Poem of the Week: The View from Halfway Down // Alison Tafel

The weak breeze whispers nothing
The water screams sublime
His feet shift, teeter-totter
Deep breath, stand back, it’s time


Toes untouch the overpass
Soon he’s water-bound
Eyes locked shut but peek to see
The view from halfway down


A little wind, a summer sun
A river rich and regal
A flood of fond endorphins
Brings a calm that knows no equal


You’re flying now
You see things much more clear
Than from the ground


It’s all okay, or it would be
Were you not now halfway down


Thrash to break from gravity
What now could slow the drop
All I’d give for toes to touch
The safety back at top


But this is it, the deed is done
Silence drowns the sound


Before I leaped I should’ve seen
The view from halfway down


I really should’ve thought about
The view from halfway down


I wish I could’ve known about
The view from halfway down

For anyone whose watched Netflix’s orginal show BoJack Horseman, there is one thing they can all agree on: it’s full of surprises. What started off as a tongue-in-cheek satire about celebrity culture and humanoid animals, quickly became one of the most sobering and heart-rending deconstructions of the complexity of mental health this world has ever seen.

At first appearance, the escapades of a middle-aged alcoholic half-horse-half-human appears to be nothing more than a cynical attempt to cash in on the recent renaissance of the adult animation genre. But anyone who has seen the show knows that it is so much more than that. Through its surrealist premise wherein humans and sentient animals co-exist, the show digs deep on some of the darkest and yet all-too-familiar aspects of the human psyche.

It is precisely through the show’s more abstract and surreal set-up that they are free to believably and convincingly explore the sides of mental illness that is scarcely explored in live action shows. ‘The View from Halfway Down’ isn’t the first time Bojack Horseman threw out the rule book and relied on experimental techniques to explore difficult topics. Take, for instance, ‘The Showstopper’, the penultimate episode of the penultimate season. In this episode, the juxtaposition of musical theatre tropes coupled with sinister lyrics and the ‘actors’ and ‘actresses’ all dressing up as the people BoJack wronged in his life, really helped to encapsulate the terrifying disassociation that comes from drug abuse, especially when a reason for doing so is to escape all the wrongs you’ve done in the past.

As for this poem, which comes from the Emmy-nominated episode of the same name, I probably need to supply a little bit of context. In this penultimate episode to the show’s end, we see the consequences of BoJack falling off the wagon in sensational fashion after all of his wrongdoings come to light. As he awakes in a dream-like dinner party with all the deceased people from his past, it becomes clear that he is in some kind of mind-made purgatory as he slowly dies.

As tension builds throughout the episode, we see all of the people from his past perform one last time before being encompassed by black tar and forced to go through a door with a bleak, endless drop of nothingness.

Most notably, we see Secretariet, BoJack’s childhood hero combined with his failed-writer father take to the stage to read an original poem as his ‘final’ performance. In the show, Secretariat takes his own life by jumping off George Rogers Clark Memorial Bridge after seeing himself as irredeemably corrupted by fame.

Possibly inspired by the story of Kevin Hines, who spoke of his ‘instant regret’ when he attempted suicide by jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge, the poem at its core depicts how Secretariet wanted to live, but that this was no longer an option ‘halfway down’. We see his increasing anxiety and regret surrounding his suicide as he gets more and more panicked throughout the reading of his poem, with the door of death looming closer and closer throughout the poem, and ultimately consuming him before he could finish the final line.

Written by exceptionally talented show writer Alison Tafel, the poem has become a phenomenon amongst the fans of the show, with the transcript of the poem alone having 8.4k upvotes on Reddit. As the poem opens with a serene description of the beauty of the view from the top of the bridge and the ‘flying’ feeling Secretariet experiences after initially jumping off, we quickly see the tone shift as he realises a nanosecond too late the permanency of what he’s done, as he yearns no longer for freedom, but for the security and ‘safety back on top’. Finally realising the beauty and preciousness of life, the poem ends with Secretariet wishing he had he realised sooner ‘the view from halfway down’, and the way in which it represented how life was worth living as opposed to freedom through death.

As pointed out by a Reddit user, Tafel also shifts between various modes of address in order to express Secretariat’s sudden regret. The poem begins in third person, with Secretariat describing himself from an outsider’s perspective, mimicking the feelings of disassociation associated with mental health. Once he jumps, he slowly begins identifying with himself once again, as he slips into second person before the poem finally ends with the use of first person, which, tragically, demonstrates that he once again identifies with himself again in what is just a fraction of a second too late. In the same way Secretariet physically moves from the top of the bridge to his death, the shift in address shows his own psychological journey, as he spends his last moments finally identifying himself and understanding that life is worth living after all.

What makes this poem so agonising is that whilst people like Kevin Hines got a second chance and lived to tell the tale of his regret, he is one of the statistical 4% who survive the jump off the Golden Gate Bridge. One can only imagine how many people felt this way but who are no longer with us to tell us as much.

But with the tragedy of this poem comes a degree of hope. With the poem’s demonstrable impact and strong suicide prevention sentiments, I am hopeful that one day, this poem will reach someone before it is too late, and potentially even save their life.

Words by Charlotte Colombo

Want more Books content from The Indiependent? Click here

Support The Indiependent
We’re trying to raise £200 a month to help cover our operational costs. This includes our ‘Writer of the Month’ awards, where we recognise the amazing work produced by our contributor team. If you’ve enjoyed reading our site, we’d really appreciate it if you could donate to The Indiependent. Whether you can give £1 or £10, you’d be making a huge difference to our small team.

Related articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *