Thursday, July 13, 2017

Blow-by-Blow: My Beating as a Psychiatric Patient at Mount Sinai Hospital

Thanks to Jonathan Penton and Unlikely Stories Mark V for publishing this piece..http://www.unlikelystories.org/content/blow-by-blow

 2014, October, close to Halloween: A brain-shaking blow to my left-temple, then one to my right.

It was a bad episode, unexpected; I hadn’t been in a hospital for bipolar disorder since 1997. The last thing I remember before coming to at Mount Sinai was lying on my belly on the floor of my bedroom, surrounded by five cops, enormous from my vantage point. They talked among themselves and on their radios, ignoring me. Finally, they cuffed me behind my back; I begged them to tell me what I had done, but I was not worth a word.

I don’t remember my first two days at Mount Sinai; when I did come to, they were giving me Haldol, which gave me horrible dyskinesia, an unbearable restlessness in the legs, arms, and mouth. I did not realize that the incorrect medication was the cause of my discomfort; I thought this was part of my episode, and didn’t tell the doctors as they rushed by, trying to avoid the patients.

How did I get into the empty room with the orderly?

It was night. He led me into the room. He told me to sit down on the bed. He then drew his arm back and gave me two powerful, calculated blows with the palm of his hand against my temples, first left, then right. Something practiced about the beating, as though he knew this would leave no marks, only unconsciousness or concussion. I remained conscious. I saw a thick jagged scar on the length of his arm, from inches below his armpit to inches below the elbow crease, stitched broadly.

“Lie down,” he said.

“Yes, sir,” I quietly replied. He left, and I lay my head on a bare pillow, and wished, willed myself to die.

I would see the orderly often on the ward. I had no clothing and the hospital uniform stretched in embarrassing gaps across my obese form. And the Haldol was causing horrible twitching, a torture of restless limbs. Could I have imagined the beating? No.

I approached a nurse to ask his name. Before I could say a word, she exclaimed, “You are not the same person that came in! You were horrible.”

This is your fault, the staff seemed to say; not sick, murmured the walls, bad. What was his name? I was afraid to ask.

He took my blood pressure, even gave me meds. “You were horrible, inhuman, bad,” his co-workers said. Yes, people like you should be beaten, thrown to the floor, cuffed. We are saints who love the damaged like you.

Indeed, I was subhuman in my uniform and with my twitching limbs. I did something to the orderly, that was it! I finally got the courage to ask him.

“You spilt on my shirt.”

Oh.

Emboldened, I asked him about the scar. He laughed wildly and said he was crazy when young. From Queens or Qatar? What planet do such men come from?

A few days later on the ward, a senior psychiatrist who knew I was a writer asked me to speak to her students about Otto Kernberg’s borderline personality diagnosis, ordinarily a favorite subject of mine. “They don’t know,” she said, pointing to the residents.

I haltingly tried to describe Kernberg’s theory of introjects in the borderline personality, cornerstone of that useless and damning label; all the “borderline” needs to do is to treat her addictions, food, drugs, sex, codependence, and the “instability” and “psychotic episodes” disappear. But I was too conscious of my ill-fitting uniform, and mumbled an excuse; the residents were deprived of their show, the patient who has read psychology.

When I was released, I related the events surrounding my beating to two therapists at the Karen Horney Clinic, later, to two residents at Payne Whitney. They stared into space, smiled, changed the subject. Because I am mentally ill, I don’t have perceptions, sensations, memories. More, their silence seemed to say, because I am mentally ill I can be abused, beaten with impunity, and my caregivers don’t have to care. I must have medication and this treatment is paid for by my insurance, so I let it go. But it comes back, often.

I have tried to forget this episode, go along with the clinicians who ignore a patient being beaten, and cannot. Fat and mentally ill, I have evoked new heights of condescension from mental health workers who find it easier to talk of mechanics, medication up or down, calories to consume. Meanwhile, Long Scar and his ilk continue to offer their “treatments” in mental hospitals everywhere. Some have said, and will continue to say, that people like me had it coming. All I can do is breathe, rest, and speak my truth until someone listens.




Wednesday, July 12, 2017

"I am not your insect" prose poem in The Bug Book anthology

I am very pleased that my poem, "I am not your insect," appears in the new creepy-crawly anthology, The Bug Book (Poets Wear Prada). Thanks to editor/publisher Roxanne Hoffman.

I am not your insect

Your underfoot, your exterminated, your bug. My unabashedly hairy legs, whose gymnopédies twitch like a chorus for a fatal Sharon Stone, delight in ces mouvements qui déplace les lignes, in the motion, the quiver, the mort, the catch. Mother Kali, you have made me what I am: feminine, brilliant, entirely without fear. Like my mother, I watch and pray for  prey—that it be there, that it give gore, that I feel it die, that there be more.





Saturday, July 08, 2017

Poem in Lorca anthology Verde que te quiero verde

Delighted that the second edition of Verde que te quiero verde: Poems after Federico Garcia Lorca is now out with my poem, "To the Thanatos Within Me," in it! (text below). Thanks to the editors!
TO THE THANATOS WITHIN ME
Dear friend of ferment,
who unearths the worms
that enrich this blissful human soil,
promising the end of eternal roil:
I embrace you, dear shadow,
my revelatory friend;
dear suicidal impulse; today
I dream of the parapets above
A la Vielle Russie, and
of splattering near the Plaza
where Woody Allen wooed young girls,
leaving a bit of me
on the Strand Bookstand,
near the park and the seals—
but this is too vibrant and real.
Better to find myself alone
in a porcelain tub
with chamomile bath oil . . .
(as if I needed to be calm;
there is eternity for that),
listening to Verdi’s Requiem,
holding a razor, or better still,
to poison myself with small
scored pills, avoiding arsenic
and the Bovary traps
of indigestion, detection;
best with caplets, red carafes
of wine or Guinness brew —
(who wouldn’t want to quaff a few?)
What catharsis there is in the dive,
the gesture, the infinite jest,
the slash, the brush (its own fire),
the dance with death?
Ah, this: as I flirt, you draw near,
chingon to my chingada
bite my ear, stop my breath—
who else could do that?
Te quiero, my Mescal, my absinthe,
my blue cyanosing corps, my Mayakovsky,
my you …
Was this a mistake? Is it too late… ?
You bite my ear, take up my rear, whisper:
Yes.

Monday, July 03, 2017

Dear Steve Bannon

Dear Steve Bannon:
Thank you so much for your letter. It is a comfort to know that President Trump is saving the white Christian orphans from Hillary Clinton's cannibalism. And thank you for Mr. Hitler's book. My daughter says it is poorly written, but she has become a real liberal elite since she came back from college. We look forward to reading Mr. Hitler's ideas about health care. And don't worry about the Jews: we understand that you have to deal with the Muslims first, so we will be patient. Oh, it is so good to finally have a president who is "one of us." MAGA and God bless parts of America!

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Review in The Lit Pub of Medusa's Country

Medusa's Country by Larissa Shmailo

06/27/17
Medusa peels herself from the pages of mythology to become a denizen of New York City’s margins. There, she waltzes with Thanatos: “The dance with death? / Ah, this: as I flirt, you draw near.” When Eros shows up, he lures Medusa on a peregrination toward a broken self: “My naked heart unrobes, undressed of anguished cries.”
Shmailo adds, “Larissa’s rose is sick and is consuming me.” This alludes to William Blake’s poem “The Sick Rose,” pertaining to self-destructive sexuality. While beautiful, the rose has become infected by a worm. Addressing herself in an epistolary moment, Shmailo states, “Dear Friend of ferment / who unearths worms // that enrich this blissful human soil.”
Here lies one of many moments of transformation. The poet, though brutally honest about her bouts with mental illness, mania, and deleterious behaviors, also acknowledges the alchemy available by casting pain into language. Purged, the expectation for starting anew enriches this “human soil,” fecund with possibility and, surprisingly, hope. Here is one of the many strengths of this collection of poems—it is relentlessly honest and (therefore) resilient.
These qualities guide the poet’s exploration. Along the way, the gorgon assumes other personae, including a prostitute named Nora, a reluctant villain, not unlike Medusa herself. Once, one of Athena’s priestesses, she was raped by Poseidon. Instead of being seen as the victim, Medusa was held responsible by Athena, who turned the gorgon’s curls into snakes (Blake’s worm?) and made all who gazed upon her turn to stone. Medusa was ostracized by her own power. Shmailo avers, “His eyes transfixed by my serpents / that hardened, froze, and pleased.” Indeed, misogyny has—from antiquity to Ibsen’s era to the present—castigated women who dared to exhibit intelligence and power. Many of these poems lead the reader through histories of misogyny and sexual abuse (as in the myth itself). In a poem titled “Rapes,” Shmailo confesses:
I abandoned myself to invisible hands,
the known vice and the strong vise of my nerves and my glands.
I half-screwed and cat-moaned and imagined your stare
in the stranger, his knife slowly teasing my hair.
She unpacks her poet’s suitcase of prosody and nuanced rhymes, knowing that a poem is not only about a given topic, but also about the agency of language itself. Like a stab, she writes, “The rapist called me fat.” Again, the victim, not the perpetrator, is rebuked. Nonetheless, these poems ultimately serve a triumphant voice—a brave and audacious “I.” Convinced of her prowess, this Medusa stares into her own mirror, where she confronts distorted notions of normalcy: “You, my reflection, in pain,” and, “We live in parts.”
Despite landing on a psychiatric ward, she frees herself with sardonic wit and blade-sharp language: “Bellevue, Bellevue, where nurses’ crazy laughter / rings through the night.” The writing is so visceral, the reader feels trapped in the “locked ward,” along with the author. One can hear the howls and smell the disinfectants.
However, with verve, with chutzpah, with urgency, Shmailo’s poems become spells, freeing her, transforming stone into flesh:
I spent my whole life seeking it,
wrecking, reeking, eking it,
in hydra-headed phalluses;
in aliases & pal-louses;
in papapapapaMedusas;
in mirrors & seducers.
Ultimately, she magicks death into an affirmation of life: “I love love’s desert and its snow.” Indeed, she has led us from one extreme terrain to another—and back to the silence of the page, where we marvel at her hard-won wholeness. As we read this book, it becomes our own.


Tuesday, June 27, 2017

The Awakening

My Awakened White Self: Trump supporters hate Obama because he is black.
My Naive White Self: Yes, some, but others are just disenfranchised workers voting against their interests.
MAWS: Trump supporters hate Obama because he is successful and black.
MNWS: That's impossible! A third of the electorate?
MAWS: Wall, Mexican judge, birth certificate, travel ban - they hear it and like it.
MNWS: But . . . .
MAWS: Larissa, grow up. We have a big fight ahead.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Happy Bloomsday! Lotus Eaters Erasure

ERASURE, THE LOTUS EATERS, ULYSSES*

BY LORRIES ALONG SIR JOHN ROGERSON'S QUAY
past Nichols' the undertaker's. Eleven, daresay.
Sent his right hand with slow grace over his hair:
Where was the chap I saw in that picture somewhere?
Ah, in the dead sea, floating on his back;
It's a law like that. Curriculum. Crack.
It's the force of gravity of the earth is the weight.
Per second, per second. Post office. Too late.
Eleven, is it? I only heard it last night.
What's wrong with him? Dead. And, he filled up, all right.
Chloroform. Laudanum. Sleeping draughts. Phlegm.
Better leave him the paper and get shut of him.


*Lines in this found poem are taken in order between erasures from “The Lotus Eaters” episode of Ulysses by James Joyce.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

The Most Insidious Trump Tactic

The most insidious tactic of the Trump presidency is the message to us, the vast majority of Americans who are against him, is that we can do nothing to depose him. It is true that we have seen the Teflon Don survive innumerable scandals, that executive secrecy, doublespeak, and attacks on the media hamper freedom of information, and that Trump's autocratic threats are intimidating. And the craven Republican response to all this does not help. But remember: We are the majority. We have powerful leaders and allies. And we are informed and motivated. Let's keep sharing information, support one another, and work toward defeating the Republican majorities in the midterms in 2018 to impeach and convict Trump.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

"Abortion Hallucination" to Appear in Anthology

I  am proud to announce that my poem, "Abortion Hallucination," will appear in the anthology, Choice Words: Poems about Abortion edited by Annie Finch. Keep abortion safe and legal for all women!

Schadenfreude

Special Prosecutor Mueller has hired a specialist to review Trump orbit financials and an expert in obstruction of justice prosecution; Jared Kushner will appear before the Senate Intelligence committee June 23rd; committees in the House and Senate are calling for tapes and for Jeff Sessions to testify. Mike Flynn has handed over 600 pages of documents, and if he gets the immunity he wants, well, there will be a story to tell. Forgive my schadenfreude, friends, but I am really going to enjoy watching Trumpworld unravel.

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