Rocky Springs Farewell – a poem by Linda Larson

Rocky Springs Farewell

Dedicated to Willie Joe Namath

We didn’t really have a plan.
We ended up here.
A cold brook gives the place its name,
Runs clear along a stony, sandy bed,
So cold it makes the bones ache.

He held my hand
So I wouldn’t slip and break a hip.
When he was little he loved bananas
Couldn’t get the word out
I became Naner for always having
Naners in the kitchen for him.

Even though I was under strict orders
Not to climb anything at all
We climbed the hill where the young girls
Are buried and it made him quiet.

Downed by Tuberculosis, Malaria,
Redundant Diphtheria, sounding like Latin
Names for flowering killers that might have
Pursued Marie Antoinette if
She had not already been spoken for.

He grew alarmed-
We were alerted to danger by an oncoming
Swarm of mosquitoes.
Such desolate graves might be contagious.

Running for the car, I turned my ankle, and Otha
Practically carried me, we abandoned the
Tombstones, with their fading carved-in-stone dates, that
In a few lifetimes will be gone altogether.

His real going-away party was that evening.
He would be deployed for nine months.
We stopped at Cock of the Walk,
A catfish house on the Ross Barnett Reservoir.
My grandbaby toasted the Mississippi Legends
With Rolling Rock…
“Forrest! Van Dorn! Pemberton! Davis!
Brilliantly outfoxed even Ulysses and Tecumseh!
At least for a spell. “

I reminded him
The pride of Dixie and
Its Sons
Sleep under the red clay
We stand on.
Don’t you fall asleep!
Don’t you fall asleep!

I had never told Otha
I had buried his shot
Dead in the back
Father and what a farce his
Daddy’s death had been–
Killed in an accident
In another misguided war–
I brought this one up on
Honor and sacrifice!

We salted our beers,
And it was the bubbles
Not the South
That rose again,
Tickled our noses and
Made us laugh.
I had to laugh.

Letting him go like this
Behind a lie…
His whole life
A let’s pretend.
Whatever happens
To my little one in Iraq,
Black umbrellas or no
I’ll wear that smile like a flag.

We drank up,
And he drove his Naner home.

Armies and Orchids – a new poem by Linda Larson

Armies and Orchids

The little white posts
Stuck in the soil
Markers naming the orchids
At the flower show

Mimic acres of white crosses
Sturdy and upright
Over bones as fragile as
Ruby’s Dragonfly.

Orchids, deceptive,
Feed only on air.
A rich man’s hobby
Nonetheless, crosses

Bedecked, celebrating holidays
With bright, cheerful flags waving
Hello from those consumed
In battle, at War Meister’s

Command, Nightfire,
Simple Pleasures, Shoot or be shot.
Origami cranes,
Piled high at Hiroshima

Truman’s trade off in lives,
The Emperor’s Saffron Delicacy,
Pacific fang,
Its unspeakable retort.

Babies caught in the
Tiger’s Jaw of history, spat out
In its grinding wheel as
Fossils of one century

Name a blood-spattered
Specimen after Rasputin
Sorcerer’s Kiss, and I
When my ship comes in

As one day it must
Will name a red as deep
As pockets left by Hellfire missiles
For Bush’s war, Soldiers’ Dust.

On Walking Through the Empty Halls of a Mental Hospital Soon to Be Condemned

{Here is a text, an “elegy” as Linda describes it, on the closing of the Massachusetts Mental Health Center building in Boston}fenwood_door

By Linda Larson

Incoherent thoughts become complete sentences. Thought begins. Unbound by common reasoning. Transparent eyes window the routine terror of people in glass houses dodging imaginary stones.

Dreams of glory careen into nightmares of war-torn psyches. In whose eyes are wars sane?

The docs weave filaments of reason trying to contain neon flares of fear. Creations of doom surround us and infect us.

The ‘We’ here is royal, a happing out-of-tune congregation praising the persistence of our own ardent seeking souls.

(We know horrors that would take Tom Ridge’s breath away.)

We open our mouths and flowers fly out. Angels hover like moths impassioned by a light bulb in the night. We bloom up and out stringing words together as exultantly as the blue trumpets of morning glories on the vine. We are caught in the literal. Our rolling stones gather no moss, and we mean moss, not metaphor.

Today, we flourish. The list of what we cannot do grows shorter and shorter.

We become comfortable in a world of three dimensions; we gladly surrender the fourth, fifth and sixth.

The ink on our delusions fades; the pages of our misspent passions are yellowing. We find ourselves free of demons, yet cannot help our nostalgia for their intensity.

We wander bewildered from the shadows of Plato’s cave into other labyrinths of commonly held misconceptions of reality. We create a reality that we can bear. Who among us chooses to live in darkness? Plain and blunt reality is radiant with promise in its simplicity.

Having had to fight so mightily for a handle on today, we are drawn to the black and white of reason, delighting in the clarity of the tangible, dimly lit from behind with acceptance.

But there we are. It’s called therapy. Your eyes seem to see through us. You don’t touch, but your hands reach out. You inspect us as if thoughts could translate into sentences with a beginning, middle and end. Subject, verb, object are in disarray; You trick us into living a bit longer. ‘Don’t leave before the miracle happens. ‘ Mother told us, 36 years ago, “Hang on. They’ll find a cure.”

Now we tell our children, graceful and lithesome as deer in the woods, “Don’t fear. Take the medication that makes you heavy and confines your mind. Sacrifice your youth and beauty on the fickle altar of coherence. They are close to a breakthrough.”

And the aching we remember seeing in their young sweet eyes, battling the nuances of despair, willing hope against the odds, refusing to surrender to elementary genetics, which stalks them like a bounty hunter laying claim to their light. We ask ourselves, what will happen when we die and they are on their own?

Once we were alone until we found each other in the hospitals, in meandering corridors we walked painstakingly our way through the maze. We found legitimacy here for our suffering. We shared a salute to our survival. We united and many came to love ourselves, sharing the same roller coaster rides of thoughts and beliefs. Some how we were released from our dungeons of self-enforced solitude. We became a community based on the mutual respect and understanding of our peers. The people whose faces and stories we shared gave us permission to love self. Instead of incarceration, the doors of the hospitals were unlocked and the hallways, the library, the research beds, the clinics and the small rooms where intensive work was being done by clients and therapists, the old quiet rooms of pained, disease-ridden reflection became battlefields for our liberty. If we so chose, we learned to live outside the hospital. We learned to navigate the reality of the majority. We learned to stop on red and find the way to go on green.

In these haunted hallways, spirits of the people we have known and who have known us are still passionate, resounding with vitality remembered and respected, sometimes by osmosis, sometimes by default. We who remain give each other the recognition, the salutation of our fragile fellowship, living or dead. Some died too soon or disappeared along the way, but are not lost to us. We hear their footsteps, their voices, their paintings and poems, their whispers and cries. We see them out of the corners of our eyes. We see their identifying walk, their frantic, mute gestures directed at what only they could see. We remember the names of their gods, and we embrace them with our memories.

We remember them as we go up to the fourth floor, the ICU, a locked unit and remember the plastic-green pallets smelling faintly of urine on the floor, all of us crowded into a little space and forging bonds unlike any other. We are not all friends, some of us are angry people, but we are all from the same region. There are many dialects but it is the same language. Why did we end up in this place of hope and light, when so many of us were locked into prisons of filth and despair or took or lost their lives.

Just lucky I guess. And today…oh so grateful…beyond any words, so grateful. Grateful to be out in the air, to touch a tree trunk, to look up unhindered at the great sky, whatever its mood.

Lives and sufferings have been redeemed in this swaying building. We stand for one last time on the front steps where we begged for cigarettes and shared coffee, pouring it from cup to cup, and got to know each others’ first names. We were there for better or for worse; in sickness and in health, we were stuck with one another.

So fling out the shutters! Open the windows of this old Ark, which has brought so many of us so far. Emancipate the souls we left behind so they can fly out freely through the opened windows. Let them fly out into the chill autumn air, redolent with leaves rotting into the earth, and migrate into long-awaited, blessed freedom. We conscientiously set free our memories, for good or ill; we let go, unbind the fetters that drag us down…the hurts, the rage, the swamp of self-regret and the lowlands of self-pity.

We forgive our lives for capturing us, and eventually we are released from this crumbling, temporary home. Today we returned to this doomed building and celebrate we have outlived it and remember the ones, brilliant in memory, who did not.

© Linda Larson 2003

(photo by Anna Schuleit borrowed without permission from the web site http://1856.org/bloom/setting.html)