Thursday, July 30, 2015

The Asylum Poems


About these poems

The Asylum Poems came into being in 2007 while I was taking care of my mother, who was battling Alzheimer’s Disease. The cycle of twenty short poems comprises the whole of Volume 15 of my Songs and Letters, a much larger work begun in 2005 and completed in 2009. The poems were written early in the morning at my mother’s house, in a small bedroom facing the overgrown backyard. Fir trees, rhododendrons, wild blackberries, ivy, mushrooms, spiders, squirrels, all of them often dripping wet and blessed by Oregon’s gray fall skies — it’s no wonder that now I find, upon a fresh perusal, that these poems begin with rain and end with a miracle.





Rain at the Asylum

It’s raining at the asylum,
and the spiders have come down
from their webs — all but this one,
which dreams of one last meal,
or prefers to drown alone. 

October 20, 2007





Peace at the Asylum

An army of penance-minded soldiers
bearing clean white sponges arrived in the night
to collect rain from the street — I heard them
tapping on their little metal pans, their feet
aligned with joyous wringing, bringing
peace, sweet peace, to the asylum.

October 21, 2007





Letter from the Asylum

Every day, I imagine something different
painted on these walls — a two-way mirror
that lets you in, but never lets me out.

I imagine your surprise, and relish
our wayward conversation —
but you would have been wise to run.

Today we’ll write a letter home,
explain it all in silent prose
as vivid as a child’s daydream.

Should you care, I’ll show you
where to sign your name —
not at the bottom, but in your brain.

Foolish as it seems, our loved ones
will pretend to understand —
and for that, we will always pity them.

October 23, 2007





View from the Asylum

In a ragged, leafy space between rhododendrons
where the ivy was chopped down, in a place not unlike
a room, gently lit by autumn sun, random-sown,
my very own pure white mushrooms, their faces wise
and undisturbed, strength derived from a single
common root, like every unsaid word here at the asylum.

October 23, 2007





Cold at the Asylum

Poor little bird, you bear
a great responsibility,
bringing winter
on your
back.

October 26, 2007





Dream at the Asylum

Have you ever wondered how, no matter where you are, your dreams are able to find you? They’re not always in your head. Dreams can enter through bolted doors. I’ve seen it happen. I’ve heard them roaming the corridor. They cling to a person’s clothes, like dust, or fingerprints, or mold. Many are shared, like germs passed from host to host — even this one, which finds me holding up my poor dead father, who has returned, and is too weak to stand. Sit down, my friend. Sit down. Tell me, why have you come back again?

October 30, 2007





Sleep at the Asylum

Sleep is the ocean, and the ocean is full of sharks. The sharks open their mouths and swallow the ocean. But the ocean wants to be swallowed. It wants to be known to the sharks in this way. It wants to be remembered by them. Sleep is the ocean, and when they open your door, the ocean empties out onto the plain and laps up against the other doors with the great thudding of sharks, the bumping of their heads against tarnished steel, and the sound is loud and long and dearly familiar, like Fate pounding her drum.

November 2, 2007





Remembered at the Asylum

The birthday of a friend
who died

fog at the cemetery

the same place
on a summer day

a narrow road
that led away

never to return

November 4, 2007





Bells at the Asylum

I don’t know which church it is

but there’s a field
in between

and in the field a man
without a name,

looking this way.

November 4, 2007





Mirror at the Asylum

If you look long enough
you can see yourself in any object,
any face, looking back,
amazed.

And before you turn around,
you can see yourself
walking away.

But you tell no one,
because the distance
is too great.

November 5, 2007





Supper at the Asylum

This room is like a great cathedral
when the people have gone
and the tired priest
takes off his robe
and eats alone

haunted by symbols.

November 7, 2007





Bath at the Asylum

The metal handles squeak
like those on our old tub at home.

The smell of rust: one for hot, one for cold.

My mother’s random cigarettes,
ashtray on the window sill.

I never saw her smoke,
now I never will.

November 7, 2007





Train at the Asylum

Yes, your secret is safe with me.
Mine? Carry them away. Set them free.
They’ve long outgrown my need.

November 9, 2007





River at the Asylum

I watch my boots beside the chair
beside the chair my boots watch me
we wear our mud so patiently
waiting for the river to subside.

Through the night no lantern light
no voices reach the shore.

When morning comes the river runs
and hope flows out the door.

November 10, 2007





Visitor at the Asylum

There’s a visitor who never comes
to whom I speak with great conviction
and whose sane answers I hear
long after he is gone.

I’m waiting for him now.

November 12, 2007





Distance at the Asylum

Never have ten paces
carried me this far

each step a door
closed behind my back

November 12, 2007





Bread at the Asylum

Miller, I beg of you,
grind me too.

November 13, 2007





Ghost at the Asylum

There it is again. The hand on my shoulder.
I used to turn around. Now I know better.
Never have I seen such pain in a face.
Or been so helpless to erase its misery.
As if I were to blame. Well. Maybe I am.
But what of him? Can’t he learn to share this room?

November 15, 2007





Gone from the Asylum

Light. Something has driven it away.
Incandescence in its place.
It’s not the same, believe me.

It’s like a memory without eyes.
An empty space through which you fall,
Cursed by what the sane pretend.

What happens when you land?
The buzz of a million useless questions.
And you’ve heard them all.

November 16, 2007





Miracle at the Asylum

This morning I discovered flowers
growing under my bed.

I’ve been on my knees
in a meadow ever since.

November 18, 2007



6 comments:

Stream Source said...

I've printed them out - taking them to bed to read.

Thank you again... and good night ~

William Michaelian said...

Beautiful. Thank you too.

Stream Source said...

I'd like to offer literary praise - something beyond, "precious" ... a sacred sort of preciousness. But I can't, really.

Just the same, I truly love fine wine and am able to detect the many nuances that make it so delicious, but then I fail at describing them using a connoisseur's lexicon.

In neither case was my delight any less as a result of this lapse.

By whatever method of dissemination this work chooses - let it flow ~

William Michaelian said...

Just your saying so breathes fresh life into this verse, and we are content for now to hide it here in plain sight. Please accept my deepest thanks for taking these poems into your heart and home. There can be no more eloquent a response than that emanating from the open mind of a sincere friend ~

Jan said...

Oh, my dearest William...these pull at my heartstrings and bring tears to my eyes...always. The love, the heartache, the tragedy...so many emotions. But without these, than life would not have been lived. Dreams realized. Prayers gone unanswered. But...as you asked in your book that I mention below..."But? Is there somewhere else I would rather be?"

I know from your book "The Painting of You" about some of these poems. I have read your book over and over. Never without a box of tissues near at hand. Excuse me while I get another tissue, dear friend~

William Michaelian said...

Jan, what I said to Donna I say to you too, but with this added: there were smiles (some of them weary, I’ll grant) woven all through those times. My mother and I really had a life-long friendship. Our philosophical little talks began in my childhood and carried on until her illness intervened, when, finally, I was called upon to do the thinking and remembering for both of us. Thank you for looking in, listening, and, most of all, for being here.