September 20, 2017

Jess Weitz

THE KNIFE

I have a knife stuck in my heart

at work I tried to button my cardigan around it
I can’t lie on my stomach in bed

when my kids sit on my lap
I ask them to stay on the right knee

my husband tried to hang a spatula off it
but I said the extra weight didn’t feel good

yesterday, gliding through the pond water
I almost forgot it was there

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

[download audio]

__________

Jess Weitz: “I live in the woods of Vermont with my family of humans and animals. Art, writing, and nature have been my strongest allies in navigating the waves of depression. I come from a long line of people who have a beautiful, creative eccentricity and feel the deep pain and despair of life. We all have moments of being eaten up by our emotions and creating with an open heart to the world. Many of us are women, which adds an additional layer of absorbing cultural messages that we are mad when really we are just sensing all the sadness and paradox of our worlds.” (website)

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September 18, 2017

Mark Lee Webb

WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU DON’T WEAR GLOVES

Trimming oleander along the back fence
might be easier than a few too many pills.
They’d say he forgot to wear gloves. Whatever
happens after that is none of my business.
Let my new wife handle the details:
sparklers maybe. Taquitos fried just right.
Hire a juggler—the man from Venice Beach
with a hand hanging from his elbow.
Invite vatos in Eldorados selling pulque
liquor brewed in milk bottles. Thursday:
a classified ad for the antique shaving stand
I stored in the shed. She always liked the back
left leg, how it wobbled. And the lacquer finish
(not original). It’s worth two-fifty but she’ll
take seventy-five. That’s why I married her.

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

[download audio]

__________

Mark Lee Webb: “I have experienced mental illness from both sides of the window: as an intern in a state mental hospital while in college, and with my own personal bipolar episodes and depression as an adult. If nothing else, this gives me a lot of material for my poetry! When I am depressed nothing works; words lie flat on the page. When I’m on my bipolar ‘A’ game, my writing is fluid and in touch with the universe. Somewhere in the middle are my best poems.”

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September 15, 2017

Martin Vest

THE DAY I TRIED TO COMMIT SEPPUKU OR, HOW I LEARNED I AM NOT A SAMURAI

Anticipating my next move,
I sold my guns.
I knew I’d eventually try pills
so I swallowed them all in advance.
In the car there were too many potentials—
the burned-out shell on a lonely hill,
hose in a tailpipe, cliff—
so I sent it away with my marriage—
that dented plate
whose blunt surface
had dimmed my head.

I wore out streets, welcomes,
made beds of gardens and police cars.
Nearly outwitting myself once,
I slept too close to the river—
jumped in with the bread sacks
and grocery carts,
and floated dumbly
in the shallow stink.
Eventually I climbed out,
legs numb as cardboard,
my pockets filled with the sludge
of missing pets.
In dreams I hanged
myself from the sky
until my belt snapped
and I awakened,
alive with a bump
on the head.

Then, while staggering
along a road one day,
I found an old steak
knife in the gutter.
Unable to reach myself in time,
I drove the dirty blade
into my stomach,
counting the pop of layers—
the steel tip just kissing
the wet nose
of some friendly organ.

In the hospital they x-rayed,
pictured, committed me
to the fifth floor where lunatics
played Yahtzee and smelled
like couch cushions.
I had no horse.
No monstrous armor.
Not a penny.
I remembered that the sword
is the Samurai’s soul
and thought again
of my little bent knife
and how I’d lost it
not so long ago
in a fierce battle
with some woeful demon
whose name
escaped me,
high on a mountain of gods.

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

[download audio]

__________

Martin Vest: “What an impossible bio to write. How has mental illness affected my poetry? The easier question for me to answer is, ‘How has poetry affected my mental illness?’ I’m still here.”

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September 13, 2017

Jill M. Talbot

DIVERSITY CHECKBOX: WHEN I WAS TWELVE

Should I feel shame crossing off
the Caucasian box? White is the least 
honest color of all—I am not white—
I am shame. I am ashamed of
this box, this paint-by-numbers
diversity quiz. I could be a dyke?
Where’s the box for dead mother?
Where’s the box for adoption?

Identity confused: please call
Governor for report—where’s
the box for junkie—for warrior
gene? For should have been aborted?
Where’s the box for mentally unfit?
Where’s the box for asexual 
wannabe? Where’s the space 

for the time I got stitches and thought
it was the best thing that ever happened
to me—I was twelve. Stitches were
my identity. How they kept the white
out. Oozing red onto a dishcloth.

I thought I found God. 
She was white like me. 
I was twelve. 
I was twelve.
I was twelve.

I got a McFlurry 
with all of the flavors.
Just like my mother. 
White like me.
Dead like me.

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

[download audio]

__________

Jill M. Talbot: “I actually debated whether or not to submit here. There is no doubt about whether or not I have been diagnosed with mental illness—in fact, with several. Mood disorders, psychotic disorders, personality disorders, substance use disorders … I have altered between conforming and fighting against labels. I would rather be called mad than ill. I refuse to believe that my personality is sick—but I believe I am strange, am odd, am mad as a mad hatter. I can submit because I no longer fight labels. If anyone has a borderline personality, I do. But writing has taught me that my eccentricities are something to be valued. Because of the high correlation between creativity and mental illness, I believe it is a sign that we should start rethinking illness, as we have done with sexual identities. From illness to simply different—unique—equally valid. I just want to be valid. This desire is at the root of much of my writing—to just be valid like anyone else. Sometimes this is covered with a bunch of other shit, but at the root, always the desire to be valid—to undo some of the traumas of my past—to have an Axis II label of: okay. Maybe okay people don’t get hospitalized in psych wards, but maybe the world is mad, and some of us are more sensitive to it than others. Some of us need poetry more than others.” (web)

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September 11, 2017

Padma Thornlyre

AFTER READING A 12/4/2001 ASSOCIATED PRESS REPORT

1.

More than a million tons of rubble
from the World Trade Center towers, 
and an estimated ten thousand body
 
parts—what wasn’t reduced to smoke 
or vaporized. “Vaporized.” It takes 
more than a moment for that one 
 
to sink in, because it means only this, 
that we are breathing the dead, the dead 
who lingered in Manhattan and are now
 
dispersed upon the eight winds, becoming
a breeze in Kandahar, a gust in Qala-i-Jangi, 
the stuff through which mortar fragments
 
fragment the fragile bodies of the Taliban,
of al-Qaeda warriors trumpeting bin Laden,
holed up in Tora Bora’s honeycomb caves.
 
 
2.
 
I wonder what stranger, what potential 
friend has entered my nostrils here
in Colorado, and if she’s why I’ve been 
 
sneezing, why my eyes are dry
and burning, my throat raw, 
the mucus thick and welling 
 
well inside my head. I’m not fond
of Magritte, but I can’t stop myself
from seeing Golconde, a human rain.
 
Accursed for our worshippings,
damned for our devotions, gutted
by the very God whose blood we drink.
 
 
3.
 
Today, George Harrison’s ashes
will be given to the Ganges. Give me
love, give me love, give me peace on Earth.
 
May he find his way to the salt; may
the water that holds him evaporate;
may he, too, become our breathing.

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

[download audio]

__________

Padma Thornlyre: “My psychological constellations include a severe anxiety disorder, persistent depression, and occasional bouts with dissociation and fragmentation, as well as autism in the high-moderate range. In practical terms, this translates into a history of disastrous personal relationships, employment beneath my education, and a marginalized, on-the-brink life, economically, all fueled by low self-esteem and a sense of not belonging. Artistically, however, living with mental illness means I am open to perceptual possibilities that are unusual but rendered malleable by the trickery of language. For instance, having benefited from therapy with a brilliant depth psychologist, I honor dreams as providing much of my content-matter; and having experienced fragmentary states, I sometimes construct new poems from fragments of other works, like collage, creating new types of ‘wholeness.’”

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September 8, 2017

Dana Stamps II

BUDDHA’S VILLANELLE

for Ryan

Seek wisdom, and end up dead.
Spirituality will only depress.
This is not what the Buddha said.

Born a prince, a man well-bred,
lives large without distress,
says he will never end up dead,

and clothes sown with gold thread
is reason to boast of success. 
This is not what the Buddha said.

Sid was fat, obviously well-fed.
The example? Eat to excess.
If too thin, you will end up dead.

To be happy, get a woman in bed,
strip off her skimpy silk dress.
This is not what the Buddha said.

Life is suffering, filled with dread.
Learn not to cling, avoid duress.
Even awakened, you end up dead.
This is what the Buddha said.

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

__________

Dana Stamps II: “Hearing voices is frightening, and I find it a challenge to cope every day. Fortunately, I do not hear them all the time. Writing poetry has given me self-esteem, and proves to me, and I hope everyone else, that mental illness does not equal a destroyed life. I do not advertise my condition to editors when I submit poems to their journals, because I want to be considered based on the merit of my poems. This submission to Rattle is an exception, and I think many of my readers will be surprised to find I have bipolar disorder. I hope this discloser will help reduce the stigma of mental illness.”

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September 6, 2017

Sara Springer

SPRING

It’s not a tender season, after all.
Those leaves are green enough to fuck you up.
Those winds are strong enough to tear you down.
In spring, even the killers roam the town,
the murderers are kicking up their heels.
One old man with jail food in his beard
and razor-wire lacerations like
racing stripes all up and down his sides
escaped his cell in thunder-stormy spring,
made his way past houses, bushes, things
that you and I associate with life.
And since the spring is brutal to the old,
the man was caught and set to rot in stone.
Some say that he is there today, his skull
empty but for bullets and their holes. 
Spring is not a song you want to sing.
Each tender morning’s shot with roadkilled squirrel,
each setting sun’s a blood clot that the world
coughed up and swirled back down the drain of night.
Spring is not a season that you write
verbatim as it’s told. You draw it tight
like skin that dries on racks, and scrape it clean.
You write the spring that you wish you had seen.

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

[download audio]

__________

Sara Springer: “My mental illness has made it essential for me to work through emotions and problems in words. There are little messy conversations in my head, and there are clear ones on the paper. Poetry is a way to put order, clarity, and rhythm into a world that’s very up and down, at least inside my own head. Other people’s poetry excites me when it follows the ups and downs of the poet’s world; mine excites me when it can make some part of mine clear.”

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