poems by Lori Williams
Bravest Thing He’s Ever Done
My uncle blew his brains out on an April
day, the smooth leather of his recliner ruined
by choices and sorrow. He left a letter,
an open door, and family who folded his
mistakes into a tiny square of paper,
no better for it, no worse.
He chose his loneliness; life with mother,
best friend Jack, polio limp holding him
back from everything important. There are
men with no legs, riding along on skateboards
in the sun. Men who can’t see their own
olive skin, hair like midnight, a red light
to stop. Men who see possibilities.
He chose his sadness, his hate. Spread it
to us all, angry at a Christmas gift
not to his taste, the wrong cake brought
at a visit. Limped to the door and locked it
on those who cared. Until we didn’t
anymore. Went on with our lives, smiling
at presents and any little piece of pie,
shared at a table. I thought of him through
the years, wondered at his loneliness, why he
chose it. It couldn’t be the limp alone.
He never lived. Never went further than Jersey.
Hoarded his money for what —
to buy a gun? To leave us wondering if we
should have pulled him onto a dance floor
at a wedding, sssshhing his fear with steps
he could do, making him eat the cheesecake
he said gave him gas — shoving it into his tight
O of a mouth, hugging him; sitting him down
to ask why he was so afraid of life, of love,
of us — only to wind up sitting in a new recliner,
a gun in his mouth, his one limp leg up on the hammock,
thinking fuck you, I am a strong man.
Young Girl Jumps to her Death, Details at Ten
I met her two years ago. We took to each other
like Lithium to depression. I was the pill.
Being needed that way can be a burden,
but she was as delicate as dandelion fluff
ready to float away at the first harsh gust,
and that touched me, and my shoulders
became stone. She’d call from the psych ward,
one day begging me to free her, the next chatty
and high on pills not as safe as me. I never thought
she was crazy, even when I saw her criss-crossed wrists.
We lost touch once I left the school. I called, wrote,
but this and that intruded and she was lost to me.
Maybe she found another woman to cling to, to need.
The last time I saw her she gave me a poem she wrote
called Red. About my hair. For her, I wrote My Dandelion,
about her heart. Lisa was fourteen, and according to
the news report, despondent over a boy. He must have been the gust that made my flower float away.
Friendship on the Psych Ward
Mimi didn’t have the pretty almond eyes
of Asian girls — it might have been the whirl
of pills that turned them inside out. She wore
a blanket on her head that flowed like screams.
Tried to smother Rosa once in the TV room —
her reality was dreams. I was watching Seinfeld.
She threw the blanket over her, held it tight–
an insane cocoon. Rosa wailed in Spanish
for her mama, sixty-six yet a child with artistic
wrists. The nurses came then, shot Mimi up to make her
sleep, erase her eyes, let my show air in peace. I
lost interest, but sat and sat. Talked to my mother
and God, prayed that I would heal so my make-up
wasn’t taken away every day, I could eat when I
was hungry. My wrists were criss crossed too,
but I spoke English and complained a lot. Mimi
would not smother me, because I kissed her cheek
once and she said I was her mother. Next day, the two
played patty-cake. Rosa stroked Mimi’s silky hair,
pulled the blanket over them, Chinese and Spanish
whispers filled the air. I sat and sat.
They were no worse than cat scratches
had stopped bleeding before the first shot
of Ativan hit, but it was one of those times
that the saying it’s the thought that counts
held true hell who knew that sad meant crazy
not me I was only playing
Psychiatrists have no sense of fun
ask many questions which oddly enough I wanted
to answer from childhood to motherhood to loss
yes that’s the place the razor could be made hospitable
little slits instead of one big hole
He put a name to it one I already knew of course
but when he said it I sighed maybe even smiled a little
as I joined the shuffle to the nurse’s station to line up
for what I learned are called meds in the lingo
of my fellow diseased minds they were like roaches
rushing out of every crevice to some crumbs left on a countertop
live another day giddy some drooling at the sight of
a plastic cup of water and another full of pills I only got one
and it was blue
Ten days to kick in today is eleven and I’m sure
I feel a change you can barely see the scars on my skin
the burn on my hand from baking a pumpkin pie
is much more prominent and as family gathers round
the table for turkey and tales of what’s new I can chat
and laugh and they’ll never know I’ve become little more
than a bug