Completely Subjective: Michael S. Collins’s “Six Sketches: When A Soul Breaks”

Michael S. Collins’s poem, Six Sketches: When A Soul Breaks, highlights the sudden downfalls of six different “personas” in a numbered, paragraphical way. First published in the 2002 twenty-fifth volume of the writing magazine Callalo, Collins’s poem has transcended the idea of what it means to be broken. Putting the word in extremely literal but also abstract terms, this piece opens itself up to multiple interpretations, one of which i have connected with myself.

On one of my manic cleaning days, a few weeks before September, the kitchen was under my sort of “repair.” I had decided to wash every dish, organize the fridge, pantry, and freezer, and mop the floors while I was at it. Who knows if this was all necessary or not, reason has no place in this story. Anyway, while hand-scrubbing the overwhelming amount of drink-ware in my kitchen, I noticed (or rather didn’t) that there were pieces of what looked like a mug spread around the sink. What wasn’t disappointment, but instead annoyance spread across my face, as I saw this broken mug as more of a nuisance I had to clean up than something special that I had just destroyed. Obviously I picked all the pieces up and set them aside, while noticing that it was one of my mom’s mugs, one she used frequently. I could anticipate her negative feelings about the incident, but forgot quickly about it since my mother was out for the day, and I didn’t have to confront her about it for at least three more good hours. When the time did come, her reaction was not a typical one for the type of incident. As I hinted at before, this is not the first item of hers that I have broken (never on purpose, just to clarify). In the last year, my hand has aided in the destruction of a towel rod, waterproof camera, a large cork board, two incense holders, and a massage chair. All useful and cherished items of hers, all destroyed by her own flesh and blood. She usually has some frustration with me, but never gets heated or resentful, much to my relief. This time was not different in her levels of anger or distress, but rather her sadness. Coming home from a probably already hard day, I expected to surprise her with a clean kitchen, but instead I presented her with a broken mug. Much to my confusion, she started crying as soon as I told her. After prodding and cautious comfort, I realized just what I had done. This mug, that I had broken without even noticing I did it, was one of the only items my mother still had from her mother, who had passed away about a year before i was born. Standing on the kitchen floor, listening to my mom sob over five pieces of clay, I saw her soul break. Not that I had never seen her cry before, but this time the fault was in me, and I had never felt worse. I couldn’t help but see her soul crash down and break into five uneven pieces, just as the mug had done. The cup was fixable, but it was what had been taken from my mother, what I had taken from her, in the moment that was not repairable.

As Collins expresses, the act of a soul breaking is one worthy of no improvement and nothing to fix. Each description depicts what i see as the lowest, most vulnerable point in each of the persona’s stories. After some research done in the BAP 2003 index, it was revealed that each persona was based on real life people, making the broken souls seem that much more crushed.

Although the actual “poem” in Collins’s piece is made up of the couplets underneath each persona’s paragraph, and the combined version at the end, the examination of the souls is within the explanatory paragraphs. He paints the “sketches” in a more literal sense than expected, personifying the experiences of the souls, with The Poet’s “secrets cracked like eggs”, and The Musician’s “Mystery interviewed”. Looking to get even more specific with each sketch, i looked up each person that collins based the souls on. Ranging from Robert Hanssen’s (The Spy) arrest for the worst breach in American intelligence to Friedrich Nietzsche’s (The Philosopher) STD induced philosophical downfall, each story held it’s own kind of “rock bottom” or “last straw” that resulted in the shattering of their spirit and soul. I feel as if each story highlights a different aspect of the journey to total breakage, with The Hooker not being able to “decide which [path] was worse”, or Manias ripping greatness to shreds, “leaving [a man] rich with his word worth nothing”. Collin’s carefully constructed six-parted prose leaves one not only understanding each of the six sketch’s personal experiences, but also brings a rounded view as to how a soul itself breaks.

Each of the paragraphs contain different stories that yield similar outcomes, but another similarity is word choice, specifically one word. Each persona uses some sort of “cover” in their narratives. The spy blowing his cover, the hooker using Mary Jack’s warm blood as a cover for herself, the poet planning to recover, the musician’s blue riffs uncovering the will of the people, the philosopher that left only a pain-drunk prostitute to cover his hurt, and the manias sending thinker, poet and singer for cover while the moon-bright man of politics [says] “it’s worse to cover.”

Most of these covers use an outside thing or person to facade their brokenness or hurt, therefore affecting their lives and outcomes. Although I did not try to hide the brokenness of the mug or blame it on others, my actions (brokenness) affected another, and in turn broke them by relation. If we talk technicalities, i do align with the recovery of the poet, as I expected my mother to recover from being upset about the broken mug, and I expected the mug to recover quickly from being broken (i.e. I would fix it, which I still have not done). This expectation yields disappointment, mostly in myself. Which also makes room for self-repair, but as Collins puts so eloquently, the “soul” has been broken, and the downward journey to that point is not one that can be fixed with a glue gun.

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