“Promotion to Outside Resources in Marion Mental Hospital” by Beth McKinney

Beth McKinney


A panel of doctors would be great, in theory,
had I some heretofore unknown disease 
and was bleeding from my eyeballs.

But this is a job interview that got lost on its way
to a board room, turned left into a pit of jackals,
and in a fit of hysteria took up medical practice.

I sit on one side of a long table opposite five of them—
two psychiatrists, two counselors, and something called family 
relations—in a box with white-washed walls—no convenient focal points.

Questions drone on—my friends, my boss, my mother—scribbles
are scratched, pages are flipped and flipped. One psychiatrist taps
a folder and his cohort asks, Do you like being depressed?

My skills and past experiences fail me. Can we skip 
the behavioral interview portion, 

*   *   *

In the common area, I’ve staked my claim on a chair.
I park myself there, checking boxes for weekly activities.

Speaking with months backing him, Robert advises 
productivity, Don’t do enough, the panel brings you in.

We are both cornered and recruited for the new counselor 
and her new activity—Together we’ll make plans 
to cope with and prevent anxiety—not because
Robert and I are particularly anxious people,
but we have an empty time slot.

During the first session, there are only the two of us,
but the counselor is bubbling over, Teamwork! You must
learn that it’s okay to ask for help. Across from me,
Robert mouths help

He is all eye-rolls and distracted doodles.
This is not his first time playing guinea pig.

Our attention lost, the counselor switches 
tactics, suggesting we individually read
provided packets on triggers, And come up 
with a solution so this is no longer a problem.

Robert prevents me from turning the cover page
with a steady hand placed on top of mine
and meets the counselor’s eyes, It’s not a virus.
It doesn’t just go away.

from Rattle #56, Summer 2017
Tribute to Poets with Mental Illness

[download audio]


Beth McKinney: “In November of 2005, I was committed for two weeks to a mental health hospital for depression and suicidal behavior. Two weeks doesn’t sound long, but let me assure you that time is, in fact, relative. Imagine, if you will, being driven off in the middle of the night, poked and prodded by a doctor, having everything about you catalogued from your earrings to your underwear, being stripped and shoved in a shower, dressed in ill-fitting pink scrubs, marched out to a white-walled cage, and then watched. Watched by a panel of placating smiles, who ask questions for which they’ve already decided the answers. Watched as you color with the bright colored crayons, smile at everyone, swallow your pills, laugh too much, line up for the cafeteria, attend group and circle the happy face when you just want to yell, ‘I’m not in kindergarten!’ But you don’t because you want out, and, perhaps even more so, because you’re afraid you shouldn’t be let out. Sometimes I think I could spend a lifetime finding words in those two weeks alone. Poetry is a catharsis, but, more importantly, it has become the place where I work to understand that which I don’t, including myself.”

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