Report from a Psychiatric Hospital in 1969
After an interview with Carla Nardini in the documentary
I Giardini di Abele
As is usual with the everyday
They tied me up,
the gardens of Gorizia shake with beauty
they beat me,
around you like an aria
they wanted to give me ECT—
among the black and white trees.
I was terrified.
In the breeze
your roller-curled hair—too dark
for your age—
I am not a monster.
clings to your stiff face defiantly.
You survived Auschwitz to wander decamped
for I Giardini di Abele,
wary of Zavoli’s skittering scenescapes
and two types of shrink—
one for the rich
The rich are not mad—
and one for the poor.
the poor are mad.
Your brittle composure drowns
the charisma of Basaglia himself
on landmark TV
as you wonder subtitled
at the old Calabrian proverb—
If you don’t have,
you don’t exist.
You pull on a cigarette
and gesture to the sun
as if the clouded light could explain this
When asked how you survive in a madhouse
your hand flutters to your face.
I say sing
if you are brave enough.
Their lightness cannot be
and truth is I don’t know
how to measure lightness—
but those suburban burrs
sit dried out on my sill,
One is a fox-tail bush—
two-toned tan, taupe—
the same size as my thumb.
Four are one-inch scale
models of bacteria or
atoms—puckered and stalked
spiked cherry husks, smuggled
to Ireland like sweet gum
tree armalites. Inked-out
sea anemones, pin-bone
souvenirs rifled from the
back yard of your childhood
home. I had never seen
a yard like that—sun-red
barn, river and creek.
I mean, Christ, that yard
was bigger than the street
I played in, rode my bike
over Coke can ramps in,
flipped frogs into the air
off planks of wood in, rapped
the doors and ran away in.
And so I took those burrs—
believing, back then, that
they really were for you—
and kept them in a drawer
until today; dried seed
casings held in sanctis
like ex indumentis
beads of Saint John. I guess
lightness just sticks to what
it touches and fits—like
the pinched cimitière
captures loss better
than graveyard or even
cemetery. And the thing
about vanilla is that
it is really black. So
as you sit by the fire
I think how to tell you
about the burrs—those hip
joints, those fragile, shrunken
moons. But I just stutter
You know, this is really—
this is the good stuff. And
you smile and close your eyes
like you knew, anyway.
Compulsions in Children During Grief
I knocked when we were eleven
and was about-turned. Don’t use the front door—
friends come in the back of the house.
You squinted out the letterbox. But be careful,
monsters live in the alley.
Everyone round here is a vampire—
even that kid on the swing is a vampire.
So I looked for number eleven
in the wet, blue lichen of the alley.
The dogs gargled as I neared your back door.
As if fear could be measured in beats, I was careful
to strike a stiff-step strut to your house
and rigidly rap three times. This cold house
is where your father died last year. The first vampire
came as the pallbearers left (we were careful
to touch our ears five times). I traced the eleven,
scratched like a tally on your hollow-core door.
Behind me, the light lurched in the alley
on to a tokoloshe. You danced out! Daring the alley
sprite to follow your black dogs into the house.
Later, the animals yowled as the kitchen door
cracked during Lost Boys. You said it was vampire
telekinesis, or the ghost of your dad. Even at eleven,
we knew cancer wasn’t the real monster. Be careful,
don’t die, you whispered—we counted ten careful
ear taps. It was autumn when I told you in the alley
that my own dad had yellow skin. You counted eleven
crows on the telephone wire next to the house.
He is waxy and thin, I said. Like the axe vampire
in number thirty-four. You slammed the door
and said, Dammit, door
if you’re not careful
I’ll kick you in. Looking like a vampire
was a dead dad dictum, the venous alley
whispered. That night, we stalked beyond the house,
hunting council estate demons until after eleven—
until our careful grief broke like fleshed tilapia. Your house,
a silent orchard of small gestures repeated: the vampire,
the alley, the number eleven on your back door.