Dawn Watson

Report from a Psychiatric Hospital in 1969, Suburban Burrs & Compulsions in Children During Grief

Dawn Watson

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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.

Suburban Burrs

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,

all five.

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.

Dawn Watson

Dawn Watson was born and raised in Belfast. Her work has been published in The Vacuum, performed in the Lunchbox Theatre (The Importance of Tombs and Finger) and she was shortlisted for the Brian Moore Short Story Award. Dawn is a former career sub editor for the News of the World and The Sunday Times. She is currently completing a BA in English with Creative Writing at Queen’s University. 

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