Ward Stories
(Column: Ward Stories)
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This issue's featured poet has an interesting background. She grew up in
Leavenworth, Kansas, where her father was a doctor on Indian reservations.
She has experience in the "system," having been in and out of 13 hospitals
over a span of 17 years, but thankfully, has not been an in-patient for over
20 years. She is civic-minded, devoting herself to doing volunteer work in
her community and working on political campaigns. She feels very strongly
about the issues of Patient's Rights and Voting. Her poetry reflects the essence
of "ward stories" in the truest sense.
The second poet, Wade Jennings is project coordinator of the National Mental
Health Association's executive office. He is a consumer/survivor whose mother
passed away recently.

By "J"
I am, I said, smiling broadly
showing off my legs and breasts,
my youth
and I strutted for a while
I am, I said, surrounded by Ivy pleated skirts,
not so tall now while in this place,
The I is slowly separated from the "am"
Who or what, I said, sitting in pajamas,
leaning up against a wall,
being watched by people taking notes.
Body out of control, blown up very large.
I walked around feeling not wounded but destroyed.
And then I slept and slept.
Time passes
I am, I said, I take no crap,
I am loved, said I
Colors are brighter, music more melodic
Everyone likes me
My lover Mirrors me
I am soon back inside again
deep in pain and self disgust
I am, again, kind of muted,
wings clipped, life full of struggle
and an occasional pleasure
I feel safe alone, together with my lover
As time goes by, I lose my boundaries
He sneezes, I wipe my nose.

Bronx State
By "J"
We went there visiting quite a bit
When we got to the locked door of the ward
We saw people in pajamas talking to the air,
To the walls, to the tv
When we rang the bell, they came up to the door
to see who it was,
Saw us - not for them they walked away
We will none of us ever know how free we are,
how unfettered our lives
Our minds do not slip into high gear
And go on strange and painful journeys
People do not look at us oddly, backing away.
No one giggles and no one assumes we cannot
Manage our finances
It is likely we bought our clothing in stores, new
No ill-fitting hand-me-downs,
No bathrobes without belts or
oversized pajamas
Many of us expect to choose our own roommates
what time we want to go to bed.
We can see what we want on tv.
The bathroom doesn't echo
But here in this place, life is different
Visitors stay in one place
There are bars on the windows
Only people with keys can go in
and out as they please.
Those that emerge are never the same -
senses and synapses are under new constraints.
Subdued, apologetic for all the trouble they
might have caused;
They have lost their edge, or are just lost,
never claimed.
Many are never taken home again.
Are alone in a world that doesn't
quite know what to do with them.

The Dream
By "J"
A dream dropped into empty air
My dreams, gilded and rosy full,
My dreams and expectations took a wrong turn
became nightmares;
or worse-daytime, dreamless, sundrenched
bone-dry wakefulness
Every second is like a loud bell
Full of awareness, conscious of pain or
pleasure, amplified
now take off some here
add some here
lighten up modify
Mourning time is over dear
Pick up whatever pieces you find
make a new dream
Don't look back, don't remember
Don't pine for what is gone.

By Wade Jennings
Morning. 4:42.
We are here staring at your fixed mouth
which hangs open as if you were screaming
through black forests for your lost children.
Was your last thought of
fixing breakfast in the cold frail circle;
pale, weathered,
spooning sugar and cinnamon?
I whispered in your ear for hours,
telling you "let go."
Could you hear me?
I hope for love's sake
you heard the gentle calling:
hurried blades of grass,
windswept chimes, symphonic
sapphire moon soaked fields,
as the darkened sky received you.
I will plant the garden we spoke of
in honor of living, as broken hearts forbode.
I will cherish solitude with you. Press my thumb into soil.
Were you thinking
of our earliest union?
Instinctive, wailing at separation, we are severed.
My flesh drenched in your water.
The gift of anointing air.
Unseeing, but swarming shadows,
calming, as the sound of your smiling voice
grows stronger; I am
placed like a summer's rain
pattering upon your chest-a tiny rhythm.
Outside of you
for the first time.
For one brief moment,
I thought I had lost you forever.
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