another variation on not-so-sane

Today I’ll share yet another poem I wrote during my 1990 admission to Parkside Hospital, a psychiatric facility in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

If yesterday’s poem demonstrated how my associations had loosened (in the psychotic sense), if it betrayed the way my brain was processing (or not processing, as the case may be) something we’ll loosely call information, then today’s piece provides the same kind of evidence, indicating even more strongly how strange my “thinking” had become. 

parkside hospital       

     “I am in my own mind, / I am locked in the wrong house.”

      —Anne Sexton, “For the Year of the Insane”

you wonder why I am sick but
you must come to understand
that apple trees drop apples
before they’re ripe and the
apples rot.
you must come to understand
that I am made to think of
kitchen utensils and screwdrivers
which belong in separate
drawers but which for me
are all mixed up with cotton
balls and alcohol and clothes
pins that are used to
hang laundry on the line.
doing laundry is a difficult
chore.  i have trouble getting
the spots out, getting blood
out of panty crotches, so that
when they dry, they dry stiff
more like cardboard than cotton.
(25 march 1990)

I apparently went round and round with this during my stay at the hospital, as I have several variations in my journal.  I won’t bore you with the embarrassing awfulness of any others.

Please know though, that I have no earthly idea what this means and will rightly claim the insanity defense, for what it’s worth.  What was I thinking?  Likely, a strong case could be made that I wasn’t thinking with anything remotely resembling reason, let alone sanity.

But then again, maybe I’m looking at this the wrong way, maybe my inability to make sense of this is a lesson in learning to develop empathy for myself, for who I was at that time.

How scared I must have been!  How confused! 

And what about others, the ones who are still struggling, right now–in real-time? 

Let’s remember them————————

20 thoughts on “another variation on not-so-sane

  1. The poem for me is all about integration–all about judging things that do not belong together, but actually DO belong together in subtle ways.

    It’s beautiful.

    Peace, Phil


    • Wow, this is a really beautiful reading. I had never thought of that. There is some unexpected loveiness in the linking of things we might not otherwise associate with one another. Thanks for such a great comment!


  2. To me it seems like you are reaching out for understanding that life is complex, and that things that don’t make sense will make sense if people just recognize that things aren’t always simple. The repeated phrase, “You must come to understand” is powerful. In a way it seems like you want to communicate with others to make them see the world as you see it.


    • Yes, yes, yes, Lisa! This makes so much sense. And isn’t it sad how lonely I must have felt in this realization–how desperate I was for someone to really listen to me and understand? Thanks so much, Lisa! This is helpful.


  3. I really like this too and the idea of things being unsorted seems like a perfect way to represent what you must have been struggling with–having trouble putting thoughts where they belong or performing regular activities. Are there any objects that you mention that have significance if you isolate them? Anything that reminds of you something else that your mind could have been referencing in the poem? Like screwdrivers. Or clothespins. I’m a big Sexton fan too. I love “Ringing the Bells,” about one of her many hospital stays.


    • So true! My thoughts were mixed up and so much of what might not ordinarily be linked suddenly seemed linked in my mind. I don’t know if any of the items I list have extra significance–though I think of screwdrivers as not only and obviously phallic but also the quintessential masculine tool. Clothes pins–a device that helps women. Interesting observations, Sarah!


  4. It makes complete sense to me that the “current” you can’t understand the process of the “then” you. The poem made complete sense to you *then*, but your mind was operating in a different quantum field (if you want to get Star Trekky about it). They probably look “sicker” to you than they do to us because you can’t put yourself back in the “then” poet’s mindset.

    These poems are such a treasure and, it seems to me, so vital for your memoir. They truly show your illness at work, the way you tried to make sense of it, and how you tried to integrate it all. Rich, luscious, juicy stuff.


  5. look how desperately you wished to find your purpose and place and to be made clean…hung out to dry in the sunlight, washed pure from things over which you had no control…



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