Writing Round the Vertigo


At the beginning of Mental Health Awareness Month, I posted a piece called “Leaving the Seclusion Room  (some not-so-crazy notes on recoverying from mental illness)” about my stay at an Oklahoma psychiatric facility.  In that post I wrote about the voices I heard—an echo of children’s chatter—a description that prompted a question from my friend Sarah, who asked if I had ever explored those voices poetically—exploited their poetic potential, so to speak.

It turns out, I had.

Sort of.

The poem I’ll share below is written in several voices that interrupt one another—echoing—overlapping—dizzying.  Though there’s only one child’s voice in the mix of layered sing-song, this poem reminds me of the voices I still sometimes hear during times of vertigo-inducing stress–a surreal “reality” that looks a bit like this:

(photo by John Drysdale, " High Living Crocodile," 1976)

So–I hope you’ll wind these stairs with me–

And take a listen—

 

Vertigo

 

My head is killing

     me and he is talking

     about the etiquette

          of date rape

 

     cassette in the player

     cassette in the player

 

          indigo

          girls

          indigo

 

Where have you been?

 

The staircase is winding

     off the edges of the lawn

     and I am here

                                  lavender

 

     lilies of the valley

     lilies

               of

                     the

                             valley

 

I’ve told you not to

     go there

 

     you

     you

 

There you

                     daughter in the photograph

                     age three in front

                     of an antique typewriter

Kathy--already a writer--age 3

Why can’t you be more like . . .

 

    lilies of the valley

     lilies

              of

                    the

                            valley

 

The world according to cats

     is not a crazy sphere

     of influence

                                 spinning

                                 spinning

 

          in my

 

     cassette in the player

     cassette in the player

 

          head

 

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————————