Friday, April 25, 2014

The Leech


Lisa Gordon Photography


The Leech






After I died
they brought me here
or did I come here to die?
It's  hard to keep clear.
Still here
I am, a captured thing,
put in a white room where
they'd forgotten to bind me tightly. I
remember how close you came
that first time,
before I taught you better.

I think that was when I fell
in love with you. Your eyes
seemed to know the
difficulty of being a woman
without learning
to love pain, to see the locked attic,
the dead children,
my husband's fat red
face, my portion neatly totted up
behind the impatient
pig-pink eye, the closed fist

so different from your
smooth gloved hands, your
apothecary's fingers;  I can feel them
stirring mercury and poppies under
my skin, your leeches my sweet babes,
their bright mouths suckling out 
a stream of sins, your needles-full of delirium,
lighting flares in my eyes with alchemist's fire.
You called it medicine, I called it
paradise, 
or hell

as if I could know any more
the dissolving glaciers of days turned
into icewater sweat
collecting in my skull's hollows,
the snow of years
transmuted  to liquid
birthing  a belly of wildflowers
in  frozen-over fissures
now closing to a treatment
beyond all knowing
in a spring that never was.



~April 2014




found on the internet



posted for     real toads
Interpretations with Margaret: Willard Asylum
This time in her Artistic Interpretations feature at IGWRT, Margaret Bednar (Art Happens 365) has introduced us to the Willard Asylum(operational 1869-1995) the photography of Lisa Gordon, who toured it and captured many striking images, including the one at the top of this post, and also the "Willard Suitcase" project of Jon Crispin, which sounds and looks absolutely fascinating, though it was not in play in this poem. For full details of the challenge, visit the toads link above.


Process notes: The use of leeches during the active time period of Willard Asylum is anachronous and used purely as a poetic device. 'Leech' is also an archaic term for a physician.


Top Image: Photo of Strap at Willard Asylum, copyright Lisa Gordon Photography
Used with permission


31 comments:

  1. I'm not sure that I can do this prompt, and this is why--it is just too painful. I'm sure that for some patients there was a fascination/love (not quite right words) for the attention that might come in a facility good or bad as compared to the almost always bad attention that might come on the outside--and of course what was sought was docility - which you've captured here--all the details very powerful if awful and the conceits and metaphors all well done--I won't go into specifics--all the lines are good - though perhaps for me, the beginning most powerful - well also the fist as her portion. Anyway, good work! Good luck! Almost there.

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    1. PS -- there was a rather horrible article in the NY Times recently about these poor men brought up from an institution in Texas to work at a turkey processing plant in Iowa - paid $64 a month, I think it was, or less, for years and years and years of more-than-back-breaking work--incredibly sad. k.

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    2. Thanks, k. Margaret expressed the hope that for some, the care at Willard was not a nightmare and some good could be found there--I was sort of chewing at that notion here. I agree, the 'treatment' of mental diseases has a sad and ugly history.

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  2. I was expecting to see the Jazz Man in the labels, but then this isn't a personal first person account, is it? Channeling the figure beyond the loose end of the belt. As our notions evolve of what mental disordering is (ixnay on the list above), then there may be a way to go inside the inside of bad treatment and wonder if perhaps madness finds a way to balm the craziest of worlds. There's an eerie rationality to the voice here, as if patiently trying to explain mad epiphanies to the sane.

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    1. No--not every poem is autobiographical.I thought I would explore the idea that perhaps the construct of a madhouse might seem not so bad after the horrors of the real world. After all, that infant's need for a perfect focal attention, of love but if it can't be love, hate or even curiosity or compassion, is what lies behind so many of our drives, sane or otherwise.

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  3. Scary real and another blame the victim because the perp has the power, but amazingly said in her spring that never was voice. Reason for her admission: ill treatment by husband- huh?

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  4. WOW, Joy! What a fantastic write. I caught the idea that compared to her home life, the asylum might have seemed like a haven. The belly full of wildflowers is brilliant. But what REALLY got me is the list of reasons for admission - one being "imaginary female trouble". Yes, if we women have trouble, it must be all in our heads! Sigh. What an astounding list!!!!!!!!!!!

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    1. Yes, and you'll notice that reason is given in about ten different wordings, too. Thanks, Sherry.

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    2. PS Some of the reasons are rather amusing, though. Not I'm sure for the people involved, but my favorite is 'fever and loss of lawsuit.'

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  5. I can't find words to say how highly I rate this. A subject close to my heart too.

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  6. I hope it's okay to borrow this list for my write. I credited you! I just cant get over it. Women must have had to suppress everything. What gets to me, this wasnt all that many years before my own "domestic trouble." Yikes. He could have committed me.

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  7. Wow, this is so captivating, so eerie. What these people must have gone through…whew…your fascinating poem put me there, in that asylum, in that mind. Just perfect.

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  8. You had me at the very first line... Wonderful poem, so much depth and so many angles... Wonderful!

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  9. whoosh. think how many affronts or faults embraced by our modern selves might have resulted in the straps and worse, far worse.

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  10. This is amazing! As always your imagery is fantastic, and in this poem it's positively frightening.

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  11. Your use of past and present tenses together hints at this taking place both in the here n now, and through memory. Memory being the sane part of the re-telling. Present time being exposed in your third stanza, possibly my favorite, although your first has a commanding opening and your last is an incredible metaphoric landscape. very satisfying poetry.

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    1. Thank you, jane. i have written on this theme several times, and it was hard to feel very fresh about it--one of the reasons I was trying out the things you mention, as well as a slightly different viewpoint.

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  12. Wow. Fantastic imagery to conjure up the mixture of fear, love, and uncertainty. I imagine some of these places were better than home, but when I think about the treatments (insulin shock therapy, lobotomy, etc.), it fills me with anger. Great job!

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  13. This looks like a great theme for poems; I'm sorry I'm not able to linger with it at the moment. The historical perceptions of madness and its treatment are of interest to me (having read Foucault).

    Your take on it is fresh -- not going with a more obvious approach concerning the horrors of treatment, and using the first person (Artaud style). I like the speaker's ability to turn a good phrase and their lucid grasp of an unclear situation. I like the ambiguity of the last few lines too. They have me wondering if she is hovering on death, whether of the whole body or just a part of the mind.

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    1. Thanks, Mark. Madness is always a fascinating subject for the creative sort I think--maybe because it's generally a close companion. Margaret asked for a first person style, so can't take any credit there. And yes, the ending is about dying--to match the opening declaration. Good eye.

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  14. Damn! You had her appreciate the induced vacation, whether Heaven or Hell! To me that makes her lot in life that much more horrible. Love the closed fist, gloved hands, hollowed skull.

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  15. One would almost think you'd been Willardized yourself. Perfect point of view (I think). Great poetry, as always.
    K


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  16. It is painful to know someone could think an incarcerated hell might be better than the one they came from. This feels real...Like you had walked in her skin. So powerful!!

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  17. I'm in for the first line of the list you found. And in, and once in, in is the direction, isn't it? For all the reasons others have noted, this is remarkable. For me it's the final line that does it. ~

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  18. Oh! Those reasons for admission....nowadays we'd all be in there banging our chains against the wall. They used to be pretty hung up on sex,weren't they? I'd be in for so many of those reasons. I think the only thing I haven't experienced is being kicked in the head by a horse! Your descriptions are so vivid and chilling. I love the ending of the first stanza. Chilling.

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  19. This leaves you feeling a little sick inside yet its one of my favorites. You continue to blow me away with your writing prowess.

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    1. Thank you Kathryn. I hope your back is feeling better.

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  20. Ahh-you've truly captured the mad woman in the attic.
    Intriguing. Chilling. Delicious.
    (as always! you rock as a writer, girl!) :)

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  21. The 64,000 dollar question is the one posed at the opening. At what point did this narrator "die"? I would guess it was gradual rather than sudden, and indeed, she lists a dispiriting and relentless roll call of thing that surely eroded her away from herself. it's terrifying to think that the quack doctor is less terrifying than what she experienced before; what a life she's had, and dead or not, she's still enduring it. The reference to hydrotherapy is literally and figuratively chilling.

    The list of reasons for admission is wild!

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  22. I think you have really got beneath the skin of your subject and shown us the world through her eyes - one she does not quite understand herself. She feels certain that she has died or passed from life into a strange existence in the asylum. I am sure that a kind of love could arise between victim and torturer - even the slightest human attention must have been overwhelming to one in these conditions.

    You always bring your reader the human context, and make us feel as well as think.

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  23. I am utterly speechless after reading this poem. The last two stanzas are powerful, equals the dramatic opening line. If she finds any kind of comfort here, what the hell was her life like before. I watched the movie "Seraphine" last night and this was just so close on the heels of this prompt. I adored the movie (watched it with my oldest daughter, the artist) and my husband will forever thank her for taking his place :) It is a slow movie, but so very beautiful.
    Back to your poem… I was taken with it from the very beginning - and I have no idea how you managed to make me feel like she was in a better place…

    "stirring mercury and poppies under
    my skin, your leeches my sweet babes,
    their bright mouths suckling out
    a stream of sins"

    just Wow. You are amazing. I apologize to be responding to this prompt SO late, but I really do appreciate your participation.

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'Poetry is an echo asking a shadow to dance' ~Carl Sandburg