Poem for the Day: October 12th, 2021

The Orange Bottle by Joshua Mehigan

The clear orange bottle was empty. 
It had been empty a day.
It suddenly seemed so costly
and uncalled for anyway.

Two years had passed. They had passed
more or less the way years should.
Maybe he’d changed. Or maybe
the doctors had misunderstood.

It was June. The enormous elm tree
was green again, and the scent
of   hyacinth reached through the window
and followed wherever he went.

And the sky was the firmament!
His life was never better.
Each small white spotless cloud that passed
was like a long-wished-for letter.

But then he remembered his promise.
It came like a mild cramp,
and it sat there all day in the back of   his mind
like a gas bill awaiting a stamp.

He saw three faces that Sunday,
mother, sister, niece,
all with the same kind, brown, scared eyes
that brought him no peace.

The sidewalk sparrows were peeping.
His whole house smelled like a flower.
But he remembered his promise.
The drugstore said one hour.

Back home again, he was tired.
The label said caution, said warning.
He left the clear orange bottle
on the lip of   the sink till morning.

The insert said warning, said caution.
The insert said constipation.
It said insomnia, vivid dreams,
and hypersalivation,
and increased urination,
and a spinning sensation.

It also said night sweats, and
agranulocytosis,
and strongly suggested a full glass of   water
be drunk with all doses.

The insert said all this,
the insert he never read.
But he didn’t have to read it
to know what it said.

The bedroom was calm with moonlight
and the breeze through the screen was cooling.
Through the elm leaves the shivery light on the wall
came like quicksilver pooling.

But   just before five, something woke him —
a close whisper — or maybe a far cry —
and the bedroom was queasy with light the color
of   lapis lazuli.

He lay there listening hard
till six, till seven, till eight    ...
At nine he remembered the bottle.
But nine, nine was too late.

“Don’t take me!” cried the Clozapine.
“Don’t take me!” cried the pill.
By ten he was feeling restless,
with a whole day left to kill.

“Don’t take me!” cried the Clozapine.
“Yes, don’t!” cried the medication.
And the bright yellow morning seemed suddenly edged
with a shady fascination.

Why should he go to his workplace?
Who was his supervisor?
He had a sickening feeling
that he was becoming wiser.

His room filled up with interest.
He had begun to think!
He thought of the knives in the kitchen
and the bottles under the sink.

He thought as he switched the stove on
or stood at his shaving mirror,
or reached for his belt in the wardrobe.
Thinking made things clearer.

Even the bedroom window,
the open window full of sun,
continually hinted
at something that should be done.

But he was crooked and useless.
He was a piece of shit.
And so, as everyone knew he would,
he failed to go through with it.

“Don’t take me!” cried the Clozapine.
“Don’t take me!” cried the drug.
Just then, the telephone rang.
Just then, he ripped out the plug.

“Don’t take me!” cried the Clozapine.
“Don’t take me!” cried the poison.
And the door of   the house creaked open,
and the cellar door lilted and murmured,
and the garden gate groaned and yawned
and let a little noise in.

There, just outside his window,
lurked life like a cheap cartoon.
He shut the sash, locked it, and checked it,
and checked it all afternoon.

He lowered the blinds on that world,
no longer an agent of   it,
but then, with one finger, pulled down a slat
and set his eye above it.

At first it was grimly amusing,
at last it was grimly grim,
to watch all those hunched, hurried people,
who made like they weren’t watching him.

The neighbors were thinking out loud.
They knew he was no fucking good.
So he slumped on a stool in the corner
like a bad little snaggletooth should.

They called him a dirty pig, and laughed,
and said he shouldn’t exist.
Sometimes they made a tsking sound,
or oinked at him, or hissed.

They hissed that he was to blame
for everything, and everyone knew it,
and that if   he weren’t such a pussy
he’d know what to do, and he’d do it.

He lay on his side on the rug
unable to move at all
except for his big right toe,
which dug and dug at the wall,
which dug at the wall,
which dug.

“Don’t take me!” cried the Clozapine.
“Don’t take me!” cried the cure.
And they begged him to sew his mouth shut
just to make goddamn sure.

“Don’t take me!” cried the Clozapine.
“Don’t take me!” cried the poison.
And the gate to the wicked city gaped,
and the gates of the temple screamed and screamed,
and the gates of the garden groaned and yawned,
and the gates of the ziggurat gabbled in grief,
and sucked all life’s sorrows and joys in.

His thoughts were advancing like wolves.
He lay still for an hour and a half,
then reared up onto his rickety legs
like a newborn calf.

Then rug
hall
stairs
porch
stoop
street
and the blacktop humanly warm
on the soles of   his naked feet.

His walk was stiffened by fear,
but it took him where he was going,
into the terrible world
of children and daffodils growing,
and friendly people helloing,
and the Super out doing the mowing,
and the two old sisters out in wool sweaters with their wrinkled
cheeks pinkly glowing,
and the pretty lady who would give birth by Christmas barely
showing but showing,
and the policeman helping to keep the lazy afternoon traffic
flowing,
and time itself slowing,
and none of them, none of them knowing

that an odious axis was forming,
that it would not be controlled,
that schemes were afoot, that a foot
was a thing for a jackboot to hold,

that the street was a movie set,
that it was not warm and sunny,
that a creditor was calling
who could not be paid with money,

that the world was like a sliver
of   iron held in the hand,
and his mind the lodestone above it
that made it stir or stand,

that the air was slowly changing
to a color they didn’t know,
that he was a famous doctor
on a television show.

But what could he do? Even friends
would take these facts for lies,
and he couldn’t tell who the enemies were,
though he felt the hot breath of their eyes,

so he kept his big mouth shut
and tried to play along,
and plowed down the street toward the coffeeshop
as if nothing at all were wrong.

He tried not to notice the numbers
painted on garbage cans.
He tried and he tried not to look
at the black unmarked sedans.

The coffeeshop smelled like coffee,
but it felt different inside.
A new waitress went by. She winked.
He kept his eyes open wide.

Everything screamed “Run away!”
But he wasn’t really there!
So he stood by the gumball machines
and smiled and tried not to stare.

“The power is yours!” said a T-shirt.
“Look for lightning!” reported the weather.
And the stranger who offered the Sports section said,
“It’s all there, Chief. Just put it together.”

Then wild-eyed out of the kitchen
stormed a small, hard old man,
shouting in a strange language
and waving a frying pan,

shoving him out the door
and into the chattering street,
shoving him, waving, shouting,
and pointing at his feet,
at his bare, gray feet.

Then came the dark blue uniform,
the badge glinting in the sun,
and the belt jangling like a storm trooper’s
as the boots broke into a run.

“Take that!” cried the patrolman.
“Take that!” cried Johnny Law.
Street, knee, neck —
cuffs, curb, jaw.

And the flatfoot pushed him, bleeding,
into the sleek cruiser,
and he heard all the gawkers thinking
that he was a pig and a loser,

and his chin throbbed,
and the handcuffs ate at his wrist,
and he would be hacked into pieces soon
and would not be missed.

“Don’t take me!” cried the victim.
“Don’t take me!” cried the threat.
But the angry back of a head
was the only response he could get.

Lying on his side like a child
at the end of a big day,
he gazed up through the window
and watched it all slip away.

The little pen where they put him
had a toilet but no stall.
Here and there a message
scarred the gloss-white wall.

Time passed. But you couldn’t tell it
on the trapped fly ticking the ceiling,
or the flickering light overhead,
or the sore on his chin congealing,
or on the sound of the other pigs in the other pens, squealing.

When the men came, he was ready.
He talked. They took it all down.
And soon they were back in the cruiser,
on their way across town.

Then, into the mirrored building,
over the waxed lobby floors,
down miles of echoing hallways,
through the heavy brown doors,

into a humming beige room
with a bed and a river view,
and an outside lock, and jailers
who wore white instead of blue.

“Take that,” smiled the doctor.
“Take that,” smiled the nurse.
He pressed his lips still tighter,
and things got worse and worse.

“Please!” threatened the nurse.
“Please!” growled the doctor.
He raised his fists to cover his mouth,
but the nurse was too close, and he clocked her.

Now into the room came the big men,
who did not clamor or shout,
but pinned him with ease to the bed,
strapped him down, and went out.

And the doctor was there again, trailing
a spider web of cologne,
and the doctor told what would happen next,
in an expert monotone,

and the nurse took a needle
and emptied it into his arm,
and they both left, content
that he could do no more harm,

and he fought, and the straps cut his shoulders,
and he gnawed at his lip, and it bled,
and he held his bladder for three long hours,
then shivered and pissed the bed.

When the doctor came a fifth time,
it was long past dawn.
They’d found him a room, said the doctor,
gently restraining a yawn.

The next two days were sleep,
and words through a fine white mist.
Then he woke inside a machine
whose motion he couldn’t resist:

“Tick-tock,” said the clock.
“Creak, creak,” said the bed.
“Drip, drip,” said the sink.
“Throb, throb,” went his head.
“Ho-hum,” sighed the night nurse.
“Heh-heh,” said the sicko.
“Why? Why?” screamed the patient.
“Howl, howl!” cried the psycho.
“Wolf! Wolf!” cried the boy.
“Gobble, gobble!” sang the freaks.
“Sa, sa!” cried the king.
“Tick-tock,” went the weeks.
“Bang, bang,” said the tv.
“Teeter-totter,” went his brain.
“Click, click,” went the checkers.
“Pitter-patter,” went the rain.
“Bring-bring,” said the pay phone.
“Snip, snip,” went Fate.
“Jangle-jingle,” went the keys.
“Clank-clink,” went the gate.
“Bye-bye,” said the nurse.
“Bye-bye,” said the guard.
“Bar-bar,” said the doctor.
“Baa-baa,” said the lamb.
“My, my,” said his mother.
“Boohoo!” cried Bo Peep.
“Bow-wow,” said the wolf.
“Baa-baa,” said the sheep.

In the car away from that place,
the family had a pleasant chat.
He seemed fine again, and humble,
though his speech was oddly flat.

He said that the halfway house
where he would be residing
was located on a quiet block and had
green vinyl siding.

There he met new people
and watched the television,
which did not watch him back
or speak to him with derision,

and he performed certain tasks,
meant to teach certain skills,
and he got small checks from the government
to pay his enormous bills.

Each night he fell asleep,
and each morning he got up,
and he washed down his medicine
and squashed the paper cup,

feeling, in all, much better,
more in touch with common sense,
and also slightly bored
by the lack of consequence.

And the church bells rang
and a dinner bell tinkled
and the school bell tolled
and called all the good girls and boys in.
And all of them brought all their toys in.
And all of them swallowed their poison.

© 2013 Joshua Mehigan. Today’s poem originally appeared in the February 2013 issue of Poetry.

Each person acting in the subject’s welfare is cruelly indifferent towards him, wanting to make him less of a problem instead of helping him to manage his illness(es) and therefore lead a richer and happier life.

I know I don’t usually post long-form poems, but I made an exception for today because I love the way Mehigan evokes the vagaries of mental illness in “The Orange Bottle”. The subject of the poem experiences a brief burst of mania followed by a deep and relentless depression. His erratic behavior, which a compassionate person would interpret as a cry for help and indicate a need for treatment, leads instead to his arrest, imprisonment, and later hospitalization. Each person acting in the subject’s welfare is cruelly indifferent towards him, wanting to make him less of a problem instead of helping him to manage his illness(es) and therefore lead a richer and happier life.

Despite all of our gilded discourse surrounding vulnerability and destigmatization, mental illness is still something that many people don’t understand and probably don’t even want to.

Despite all of our gilded discourse surrounding vulnerability and destigmatization, mental illness is still something that many people don’t understand and probably don’t even want to. I myself come from a long line of severely mentally-ill people. Generational trauma, complex PTSD, and substance abuse disorders exacerbated by abject poverty and a lack of proper treatment have wreaked havoc on both sides of my family line. It doesn’t help that the Evangelical bootstraps rhetoric that generations of my people have been subjected to has caused many of them to see their illnesses as symptoms of a spiritual malady and not a chemical imbalance in the brain.

We deserve to live out in the open, wounds visible.

I want better for them. I want better for all of us. And that all starts by telling our stories, by refusing to be cowed by convention or silenced by stigma. We deserve to live out in the open, wounds visible. That’s the first step to getting better.

Thanks as always for being a faithful reader of The Voracious Bibliophile. If you like what you see, please like, comment, follow, and subscribe to my email list to get notified of new posts as soon as they drop. You can also email me at fred.slusher@thevoraciousbibliophile.com or catch me on Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, and Pinterest @voraciousbiblog. Keep reading the world, one page (or pixel) at a time.

Self Care Pinterest Board

As someone who lives with multiple mental health issues, I know how daunting it can be at times to perform even the most rudimentary acts of self-care. In that vein, I’ve been curating a Pinterest board full of positive messages and self care tips for people who want to take better care of themselves but don’t really know where or how to begin. I’ve also got a couple of designs that I made myself that I’ve not yet pinned, but more on that later.

For now, if you’d like to check out my Pinterest board dedicated to self care, check out the code below.

Thanks as always for being a faithful reader of The Voracious Bibliophile. If you like what you see, please like, comment, follow, and subscribe to my email list to get notified of new posts as soon as they drop. You can also email me at fred.slusher@thevoraciousbibliophile.com or catch me on Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, and Pinterest @voraciousbiblog. Keep reading the world, one page (or pixel) at a time.

Right Now, I’m Just Deeply Unwell

My intention with this blog was always to have a polished forum where I could talk about art (be it literature, film, music, etc.). But I can feel it transforming into something else as well. As someone who is neurodivergent, talking about my struggles with depression, anxiety, and PTSD is incredibly liberating.

And I’m not okay right now. I am the very definition of not okay. My work environment is incredibly toxic right now, and today I’m going to have to deal with something that even thinking about fills me with dread so thick I can taste it, like bile, creeping up to choke me. I’m not even sure I’ll be employed by the end of the day. There is only so much one person can withstand, and I’m at my limit.

This post isn’t going to have a tidy resolution. One day, I’m just going to start screaming and I don’t know if I’ll be able to stop.

Take care of yourself, friends. If you can help it, refuse to swallow the shit people throw at you. That’s all for now.

Thanks as always for being a faithful reader of The Voracious Bibliophile. If you like what you see, please follow, like, comment, and subscribe to my email list to get notified of new posts as soon as they drop. You can also email me at thevoraciousbibliophile@yahoo.com or catch me on Twitter @voraciousbiblog. Keep reading the world, one page (or pixel) at a time.

I’m Just Not Feeling It

Do you ever have a day where you wake up and you know that you have a list of things that need to be accomplished, but you just can’t seem to care about anything?

That’s how I feel today. It is beautiful outside, the birds are chirping, and Julie Andrews is singing The Hills Are Alive while butterflies caress her with their wings. And I’m just so irritable I can’t stand myself, much less anyone else. As I’m looking at the clock, I have just barely over an hour to go before I have to start getting ready for work. Yes, I know I’m lucky to be employed. Yes, just the other day I made a post dedicated exclusively to talking about my hard-won promotion. On an intellectual level, I am grateful— but I’m so freaking tired.

It is beautiful outside, the birds are chirping, and Julie Andrews is singing The Hills Are Alive while butterflies caress her with their wings.

Days like this make me think of Shelley, which makes me smile. Shelley is an older Australian woman I used to work with at my store. She was contrarian, pugnacious, cynical, and sarcastic. She designated herself as our resident Mean Old Bitch and wore the title like a badge of honor. Sometimes I miss her so much that it makes my bones ache. We had a bond, we two. I love her and I know she loves me, and that’s for forever.

She designated herself as our resident Mean Old Bitch and wore the title like a badge of honor.

The rapport we quickly developed morphed into a beautiful friendship I’ll cherish as long as there’s breath in my body. One day when we were working together, she looked at me and out of nowhere exclaimed, “Shit, there’s got to be something fucking better than this.” A gentle warning for you: if the word “fuck” offends you even mildly, never work with an Australian émigré. I’m fairly certain Australian elementary school teachers end the school week by telling their pupils to “fuck off and have fun”.

One day when we were working together, she looked at me and out of nowhere, exclaimed, “Shit, there’s got to be something fucking better than this.”

I think about what she said that day a lot. She was right; there’s got to be something fucking better than this. I’m going to make it my life’s work to try to find it. For both of us. Bless her heart, the sour old bitch had to work retail right up until the pandemic forced her into an early retirement, followed by a move to Florida with her son. If you ever read this, Shelley, I love you. If we both end up in hell, please save me some space in your cabana.

If you ever read this, Shelley, I love you. If we both end up in hell, please save me some space in your cabana.

There’s not a tidy resolution for this post. I always get irritated when I’m reading something about someone having a bad day and they “somehow turned it around”. Nope. You can stop right there. A big part of self-care for me is just allowing myself to feel like shit when I feel like shit because it’s my brain’s way of telling me there’s something I need to process that I can’t happy-think my way out of.

A big part of self-care for me is just allowing myself to feel like shit when I feel like shit because it’s my brain’s way of telling me there’s something I need to process that I can’t happy-think my way out of.

I mean, let’s be real. I’m working a full-time, public-facing retail job in the middle of an ongoing global pandemic in a world that’s literally on fire from climate change and living with more mental health disorders than Meryl Streep has Oscar nominations. Ergo, I’m allowed to feel like shit. And so are you!

If you also feel bad today, know that I see you and I stand in solidarity with you, not to talk you out of your pain but to weather it with you until we all feel better. Much love.

Thanks as always for being a faithful reader of The Voracious Bibliophile. If you like what you see, please follow, like, comment, and subscribe to my email list to get notified of new posts as soon as they drop. You can also email me at thevoraciousbibliophile@yahoo.com or catch me on Twitter @voraciousbiblog. Keep reading the world, one page (or pixel) at a time.