neo-natal simplicity?
Is it lack or a perverse surplus; missing mineral or toxic germ,
or is it quickening depletion?

Can’t slake my thirst.

Oozing through a bruising birth canal,
keening for unseen  freedom, did I forget to collect
my nourishing any-time drinks?

I started to burst

Lying naked at the wide end of space,
thin flesh tingling with echoes, did I relish or regret
my clamorous exit from the womb?

while mother nursed

My mouth spelled an O
around a milky breast, my ready tongue reached to feed –
did not the food fulfil my need?

and dreams were rehearsed

When shadows
ignored each command, did they steal
my core of stability?

and knowledge reversed

When my expanding brain saw
that the world was not me, and I was not the world
did abandonment hurt?

and faith was submersed

When young fingers
plucked springtime flowers that died,
did I mourn mortality?

and pain interspersed

When oak trees
offered me gifts that I could not reach,
did the distance scrape me?

and thunderclouds cursed.

When I tried,
yet failed to describe my existential angst,
did I itch to die?

Flew head-first

When a slick film
thickened over whimpering blood – a second skin to protect me,
did it block entry to the piece which was missing?

for the limits of verse.

How can it be
that even as I embrace life, my lungs
would like to cease breathing?

Still the ache of thirst;

can’t slake my thirst.


©Jane Paterson Basil

50 thoughts on “Existential Angst

  1. You do realize that — largely I suspect because I once in a past life farted at an emperor who then cursed me to be reborn unsatisfied — I despair of composing poems about angst? I mean, how is one to compose on such a subject, Jane, that does not come across as mere whining?

    I think anyone who wishes an answer to that could do with studying your poem. It’s an honest look at angst, such that is so seldom found in works one senses are more about venting it, than about describing and/or explaining it.

    God, you’re brilliant — almost as brilliant as a pirate’s shiny cutlass as it descends to trim someone down to his or her most essential body parts. Such brilliant incisiveness!

    I took a much needed day and half’s sleep, and so I have some catching up to do on your other poems. I’m looking forward to reading them. But Jesus, Jane, this one is above even your lofty standards for excellence.

    It will never happen, but in a just world, you’d be in university textbooks.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. There it is! That lurking pirate…. but I must, simply MUST agree with you, Paul, on the brilliance of this wordsmithing. I have no words – just WOW!!

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Jane is indeed brilliant. So brilliant, I don’t envy her — I simply enjoy the thought humanity is capable of such feats as hers.

        As for me, Soul Gifts, I’m back, and I’m twice as handsome as before!

        Liked by 2 people

    2. If you keep making all these lovely comments about my poetry, I’ll have to start making an effort to get published, and that would never do. What if I achieved success? I’d have hoards of screaming fans outside my home, begging for autographs and stealing my socks for souvenirs. I wouldn’t be able to go shopping or to the beach – none of which would matter, since most of the time I’m happier under the table – but my neighbours would start talking to me, so that they could bask in reflected glory.

      Seriously, are you prone to exaggeration, or do you mean the things you say?


      1. Seriously, I mean the things I say, but I reserve the right to be fallible and wrong.

        By the way, there’s a long, dark story of how I came to be so honest about positive things. I might blog about it someday. All I’ll say now is I have a theory most of us refuse to acknowledge — or fully acknowledge — positive things done by others. Not all of us, but most of us.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I hope you’ll write that story some day. I learnt to see and show appreciation for positive things the day my teenage daughter found her boyfriend dead. It was only then that I realised he’d been like a son to me, and I’d never told him, or even noticed. That’s the short version of my story. It’s a hard way to learn a lesson.


  2. Oh wow Jane, what a masterpiece constructed here., your format is outstanding and every descriptive stanza had me mesmerised and thirsty for more….. brilliant….. and coincidentally I’m listening to, “you saw The Whole Of The Moon”, your perception here is amazing….. ❤️😀xx

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Jane, you have outdone yourself! If, as you suggest, it is a flaw of conception, then it is a brilliant one. The stepped dance of the sperm was pretty fancy footwork.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you Raili. I take back what I’ve always said about hard times being good for writing. Since things got easier with Laura and Paul I’m able to think more clearly, and all the thoughts I’ve ever had about life are coming together in my poetry. I feel as if this is my time.

      Liked by 2 people

        1. I am the sum of my parts; the sum of all that life has given and taken from me – a component made up of the raw ingredients of my existence, and pieces of all who have touched me. And I think I’m ready to grow.

          Thoughts present themselves, so I write them.

          Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for another fantastic review, Paul.

      You ask about me why I interspersed the two poems. I could invent a reason for you, but the truth is that while I might have known the answer two days ago, I can’t remember. Although I edit heavily, my initial writing is largely instinctive. All can tell you is that the lines on the left occurred to me while I was finishing the main body of the poem.

      I see it inspired the first apparently negative comment I have ever had concerning my poetry. It amused me, since Sprach Zarathustra is a highly regarded tone poem by a very famous composer, and it was, no doubt, considered to be ground-breaking at the time of its conception. I take it as a compliment to have my humble effort compared to he work of Strauss.

      Liked by 1 person

        1. I was fine with his comment. It brought to mind two writers: JK Rowling. whose writing has received masses of criticism, and yet look at her success., and Dylan Thomas, an acclaimed poet who had the same effect on me as I appear to have had on my critic; his style made me angry. I can’t explain it, and I know it isn’t a reflection of his talent.


    1. Thank you. I’ve had a lot of positive feedback about this one – and the first negative comment I’ve ever received about any of my poems. I figure that when your work gets negative feedback you’re starting to get somewhere. Ask JK Rowling 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

        1. Your words are music to my ears 🙂

          I can’t delete it; it was on a reblog, but I wouldn’t want to. The tone of the comment was so pseudo-intellectual and snide that it said more about the commenter than it did about my poem 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

  4. I can only say I’m in awe that you could put so many feelings into words. The words that came to mind when I read this were:

    For all thirst and fall short of knowing the glory of their being… (Whatever THAT’S supposed to mean!) You got a LOT of mileage out of this one, girlfriend. Writing is so brilliant.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your such praise, Calen. I feel as if I’m finally coming into my own.

      The quote you used is perfect. I think it describes the truth exactly. I felt separated from the world – unable to find a place since I couldn’t match the beauty. That’s kind of what the poem is about. Now I’m learning that we are all part of that beauty.

      Liked by 1 person

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