Poetry is not a turning loose of emotion, but an escape from emotion; it is not the expression of personality, but an escape from personality. But, of course, only those who have personality and emotions know what it means to want to escape from these things.
* I am going to try something new- interspersing my weekly blog with one week a month being devoted to poetry. We'll see how it goes...
This week, I chose two poems I wrote while in nursing school. I apologize that they are both very morose. Next week I'll get back to the funny. For now, please accept these. The first, Purgatory, is from a clinical experience I had at Fort Logan, a state mental hospital in Sheridan Colorado. I was mostly observing a building for adolescent boys, and needed to write something to help me process how utterly horrific it was for me. The second, On Day Number Six, is about my own sense of conviction six days into my first clinical experience, at a very rundown nursing home in southeast Denver. I truly hope that you hate them both.
He is strung out.
Walking comatose, on benzodiazepines- sits there lifeless,
as Sponge Bob reels off hysterical lunacy,
from the great glass pulpit behind him.
The nurse clings in fear to the back of a counter,
bestowing upon these boys,
saccharine sweet confectioneries behind shatter-proof glass.
The cheapest communion that medical science will allow:
Lorazepam, Diazepam, Methylphenidate...
Coats the stomach,
like hatred clings to the teeth of malevolence
which this place holds for young boys-
who come dime-a-dozen.
Who would sell what was left of each and every
vacant corner of their souls,
for a dozen dimes.
Or something less-
maybe just the chance to go outside
and touch the swing-sets
that must be seen at every waking moment,
through the snot-smeared windows of this place-
mumbling insipid songs indifferently,
somnambulant hymns droning on.
In wooden-faced numbness,
catatonic he sits.
Reciting the rules.
The canonization of scripture,
the very weight of the words pin them down.
Keeping each lifeless soul,
as it teeters between thoughts of going outside,
and pee-stained padded rooms at the end of the hall.
sliding down his orange plastic pew,
hearing the nurse’s prattling sermon,
“How to be Good”.
Nodding when spoken to.
There is nothing more gray-
no metaphor to describe how numbness creeps through his fingers,
telling them never to hold another crayon,
telling his feet never again to jump,
telling his tongue to lay still,
to die without song,
to turn black like the melanin that seeps its lies through his skin-
that marks him as one who will never be adopted.
He must obey the rules.
He must be a good boy.
Even though he has never even been a boy.
This twelve year old went from crack baby- to young man,
in the span of three trips to juvenile hall
and fourteen foster parents.
His chart says he must work out his retribution
in fear and trembling.
In some caricature of justice
between these cinder-block halls-
now being haunted by the ghosts
of the same drooling souls,
laying in freshly crapped pants,
across the street in the gerontology wing,
with their tongues hanging out.
Souls whose only crime,
some fifty years ago-
was the unforgivable sin,
of only wishing to one day
just be boys.
Some horror story antithesis of Never-Never-land
where the gospel of salvation
sharpens its claws
in verses filthy thick,
dripping the stench,
of the same legal jargon that sentenced them here.
“A danger to self, or others”.
“Unwilling, from age nine, to conform to societal norms.”
“Unwilling to integrate within the foster parent system.”
He leans over,
this twelve year old corpse has something to tell me.
A raspy voice carries just beneath the ancient nurse’s-
the arid monotony still spilling from her cold lips.
“Peter Pan is dead, son.”
A subtle hallelujah, as he leans closer.
“When your parents get too drunk to beat you-
they hand you over to the child-molesters.
And when they grow too tired to f#*k you,
they sentence you here.
on day number six.
I had been ignoring her for days.
That half-familiar, grandmotherly, corpse that shifted between
muttering some barely audible, inane, gibberish,
and dozing off at her table.
Perched in front of Days of Our Lives,
with her mouth gaping open,
I watched her bowl of Cream of Wheat growing rigor-mortis.
I thought that today I could escape with my life,
that I could go on,
and maybe save something else to give away.
That maybe next week I would be numb to the ache of this place-
that ever present stench of baby powder and death,
washed forever from my clothes, and blown into a leftover McDonald’s napkin,
shoved into a trash bag in the back seat of my car.
That I could walk down the hallway
and barely glance at the ghosts that hovered in each room.
Before I washed my hands,
and slipped quietly into daylight.
Today, I meant to creep laggardly toward that door for hours,
and circumvent this portion of the span of human existence,
that we sometimes refer to as
“the frailty of the human condition”.
I was startled to see a figure
standing at the far end of the faded white, urine stained, linoleum.
He had anticipated this,
and with those same brown eyes,
that had divided my soul some twenty years before,
He stabbed something straight into my chest,
stealing the wind from my lungs.
Those brown eyes.
The ones that asked of me so long ago,
if in fact I really did love Him,
were asking something of me again.
Back then I had said,
“Yes Lord”, trembling from my still soaking clothes.
“You know I love You.”
And sometimes, because I knew that what I answered wasn’t true,
He had asked once more.
He asked again, even though I had just dove from a still moving boat,
to swim to the shore,
for just wanting to believe that a warm heart still beat in that chest.
“Do you love me?” He had asked again.
“Yes Lord, “ I said, dropping to my knees,
until He asked a third time,
and I could not stop weeping,
because I was a liar,
and somehow I knew that I could never stop being one.
And then I stood here in the present,
afraid to look at Him,
shifting my weight, back and forth,
from foot to vulnerable foot,
tracing each tarnished tile upon the floor.
He asked, lifting my chin.
A shiver shot through my spine.
“Where are you going?”,
and He looked straight into my eyes,
lifting His thumb to wipe the tears that formed there.
I am afraid of what is behind me.
That the call light is blinking in her room,
and I know that I must turn around and go there,
but I am terrified.
When I finally do,
she is trembling violently,
trying to ward off the aid who is gently lowering her into bed.
That same man who washes her every morning,
and makes sure she has clean clothes on.
The man who devotedly changes her diaper,
who never swears,
who never stops caring about her,
is now some stranger she fears is assaulting her.
She is shouting, and swinging her arms at him.
She is so afraid.
So I take her hand.
smooth and somehow familiar.
This hand belongs to somebody’s grandmother,
I think to myself.
I am kneeling on one knee.
“It’s okay Mrs. Ransom. It’s alright. He just wants to help you.”
She is trembling and babbling incoherently,
so I swallow hard as I lean closer to understand.
Somehow I want to understand.
I want what she says to suddenly make sense this time,
but there is nothing.
Only syllables strung together-
let this mean something.
I have to find something that has meaning in this.
The aid tells me I can stay,
while he turns to leave.
And now I am kneeling.
gently stroking her hand,
whispering that it is okay.
Beneath the cataracts,
swelling with tears,
I see her terrified bright blue eyes,
and I remember Him again,
standing before me,
in the doorway.
“Is this what it feels like to die?”
I whisper, asking aloud.
“To be crucified,
to be hung upside down?”
I am so tired of drawing the line between how much I think I can give,
and how much I feel I need to hold back in order to survive.
What if I climbed up into this bed,
and lay there beside her,
gently smoothing her soft hair,
and quietly sang to her,
until she fell asleep?
Ask me again, Lord, if I love You.
“Yes, you know I love you Lord”, I would say.
Then feed My sheep.