A few razor-knife cuts, everyone freaks

and suddenly I’m a danger to myself?

Maybe if they’d have been paying attention in the first place.

So today I’m busy counting the threads in my sheet.

It’s a slow walk across a long white wasteland.

I name each one like a new pet

or a lost child to be called in for dinner.

When I reach the end the list will be complete and so will I.

At night they threaten to bind my hands so I can’t touch myself while I’m sleeping.

It doesn’t do any good. Each morning the bed is stained with dreams

and they angrily have to redo the laundry.

In therapy I said,

What I wouldn’t give for a Jack and Coke

and you can even keep the Coke.

Everton sputtered and blew a bubble out of his nose.

Later I gave him a high five for that. He grinned toothless…

There are days I can’t stand the smell of myself.

There are days I can.

In the small-talk visit of your voice you say,

The sun through the windows makes the room look like summer.

I say the sun is an orange-yellow dagger slicing me open.

When I think back to the park where we ate the mushrooms together.

Weren’t we beautiful under all that heaven?

There are no clocks here, and the names of the days have all been erased.

The numbers, too. Time is measured in Today. Yesterday. Tomorrow.

I watched a bug crawl across the ceiling.

It took all day and I sat amazed at how much faster it was than me.

Yesterday I stole a Sharpie when Fatnurse wasn’t watching

and wrote a tiny crimson-red Yes! on the railing of my bed.

At night when I rub my hand over those precious little letters

I feel the thin rise of their promise and it feeds my freedom.

Someday I’ll wear yellow again.

Maybe tomorrow.

Mornings now I wake up grinning like an egg-stealing opossum.

Everyone thinks this is a sign I’m improving.

The doctor’s big face smells of cigarettes,

hard liquor, and the woman he woke up with.

Amazing what senses perk up when

you’ve kept your eyes closed for two days.

Fatnurse pays attention now only at meal time

robbing food from everyone’s tray.

I’ve watched her do it.

Eating piggy food with her piggy face.

Please say you believe me.

I can pretend you aren’t lying.

The cicadas between my ears are gone,

replaced by screams from the dayroom.

There are slap-fights for the t.v. and favorite chairs.

Boundaries everywhere you don’t dare cross.

The orderlies stand around and watch

not being paid enough to risk a broken arm or gouged eye.

At night the mouth-breathers keep the world awake.

They make sounds like voices echoing down a steep canyon wall.

God knows what they’re dreaming.

And that red-bastard light

above the door in the hallway

is always taunting,

like there ever really will be an exit.

Robert Kokan

Robert Kokan has had poems published in The Windy Hill Review, Avocet, Yellow Mama, and Jerry Jazz Musician. He is a past student of AllWriters’ Workplace & Workshop and The Poetry People, working with the late Phil Zwiefel at UW-Waukesha.

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