“The Battle of Brintellix” by Claudia Putnam

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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