...a little mad here

We're all a little mad here, but me,
I'm slipping at the brink, on tiptoes
at the edge. The precipice of madness
is Niagara Falls, or one of those bottomless
chasms villains like to throw folks down
in cheesy adventure flicks, only not
as exciting and deeper than bottomless.
It's the Snake Pit, a Yellow Wallpapered
Bell Jar, sans the literary ambiance
or antique film grain. No Olivia de Havilland
grace. More sinister than black and white,
going crazy is sepia, and ancient.
In the Bible it was seven demons, and
Jesus was the deliverer, a hypnotherapist
with a message. In 1540 you'd be burned
with the heretics. Lobotomy was born
in 1888. Punch a couple holes in the old
frontal lobe and, sure, you might drool
a little, but you wouldn't be causing
any more trouble. The Victorians called it
hysteria and recommended uterine massage,
conducted by inserting the hand, fist, arm,
into the vagina to massage the uterus
until the patient reached hysterical paroxysm,
which means orgasm. Then they invented
the vibrator, and we say the Victorians
were prudes. In the 1940's electroshock
was the next big thing, a revolution
of brains fried (Zzzzzt!) into submission.
After a few dozen Zzzzt!'s you'd walk like
a zombie forever, so even if you got "well"
everyone would always know you HAD
been crazy. Lithium does the same thing.
Oh, drugs. Now we're pretty much all
on drugs, and stuck talking it out,
talking about our mothers, our childhoods,
our feeling about penises. Thanks, Freud.
It's all about treatment, and the cure
is more humane than ever, but no one
can tell you what to do when one day
you wake with a choice, at some creepy
crossroads, wobbly on a tightrope, netless,
knowing that the straight and narrow
is hard to walk barefoot, but falling leads
to padded rooms and ten minute checks,
more pills and a climb back up the
rope ladder.


The littlest kid chews holes into the wrists of her shirtsleeves,
fabric sucked wet. She doesn't like for things to be too soft.
A sleepwalker, night brings her terrors and she runs
out the door, down the street, waking neighbors, calling
for Mommy. In the morning she doesn't believe it
when I tell her.

The older girl is angry. I think she came out of me mad.
She lies like a hitman, cold, without a tell, screams like
a madman over nothing more than bedtime, steals
like a klepto, cries almost constantly, tells younger children
there is no Santa Claus, gives wedgies to five year olds, fails
on purpose, has no remorse, hasn't smiled in over a year.

I was a dreamer and a mean thing, wild, barefoot, defiant,
and alone. Nearsighted, stuck in a book, baby fat and frizz.
Until I grew breasts, like a miracle, and boys wanted
to be friends, play full-contact soccer, snag a feel, get you
on the ground, not move their weight off your body. I let
the neighborhood put their hands down my pants in the dark.
It's nice to be liked for something.

Mom stays inside. She doesn't go for the groceries,
to the doctor, out to dinner. She doesn't want to be seen by
eyes, or smile, make small talk, have fun. She doesn't go
to the mailbox, in the garden, for a walk. There might be
dogs out there, and they might see her, bite her—and she
can't drive herself to the hospital, and she could never
ride in an ambulance—or kill her before she's had a shower.

Nanny takes to her bed, throws knives at her children,
writes poison pen letters to sting the soul, learned
to channel spirits, wished she'd been a Shaker, thinks she
might have been. She loves pigs more than people, lets kids
run rowdy and naked in barnyards. She didn't learn to drive
until she was 64. Her bones have shrunk to tiny, like a creature
only half left here. She claims nothing that happened,
ever happened.

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