Join the Club
Flashing my neurotic's badge I dare them
to ask me for my license. I don't look
much different from the rest of them -
in fact, a certain calm emanates.
I've seen and felt so much I'm like
a bird on a withered tree, singing.
Diagnosis proclaims me not psychotic.
Sensitive and shy, this patient
has symptoms of depression with a touch
of anxiety and agoraphobia.
We're not supposed to read our files,
but just the same, we do.
It's really quite interesting
the way the doctors size us up,
and there's a preening of feathers,
and comparing of notes.
Sensitive and shy sounds quite genteel,
as opposed to schizoid, paranoid
and abusive, anorexic, manic,
or simply mad.
I'm really quite presentable - not that
you could take me anywhere - I tend
to shiver and sweat in open spaces.
Still, I only suffer from a disease
as common as a cold, ubiquitous
as birds on withered trees, singing.
Poetry as therapy is not quite acceptable.
Myself, I find it more effective
than valium. It's just that if
the literary world took us too seriously
we'd be out on our necks, and ours,
like Anne Boleyn's, are extremely slender,
even if the executioner is very expert.
We are a clean and well-behaved lot,
don't need a leper's bell,
but keep our badges polished
just in case we recognise our kind.
I'm introspective. What are you?
Oh, me, comes the reply. I'm just a bird
on a withered tree, singing.
Elizabeth Bartlett was born in 1924 and died early this summer. I discovered her through a piece in the paper and really enjoyed the poem there. Before she died, a major retrospective, drawing on more than 50 years of her writing was published - Two Women Dancing: New and Selected Poems (Bloodaxe Publishing) - emerged in 1995. This poem is from that collection, and also appears in a new anthology, We Have Come Through: 100 Poems Celebrating Courage in Overcoming Depression and Trauma, edited by Peter Forbes. The volume celebrates the 10th anniversary of Survivors' Poetry, a UK charity founded to help support the mental health community.
Poetry Friday is today at the mentally balanced blog of A Year of Reading.