Essential Tremor

Donald Platt

My life has been

an essential tremor, this shaking in my right hand I can’t control.

It passes through me

like an inner wind or one-thousand-volt alternating current.

No one knows

what causes it. I inherited it from my father, who by the end

could barely hold

a cup of coffee without it sloshing over. I can barely hold a pen.

My handwriting resembles

a seismogram of Popocatépetl erupting. The tremor worsens when I use

my hand. The doctors say

the shaking may spread to legs or head until I’m one of those pop-culture


mad Alfred E. Neuman, or Mr. Bean—who can’t stop nodding

in the rear windows

of cars going 90 mph on Los Angeles’s freeways, their four-level


I’ve learned to shave with my left hand. This morning I woke from a dream

in which I was driving

a road I had never been on before. It wound past green velvety mountains

on one side

and on the other followed a shoreline with many bays and inlets. Golden

afternoon sunlight

everywhere, on the ocean and on the mountains that descended

to the ocean.

Ahead the road rose sharply up a hill that I couldn’t see over.

I accelerated

and realized too late that the road stopped at the top

without any yellow

caution signs. I found myself falling in my car down a cliff.

Mountains and ocean

blurred. World rushed past me, a blue-green-golden smear.

As I fell, I thought

that my life would last only a few more seconds. As I fell,

a voice outside myself

asked if I regretted never having purchased a motorcycle. I never

hit the bottom

of that cliff. I woke up and remembered thinking that I regretted


that I was happy for the first time in my life as I traveled that road

I had never been on

before. I woke next to a woman I love, whose easy breathing was

one third snoring,

one third purring, one third the chortling of mourning doves. I got up

to write down my dream

and found that it had snowed overnight. An inch of snow covered

the yellow buds

of daffodils. But I had checked the forecast and knew it would melt.

The shivering daffodils

will open into double blossoms on schedule, the dirt keep dreaming

its millions of flowers.

For the long seconds of the rest of my life, I’ll keep accelerating—according

to the laws of physics—

at a rate proportional to the square of elapsed time until I reach

my terminal velocity

and, like all falling bodies, come to rest in the dirt from which daffodils erupt

and to which they too shall soon return.

Donald Platt is the author of eight books, including Swansdown, which won the 2022 Off the Grid Poetry Prize. Twenty-four of his poems have appeared within the last year, or are forthcoming, in sixteen journals including The Atlantic.
Originally published:
September 13, 2023


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