September 4, 2017

Jamie Samdahl


dusk unties the laces of my shoes
with every step     I tug you by the wrist
down the trail to the last light meadow
where for your birthday I want to show you
the trampled, tawny grass of the spot
where last night a deer slept

at the brook we stop and I take my pill
(even in dreams I take it on time)
with a mouthful of mossy water
then with wet feet     we go on

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


Jamie Samdahl: “My mental illness and my poems live in mutualistic symbiosis. The two are hardly separate entities at all. Anxiety and depression are the fodder for poems, and then the poems pacify the illness’ rearing head, if only for a short while. How can we explain our mental illness to the ones most dear to us? Conversationally, it seems impossible. What’s needed is wild imagery, caesuras that invoke uneasiness, confusion, and fear. A poem that gives my reader a glimpse into my reality is a bridge to love.” (website)

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September 1, 2017

Cinthia Ritchie


I started laughing
    in the Kmart fitting room
       and couldn’t 
   it was too damned funny,
              that shirt and pants,
                 and see those shoes
                        trying to walk away
                                   with that lady’s feet?

They ushered me
               to the back,
                    gave me water and aspirin,
                                    but I could feel
       bras and girdles inside 
          my eyes,
                  and when I reached for the 
              (stand back, everyone stand back)
                                     they hurried off and called the cops.

Two men rolled me away
                   and stuck tubes 
      my throat, lights across my teeth,
                             I was flying,
                                          colors swinging,
                       so beautiful, 
                    I was partying with Jesus
            at the Last Supper,
                  guzzling grape Kool-Aid and
         eating Velveeta cheese, and when Jesus
                            caught me
                                   wiping my nose on the tablecloth,
            she just winked 
                           and handed me a napkin
  (Modess, for those trying times of the month),
         so soft,
I was 
                 to see Oprah
         my tongue fattened on
            and oh Sweet Jesus, girl,

I woke two days later
    on a ward filled with women
         in a city I couldn’t remember visiting.
Beyond the mesh window, the sky was gray
     and cloudy, my skin winter pale
          when I pulled up my gown and examined
my belly, lonely and flat,
     a bruise spreading my hip
           like the bite of an angel.

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


Cinthia Ritchie: “I’ve struggled with depression most of my life, have been hospitalized twice, used to take a slew of pills but now train and run ultra-marathons (and oh, that runner’s high!). I see the world differently; I have no desire to see it as it is, thank you very much. I love/seek/hotly desire the sexy spaces between words, I embrace pauses, roll my tongue over periods and oh, how it lingers on semi-colons! I will never be normal. There is something wrong with my head; there’s something right with my head; there’s something different with my head. My poems are my ‘normal.’ They’re my stabilizing factor, my Prozac-without-funding-the-pockets-of-big-pharm-America, my taste of what it must feel like to wake each day unburdened by the thoughts, obsessions, and darkness inside one’s own mind. And may I be blunt here? I love words more than I love most people.” (website)

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August 30, 2017

Claudia Putnam


in this land winning a lasting home.
—“The Battle of Brunanburh,” tr. J.R.R. Tolkien

Nothing should be this easy.
—“Zoloft,” by Maggie Dietz

Nothing is more noisome       than knowledgeable people
believing themselves to be        best at guiding
        in grief.
Over that awful summer       I ordered suicide
instructions from the       internet,
favoring bags filled with       floaty helium, 
though I also thought       then, of guns,
        a lot.

An island assailed       was I, with
my enemies amassed       no obstacles for them,
my gates down.        No guesses what
        betrayals led to this.
Wielding first what       looked well like logic:
Such a small island      spake they,
so easily overwhelmed       awash in waves,
Why defend it?        Why defy us?
Why keep weaving?       The wear can’t 
        be repaired.
Abdicate! This island       an heir far 
        stronger requires,
your love a truer one.        I lacked for arms.

It happened such       harboring in a nearby
marketplace, gun merchants       mailed flyers
for pistols. Buy pieces       priced cheaply— 
buy Berettas and       Bauers, get Colts now.
Bullets stop brains       stop brutalizing voices.
                                      Then I
heard about helium       a helper, gentle,
“exit bags” offering        elegant solutions,
less cleanup for       loving husbands 
        and chums.

                                      But my
doctor had a drug, just       developed, to help
in the battle, newly branded       “Brintellix”—
brilliance + intelligence—trust       big pharma
        to come up with that.
Peeved, I thought it       pointless, what good
could come of such chicanery?        Courage! he said.
        Not a wimp-out!        A weapon! 

My star-flame I should       say I drew,
my sleep-monsters I fought.        In sooth, 
the medicine made       me sea-sick.  
I simply managed to stand up.
No halo lit my hair       nor horn sounded,   
no raging demons routed       or retreated even.
No dragons expired.  

                                     Only I did not die.

After days enough not       dying, I lived, 

though lurking beyond       limning waves,
shadowy flagless ships       sound depths. 

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

[download audio]


Claudia Putnam: “I think manic depression is still a better term for bipolar spectrum disorder because, although the original name was meant to characterize the extreme shifts, it doesn’t literally disqualify the in-betweens and mixed-states that many of us experience. I often say there’s nothing ‘bi’ or ‘polar’ about my condition; nonetheless it seems to be the closest diagnosis available. The drugs for it, though mostly I use antiepileptics these days, help. I’ve suffered from it (along with severe PTSD) since early childhood, and my loved ones have suffered right along with me. I often wonder how much more effective I might have been professionally, as a writer, and as a mother, had I had medical intervention sooner. Yet, there is so much cultural pressure not to take meds! It feels as if it’s people who are struggling hardest who are expected to be the standard-bearers against big pharma. Bipolar and PTSD are stress-allergic conditions; despite years of professional success, I have been unable to work since 2011. Overall, though, I think bipolar and even the trauma have expanded my perceptions and experience and given me more to work with imaginatively as a writer. I have a deep and broad mystical streak, which I find essential to my poetry. Because I haven’t been earning and my husband works in public mental health, which doesn’t pay well, our finances are limited. This makes it hard to deal with some of the expectations that aspiring writers face in the marketplace today regarding degrees, networking, residencies, conferences, submissions fees, subscriptions, etc. Some days I don’t leave the house, though there are still periods when I am extroverted. I worry, too, about revealing my condition, especially when I hear editors and agents saying they will not work with ‘crazy’ people. What do they mean?” (website)

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August 28, 2017

Colin Pope


Of course you didn’t know what you’d made of me.
A blubbering focus, the frantic epicenter
around which soft hands gathered
to instruct and caress. For three weeks I moaned
and jerked like a carnival ride, owing visits,
wading an amaranthine stream of sorry, sorry,
sorry. Then I cleaned your house, took your dog,

proposed quiet solutions to the immobile planet
of your mother’s head. When she said
I just can’t would you go to the funeral parlor
and pick up the ashes, I acquiesced.
Her voice a burned lampshade. Leaving the drive,
the tires turned and scratched and

I couldn’t tell who was being cared for anymore.
I didn’t know if I cared. I’d witnessed the white
taken hold, blanketing you silent on the gurney
as that water left my eyes, uncontrolled,
a fact of pouring. You weren’t autonomic

and then professional hands slid you into flames
to complete the notion that you couldn’t exist.
Oh, your friends came to the house,
stood in a clump beneath the railing from which
you’d dangled your noose. Daisies, I think,

tied with a string, and a picture that kept
blowing over, and nervous shoes in the dust. 
It was ritual enough since you didn’t exist
and the apologies had been stoppered up
as though there weren’t enough left.
They were hording them now, the sounds
and letters having returned to simple shapes

like a face stared upon intently for too long. 
On the patio of a treehouse, a man said
he hated you and I tried to get mad.
But he meant it and I didn’t, and we hugged
until my apathy returned again, warm
and cool and white as a corpse. Fuck her,
he said. God damn her. Nod, I said. Look away

and nod, then walk to the car. You know I didn’t
even send flowers to the service. Not a note or card.
I pillowed myself to the shape of a day
and waited for a head, which never came.
Nothing came. I would’ve gone to say goodbye
but I was all that was left. I drank instead.

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


Colin Pope: “Since my ex-girlfriend’s suicide, I’ve become fairly obsessed with the intersections between the living and the dead. Surprise, surprise; a poet writing about death. But, really, I feel like I’m trying to explore the directional oddities of the human mind when it contemplates its own demise. Williams has that wonderful poem about his ‘English Grandmother,’ whose last words are that she’s tired of the trees in the window. It seems that everything has equal value at the end, and thus nothing really has any value. Of course, this type of thinking is what a psychiatrist would call a ‘depressive feature.’ But there must be a place for these thoughts, even if they’re created as a sort of armor against the real, crushing weight of survivor’s guilt.”

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August 25, 2017

Aaron Poochigian


There had been no attraction, no surprise
for fifty miles, just crows, Holsteins and stubble,
and now, atop the only local rise,
like an ungatherable

iron flower, this looky-here wind turbine.
Sure, it turns a hair-harassing day
to zaps that, routed eastward, power urban
transit, say,

or crab canneries further up the coast,
but in this yawner of a Bronze-age Now,
among the ruminants, what matters most
is just, like, freaking wow—

Bravissimo for the kinetic sculpture
dangling upward from a snag of earth
while juggling, with acquiescent rapture,
three arms’ worth

of gale-force wind. Oh yeah, I wanna be
that gleam with crazy feelers going round.
Thank you, Ohio, for reminding me
how Art should astound.

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

[download audio]


Aaron Poochigian: “I have lived with mental illness since high school, been institutionalized, undergone experimental treatments. My mental illness has affected my poetry primarily in that, given to periods of lethargy, I am especially grateful, as you will see, for the shock of revelation.” (website)

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August 23, 2017

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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August 21, 2017

Lorena Parker Matejowsky


Lord, deliver me from this long car line
the burning surface parking lot of parents
with too many crude tattoos the glares
the reflection of my own falling face
etched in minivan mirror mirror judge not
let me be judged. Lord, deliver me from
my fear of failing to pack a proper lunch 
or Google charter school statistics. Deliver 
me to field trips with happy boys from broken 
homes leaning languid beside me on bumpy 
bus seats. Let me be a light unto science teachers
who pray to a man above the moon, magic 
maker of Adam and atoms. Lord, hear my prayer 
and delivery no deliver me to jail do not pass 
in the car line. Deliver me a box of locally sourced 
food to multiply for these masses these people 
that keep coming. Lord, I’m guilty of giving 
too little too late to school again the tardy bell 
tolls for whom, Lord? Whom will I hustle through 
school years and see on the other side? Lord, 
give me enough energy to meet these kids halfway. 
Show me how to be humble at halftime, how 
to navigate new technology for teenagers. I believe 
in my father, and school spirit, the dignity of dirty 
laundry. Lord, hear my prayer. Lord. Who hears my prayer?

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


Lorena Parker Matejowsky: “In my forties I had a bad panic attack that led to months of anxiety and depression. It was unexpected, horrible, and humbling. As I recovered, I began to tell a few trusted friends. Almost everyone I told had similar stories. The suburbs are full of them. Stigma and shame keep many of us silent. ‘Long Car Line Prayer’ was written right before it happened and reflects the overwhelming demands of modern motherhood I was feeling. I hope these words give someone solace in knowing they are not alone and can, indeed, get better.” (web)

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