Issue 160, Winter 2001
When it hit me. Fumbling for a smoke,
I sank down heavily onto a concrete bench
beside the circle drive. There was no view
except for rows of glarestruck windshields, shimmer
of asphalt—bypasses and freeways—and
a venomous, blood-orange dusk above it all.
I took a deep drag. Thirty days had passed
since I'd checked in, and wandered through the ward
with torn implosions in each ear-as fireflies
flooded the trelliswork of synapses—
for three straight days, before I knew where I was.
It was the top floor of State Hospital,
our dayroom windows facing out across
the vast exhaustion of the Midwest, where
electrical dust storms tinged the air, an aura
of migraine settling over the river hills . . .
Day after day, we'd gather there for Peer Group—
some in wheelchairs, some with IV poles—
each trying to calm the tremors in his hands.
Whenever someone spoke, whenever someone
started to piece a narrative together
out of threads of smoke, the infused ache
of what the flesh remembers, I could feel
the tenor of fear in everything he said,
the word on the tip of his tongue on the tip of my tongue.
I'd listen and gaze out, listen and gaze out over
the fallow prairies, half-imagined hayfields
of my only landscape—buckled faultlines
leveling off in miles of bottomland,
where massive burr oaks loomed like cumulus
adrift upon a plain of dust. I'd stare
and scare-untethered, ravenous—at sheets
of lightning smouldering here and there beneath
a remote steel-blue cloudbank, as the room
filled with acetylene sun, the conduits of
my nerves burned clean . . . And chis was the only cure
there was. One day I rose and put on my street cloches,
nothing in my pockets . I remember
riding the elevator five flights down—
the sudden whoosh when its doors opened on
the ground floor ... Struggling co compose myself,
I strode across the lobby with a wink
for the receptionist, but by the time
I stepped out into the sunlight, I was shaking.