Two Poems: The Middle of Nowhere

Although this poem, under  a slightly shortened title, will be in my soon to be released book, WE MAD CLIMB SHAKY LADDERS, I showed the rewritten version to my writers group tonight . It is basically a true story, about the friend whose recitation of a Gerard Manley Hopkins poem instantaneously converted me from a poetry skeptic to a poetry lover…but read on and you will see what happened.

 

The second poem was sparked by my recent hospital stay but not based on it, rather it is based on the misinformation purveyed by movies such as the ones mentioned in the beginning of the poem, and also in the books from which the movies were made.


YOU WERE A POET ONCE (NOW YOU ARE

LOST IN THE MIDDLE OF NOWHERE…)

 

You were a poet once. You touched my soul

with the gift of poems, teaching me to read and write–

oh, inevitably to write them, for writing made me whole

and I could never not write. I had no special goal,

only to “pour out a poem” and work it right.

 

That took me years. I was such a fool —

dreamy cups of poems, quote unquote, only wasted good ink…

But I was speaking of you. You gave me the tools

to teach myself; you should have returned to school.

You found vodka: you could not, after one drink,

 

stop. And though it seemed deliberate, a choice,

I suppose you couldn’t help it. On conversion day

you recited Hopkins’ “Spring and Fall,” your voice

for once not blurred by Popov. (Still, I didn’t dare rejoice.).

You were so sure, so caught up in what you had to say.

 

It changed me utterly. Few experiences work such magic.

Why you quit poetry for drink I’ll never understand.

Life made you querulously unhappy, so there’s a logic

in your refusal to live. But I’ll never not think it tragic

how your gift to me soured in your own hands.

 

 

 

REALITY CHECK

 

First, you have an address, a 9-digit zip code

and two free patient telephones, so you’re not lost

in the middle of nowhere, this is not the movies.

Not Cuckoo’s Nest at any rate, nor the I-Never-

Promised-You-a-Rose-Garden rose garden.

And that Girl, Interrupted? No, it is definitely not

her giant sleepover with hair rollers, gossip

and steaming hot chocolate. For one thing,

hospital tap water isn’t hot enough for cocoa

and unless your roommate, the anorexic

with fruity breath and ironed tee shirts

becomes your best pal, that’s it for the party,

no one else gets in your room. Even in a single,

the checker disturbs you every 15 minutes.

Now, I know that keys play a big role in film:

someone always swipes a set for the night

to go AWOL or wreak havoc. In reality,

“insurance cured,” most want to stay longer

than leave shorter. Going AWOL is more

the impulsive leap through briefly opened doors

than planned absconding at midnight

with a stolen keycard everyone is watching for.

Too bad paranoids still suffer, unable to trust

the good of best intentions. As for having

enough free time for the ward sociopath

to “wrap the catatonics in toilet tissue,”

there are too many groups and too many aides

with a job to do and you are it, so get moving.

Besides, catatonics are not allowed to stay

catatonic, what with medication and better care, 

so very quickly slowly they move too.

 

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