Against Melancholy


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?

Nathan McClain is the author of Scale (Four Way Books, 2017), a recipient of scholarships from The Frost Place and the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference, and a graduate of Warren Wilson's MFA Program for Writers. A Cave Canem fellow, his poems have recently appeared or are forthcoming in Callaloo, Ploughshares, American Poets, Sou'wester, Broadsided, and Tinderbox. He lives in Brooklyn.