Pathopoeia


Pathopoeia ( path-o-poy’-a): A general term for speech that moves hearers emotionally, especially as the speaker attempts to elicit an emotional response by way of demonstrating his/her own feelings (exuscitatio). Melanchthon explains that this effect is achieved by making reference to any of a variety of pathetic circumstances: the time, one’s gender, age, location, etc

I closed my eyes, but the darkness made me more aware of the smell–unblended, sharply distinct smells squeezing through the sticky blood oozing from my nose–organic, inorganic: chalky dust from powdered plaster, rubber, blood (theirs), offal (theirs), burnt plastic, piss (my own), and through the ringing in my ears: unstoppable shrieks, droning groans: the sort of uncontrollable keening whining sound brain-injured victims make as they hover on the edge of comatose, and the tearful, angry, fearful, pain wracked, sorrowful, terrified yelling: “Help me” and “fucking hell,” “god damn it,” “my baby,””Jesus Christ,””shit,””fuck,” “I can’t see” and more.

Tractor trailer on its side–smoking. At least eight cars, and pickups and a FEDEX truck smoking and burning, leaking oil and gasoline, slickening and shining the pavement with rainbow pollutants. Among the dead, one teen-aged kid still clutches a blue and white can of America’s cheapest beer brand–the torn case crumpled behind her; cardboard soaking up her blood, cans strewn for fifty yards. Her legs are severed from her torso, below what used to be her hips. And she’s not the only one mutilated beyond belief, but there are others dead from crushed chests and skulls, others sitting sobbing bleeding grieving, others sitting cracked, fractured and broken, others are milling about. Still others, who escaped injury, trying to help what might be the handful of helpable victims: coats become blankets, blankets become shawls, flares are lit and cast their emergency-red glow and shadows of the fallen, the standing, the sitting, the kneeling awash in tangled metal, tires, mirrors, glass and chrome, scattered on the cold hard asphalt.

Broken car horns blare in competition with far off sirens singing “we are on are on our way.” “We are on are on our way.” “We are on are on our way.”

. . .

And the happy little nineteen-year-old student sits at the lunch table, staring at the old professor as he takes a sip from the third glass of  wine he’s had in the past 2.5 hours. She weighs 99 pounds; he weighs 265. She’s about 5.5 feet tall; he is 6 feet 3 inches. He has a beard. She has a smooth freckled face.

As it happens every once in awhile the old professor’s head has come alive with clogged-up Vietnam memory lanes, veins, and arteries. God only knows what triggers it, but there he is, fighting for his sanity while the happy little nineteen-year-old and the other five students chomp away on whatever they want! The old professor is generous. He thinks, “We could all be dead.” And then his stomach jumps and the happy little nineteen-year-old laughs and looks up at him from behind her fork. He fakes a smile. He wants to go to bed.  He wants to watch television. He wants to be asleep. He wants to be somewhere else, living in somebody else’s head. Sometimes he just wants to be dead.

“Time to go.” “Finish up,” I say. “Big day tomorrow.”

I drive them back to the hotel.

The next day, at lunch, the happy little nineteen-year-old tells me she feared for her life “last night” when I drove them all back to the hotel after “drinking.”

I am horrified. I am stung. I am worried. I say, “After all I’ve been through, do you think I would ever put you or any other student in harm’s way?” She says, “You are not allowed to drink,  and especially, drink and drive. I will not tell the Dean if you promise not to tell anybody we had this conversation.”

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Definition courtesy of “Silva Rhetoricae” (rhetoric.byu.edu).

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