Ward Stories
(Column: Ward Stories)
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At year's end we remember the past, we contemplate the future,
we celebrate life, and we remember our loved ones. The touching
poems in this issue remind us to be grateful for those we hold dear
in our hearts.

I offer my sincere wishes to my family, friends, and dear readers for
a happy, healthy holiday season and a joyful & blessed 2003!

What's a Life?
By Bobbie Cohen (In Memory of Sidney Morris Fineberg)

What's a life?
A string of stories
to be told.
Look good and have a ball.
Lovers come into your life.
What to do?
We lose each other
along the way

You've lived through
the best times,
seen all the worst.
I know
you've walked
danced with
the best

You have wings
and you have grace,

words that fill each empty space.

Every morning there is
your life
Every day we say goodnight

What's a life?

Is it art? Is it planned? Is it real?
Does it stand?
Is it every chance or just a dream?

Are we ever really there or ever really

What's a life?

Did you take what you could and just
give and give:
Did you walk with your head up high?
Did you sing every song and dance with

a lover at your side, wrapped in each
other's arms.

The years so quickly go by
they just make us pay and pay

for every hard and fast time
for every card we've ever played
and every dragon ever slain

But take what we must.
And what are we to do?

There's something in a year, something
in a beer, special to a life!

I'd dance with you forever,
dance with you always, dance for your
life, but Sidney most of all I'd love to
dance with you tonight.

There's something in a year
Oh, something in a life.

That is all I have to say and all I have to
do, celebrate your life.

Mary My Beloved Wife
By Ronald Korlofsky

It was nineteen sixties, the Vietnam war had just
begun and President Kennedy was assassinated. Mary
came by Taxi Yellow Cab to building 1 ward 4 when
we were in the visiting room she bought me a round
big tray of giant meatballs and spaghetti
which I consumed and an ice cold Tropicana
orange juice.

We sat down and kissed each other, it was almost
as if she was my brother. I didn't have her telephone
number. I remember 140 Brighton Beach
was her Co-op apartment number. You know
that she was loaded to take a Yellow Cab, the
most expensive number. She ordered a 100%
Hershey's chocolate milk there was not diet drinks
then. It reminded me of being in Nirvana.

Mary will always be an angel to me. She touched
me on my shoulder, it reminded me of the
show "Touched By An Angel". Mary would
the head angel.

I met her in SouthPort Manor in a great
dining room, it must have had 300 tables. We
had maid service.

We shared the same room common-law until
we got married.

Going Back
By Leah Ida Harris

Going back
To the hospital
The mental health complex
"The mental death complex", whispered in conspiratorial tones
By those who know.

Looming before me, this sprawling brown structure,
Mumma had served her time here, on and off over the years.
It had that sixties' look going for it
Round peaked roofs, thick impenetrable stone-encrusted wonder walls
An architectural eyesore
What a vain attempt to make the sterile look bearable
The insane, normal.

I am scared to go in
Thinking that just being here might drive me mad
Between these four walls Mumma ate, and slept,
Cried and laughed
Fought her restraints from time to time,
To no avail - -
Because once the claws of the System with a capital S grab ahold of you
You are more than just lucky to make it out.
You are a miracle.

I'm thinking that just being here might drive me mad.
They will level their label-laden wands at me, and
*Poof *
I am stripped of all sanity!

Rendered a bipolar, or a borderline, or worse
A schizophrenic, paranoid at that.

Got to get this over with and get out fast
Don't linger because the scent of madness is contagious and it beckons.

This entangled maze of hallways requires some road-signs:
This way to the chapel
That way to the courthouse
And if the power of God is with you they won't sentence you to time in here
Because it's a short trip from the courthouse to the ward
A real short trip.

I peek into the silent tomblike chapel with its orange disarray of chairs
Sunlight streams in through the stained glass window
Multiple shades of orange assault the eyes;
No one dares to pray in these places
It might just be taken as a symptom.

Inside the records office, at last
I write out a check for $194.87.
A weary looking woman gives me a copy of Mumma's entire psychiatric record
Encased in a sterile white cardboard box.

"I told you
All you needed were the admission and discharge summaries
Which I already sent to you
But here is all of it", she says
So impatient, so weary and bored with me
And my curious probings
My desire to know and understand

And me?

"What do you do with the records?" I ask,
Handing her a check for $194.87
She mumbles something about microfiche
And turns away.

I leave the records room,
Lingering in the brown halls out of fascination and repulsion
Each second I linger growing stronger and less mad
Yes I will take my time in here
Because I know they will let me out
This time, anyway.

I think about my first visit to this place
Holding tight to Grandpa's hand:
Sometime during the depths of my childhood - -
Somehow, somehow
You finagled a discharge right as I arrived for my yearly visit
(how hard you must have played along with them to do that)

And I remember that place, that hall
Colorless and stinking of urine
There are people who scare me
But I can't remember why
And then she is there, smiling, with her shoebox full of possessions.
We leave out into the sunshine, us three and the shoebox.

Why'd you have to go?
God damn it
You left me five plus years ago
And I am craving any trace of you
Any hope of encountering some tiny truth about you.

Why'd they have to kill you,
Kill the fight you had left in you
Bit by bit
Pill by pill?

They've left me scrounging for the record
The record that only tells me how THEY saw YOU
I will scan here and there for quotes
Things you said once,
Glimpses of you
in a sea of cursive swirls.

They never knew your brand of poetry
They never knew your visions of a field of flowers
Poppies you called them
Strewn across a golden sky
Is that where you are now?
Is that your heaven Mumma?

Oh babe, I hate to go…

Suddenly I am out the door and grinning
I made it out. I made it out!
Me and my white cardboard box
Out into the sunshine
Into the parking lot
Away from the peculiar kind of madness
That leads to the creation of madhouses
Vast sprawling mental health complexes.

I am entering the car
I am placing the key in the ignition
I am driving, driving away from your prison
The radio is blasting
They're playing our song.

I am eyeing the white box on the passenger's seat
Vaguely aware
Of its obscure magic
Of so many tales left untold
Of your bewildering legacy.

I am blinking back tears of joy
A survivor's strange kind of guilty joy and surprise
At making it out alive
I think: we gotta live free
For those who died before their time.
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