by Pamela Spiro Wagner
Tyrant, they called you, emperor, bully,
the first time I was in the psychiatric wing.
You finger-painted, yes, getting down on your knees
to smear pigment with stiff abandon
but afterward, in the hall, when I froze, contorting,
you let the whole world of the ward know
your scorn, imitating me, calling me “crazy.”
I seemed finally better. I came home.
But when I failed you, leaving med school,
an embarrassment and a humiliation
who couldn’t even keep work as a clerk or waitress,
you claimed suddenly “three children” not four.
Between us interposed silence for thirty years
as I learned to live on $3 a day, to write my life
into poems when I had words to share.
Years passed in “the bin” and out “on the farm,”
as I called the hospital and those programs by day
that structured my life. But hospitals shape-shift
after a dozen or more and there are decades
of my life that are lost even to memory,
each melding into another like shadows
on night-lit walls in carbon paper alleys.
One keyhole through which I see the past:
Shock treatment with its drowning anesthetic drops
and stunned awakenings. Then there you are,
standing in the seclusion room door
resuming conversation as if begun just yesterday
not thirty years before, no older, or at least
no grayer than “Daddy” again, shorter, yes,
but kinder. What could I do but respond?
I never dreamed that at eighty-three
you’d lose your fire, habanero, old Nero,
or that I, Rome, would ever stop burning.
The above poem tells a long story in a few words, though necessarily only part of it. I have to leave it there for now, as I lack the energy to flesh the story out further. But in later days, after the memorial service and as the spirit moves me, I will try to write more. Thanks for your patience. As a good friend said, It — grief, tears, feeling alone or lost– comes in waves, but when it hits, it hits hard…