Friday, February 24, 2012

A Dialogue of Poems

I am way behind online, but am slowly working my way along my To Do list. Earlier this week at Imaginary Gardens with Real Toads,  Kenia's Wednesday Challenge was very intriguing: Write a poem that keeps a dialogue with another poem, or poet.

Right away, I knew I wanted to respond to Amy Barlow Liberatore's The Ward and Me at Amy's blog Sharp Little Pencil.  Amy's poem struck me with its description of a landscape I, too, have visited, with all of a mother's pain, trying with the sheer will of my spirit to tether a fragile child to this earth. I saw - and see -  that journey, not  as a story of brokenness, but rather of striving towards whatever wholeness is possible in the face of overwhelming adversity, and of the limits to our endurance of human pain.

My son is now 41, and has progressed through several lifetimes worth of evolution. He has suffered a great deal on his journey, but has lately won his way to greater stability and, often, he tells me, joy. He is a delight to me, still brilliant, hilarious, gifted at seeing the "little miracles", still writing, still creating music - classical music now, which he taught himself to do from library books. We agree that the journey we have made together  has brought us many gifts we might never have experienced by any other pathway. Gifts of compassion, communication, authenticity, respect and unconditional love. We might have wished for less suffering. But neither of us would have missed this journey for the world.

Here is Amy's poem, followed by my response.

The Ward and Me

by Amy Barlow Liberatore
Shadowy business, this
Nestled in the crook of a couch
for another shrink rap
My balance, shaky at best
This ward filled with walking open sores
Memories ooze from their psychic wounds
The runoff seeps up the floorboards
leaving smudgy, evil footprints
Traces of ghosts linger, follow us inmates:
Xeroxed Marleys, hovering phantoms whispering
what happened back when
back then
Grandma Blanche was a frequent flier,
restless for answers to
bizarre questions that made Grandpa cringe
and then commit her
They’d strap her down
They’d scorched her tortured brain
A sick science fair
I know that old game, how they
sucked the fun out of her
so I play along
I’m afraid but don’t let it show
I whistle a happy tune
This will all be over soon
I think
     *****     *****     *****     ****

Oh, I know this speckled landscape.
Aged shabby building, dismal ward 
old and dreary,gray, needing paint. 
No color anywhere.
Up the scuffed and shabby stairs,
I climb, 
my heart sinking.
It feels like
the abandoned ones
live here.

My laughing,hilarious boy

is now a fragile, lean six-footer,

seventeen and in the psych ward.

I peek into his room, 

I call his name.

His head emerges from the blanket.
He comes to me. 
He is shaking when we hug.
But he smiles, the same big smile.
His eyes - the same blue eyes,
though now haunted by the visions
of his waking dream.
I feel relief. This is still my son,
and I will tether him to this planet
by the sheer force
of a mother's will.
I will become a tree trunk
that he can fasten the kite
of his  tremulous heart to,
that heart trying to decide
if it is halfway in
or halfway out
of this old world.
"Make it stop," he says.
"It's like a bad trip that never stops,
like being in hell.
Voices, clamoring and shouting.
It's scary."
He is  brilliant, talented,
a mystic, a dreamer,
a musician, a lover of life,
with all of the sensitivity
of the creative artist.
He has walked the fine line
between daybreak and hellfire,
and has fallen.
"Please. Make it stop."
I will. Somehow,
if it takes a hundred years,
I will Make. It. Stop.
While he sleeps, I watch
the other depressed souls,
locked within their lonely worlds of pain,
they, too, making their solitary treks
through the labyrinth
of their own minds.
I think about the fragility and, also,
the resilience of the human spirit,
that in a nanosecond, any one of us
might topple over into that land
of rain-speckled windows, tears,
and no more hope.
My gentle son now inhabits
this barren landscape.
He, too, paces these drab corridors,
hours marked out
in pill cups, naps and hospital trays.
Where will his beauty find a place to land
in halls so bleak and bare?

I tiptoe into his room,
where he sleeps, mercifully delivered
from his new waking reality.
Beside his bed I see a scrap of paper
with a few lines written
in his quirky spikey script.
"I am Cloud.
 Someone blow me
My mother's heart grows cold with fear.
I walk out of the room,
down the gray hall,
the gray, drab stairs,
out into the noisy city street,
alive around me,
while my son lies
in the psych ward,
his life hanging in the balance.
I am Cloud.
Someone blow me



  1. Oh, Sherry, this is so very, very sad. I wish I could say something useful, something helpful.
    If it helps to know I care, I do.

  2. Very sensitive poem, Sherry. I can feel the depth of love you have for your son, and I know you would 'make it stop' if you could.

  3. I admire greatly the soul of the person who can write this:

    I will become a tree trunk
    that he can fasten the kite
    of his tremulous heart to...

    Anyone who has been through the terrifying madness of having lived with a loved one who suffers from mental disorder will instantly recognize the crushing brutality of the hopelessness that all too easily becomes the norm. Your offer of a tree on which to tie the kite comes from a deeply loving, deeply compassionate place.

  4. Truly beautiful, though scary. You have said it well, with variations it could be the story of everyone.

  5. Sherry, you honor me by using my poem as the springboard to express your own feelings. Ironically, my daughter was in a suicide ward at one point as well. Every single drop of your dogged determination to keep your son "tethered" is reflected not only in my own experience but in the DNA of every parent who has watched their child go through this hell.

    Bless you for your honesty and your Wild Woman tenacity. God bless your baby boy and my baby girl, grown though they may be. May they always know their moms are with them all the way.

    Love, Amy

  6. See my blog today for my take on our tag-team motherhood. Wanted all my readers to know about you! A.

  7. Two sad stories both with projected hope. Thanks for sharing.

  8. Sherry and Amy, you two are awesome women.


  9. I am stunned by the magnificence that you are. You have a heart the size of the earth ... and I limit it's size to earth for I am unable to envision anything bigger.

    This was a beautiful rendering by two of my favorite people in the blogosphere.

    I am honored to know and care about you both.


  10. I travelled here from Amy's blog, and find myself with breath taken away. My story of many years ago lies written in these conjoined poems, as does my daughter's life just a few years back. How good it is to know that there are others who understand the torment and terror, and yet how painful it is to realize that we have had to come to know.

  11. It must be so very hard to be a mother and to see a child you carried inside you for 9 months and gave birth too, and raised up become sick in this way.
    So hard to see him in the hospital and yet know that he is in the best place to help him take meds that will see him come back to our reality and not be stuck inside what he sees was his own.
    I have a feeling you are a wonderful mother Sherry, and you are so blessed to have each other and all of you children and blessed to have you as a mother.

  12. came over from amy's...whew...i often go into the psyche ward with the work i do..a tough place...the trunk the cloud one..nice repitition for affect...but the story def is all too real....

  13. Thank you for your compassionate comments, my friends. The message I wish to impart to other parents whose children go through such passages is that their children are still In There - we have to hold on tight to them, stay strong, so they dont slip away. I appreciate all of your words so very much:)

  14. Mothers have to be strong, and your poem proves that you are, and loving and determined. The first time I read it I couldn't comment for weeping at some buried memories of my own. I admire this poem very much.

  15. I love Amy's poems and the way she gets into the real heart of a situation. I'm really pleased you to have found each other and can share a friendship and such great poetry.

  16. I came by your blog through Amy's - Sharp Little Pencil ... I enjoyed your poem very much. It was helpful for me to feel less alone in my pain on this same issue. No one knows what a Mother goes through except a Mother who has. It's hard to be optimistic in light of it all. You seem to have a tight grip on it. God Bless you and your son.

  17. I too found your poem, Sherry, from Amy's page. As a parent, I felt the air being squeezed out of me as I read both poems. I guess you never know where the strength might come from - or when you might be called upon to use it, but as my mother is fond of saying, "You just do what you have to do."

    And you both do.

  18. I have been dealing with a mentally ill son for the last 4 years or more. I myself struggle with depression. Both poems really speak to me. I have never said this ever before anywhere but sometimes I get very tired of being strong and doing what I have to do. I love my son to the bottom of my soul but I just feel so worn out. I keep going because I love him so much.

  19. Anonymous, I wish I had some way to email you privately to talk with you about this. If you do come back, feel most welcome to email me at I know about the feeling tired, about the wondering how on earth one can keep on. I have so often been tired of being the strong one in the family, the one who never dares collapse.

    I have chronic fatigue and sometimes on my trips to the city to visit my son, I have actual trouble putting one foot in front of the other, so exhausted am I by the whole situation. Yes, we keep going because we love them so much. Somehow we manage to take that next step and the next.

    My great source of replenishment and solace is the beauty of matter what is going on, life - just being alive - is always a gift. My son believes this as much as I do, even through his suffering. Do take care of yourself. Remember you have to take care of your son's parent. Where would he be without you?

  20. Oh, Sherry ... your pain and creative description of it overwhelm me. As you now know, I am on this path with my own lovely daughter. She too is gifted ... with her, it is visual arts.

    I'm glad we've "met" this evening, Sherry. You are an inspiration, as is our Amy.

    May God be with you and your son, and all those who cross your paths.


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