Suit Case / Stair Case / Head Case

Lisa Gordon Photography
These days, I want everything made of wool and fire.
I count fireball sheep, but never get to sleep.

Mama said, I'm at my wit's end
with you, girl.
Mama said, you got the devil in you,
and that I can't abide.

Doctor Willoughby asks, why did you set the fire?
Do you remember setting the fire?
His eyes swim in turpentine.
I dream of painting him; painting him on fire.

At home, I went out of my bedroom at night,
down the double rut path that cuts through the woods.
Mama found out.
Mama whipped me good.

I brought a suitcase here, and inside it are postcards
of famous pretty people who cannot sleep.
(I know because I watch them.
Their eyes never close, so I scratch them out.)

Dr. Willoughby speaks to my mother in private.
I don't know what he says, but she never comes back.
That is the end of the good news.
The bad news is that he is worse.

He tells me that I am full of sexual waywardness,
and moral decay.
He asks about boyfriends, again and again.
I tell him Mama kept the rooster, cut the head off the hen.

If I had wool and fire, I could keep it quiet inside my head.
They fill it with fireball sheep, and afterwards,
I can't remember things,
and sleep for most of a week.

Dr. Willoughby asks why I set the fire.
Do I remember setting the fire?
I tell him that ever since I was born
I've only wanted to be warm.

Somewhere in an attic several floors above my head
(my poor head),
is my suitcase.
It's up the staircase.

I'm not a rare case, says Dr. Willoughby;
but when he forgets and sets his pen down near my hand,
I can think of nothing but his eyes--fire and eyes-- 
when he sighs and shakes his head.

for Margaret's super superb challenge at Real Toads. She asks for a first person account inspired by Willard Asylum.



Jinksy said…
Your title is as masterful as the following poem! What an insight to a troubled mind...
Anonymous said…
It is hard for me to find the words to describe how impressed I am with this poem. Such feeling, such flow, such imagery. One of the very best poems I have read and actually FELT in a long time! Bravo!
Kathryn Dyche said…
Incredible Shay, I felt as though I was 'seeing' this.
Yvonne Osborne said…
Love your title and the poem, and the repetition is very effective. We see the fire and the doctor's eyes, swimming in turpentine.
Anonymous said…
Agh. Very painful, sad, vividly realized, thanks. k.
TexWisGirl said…
oh, my. tortured, dangerous, wild and pained.
hedgewitch said…
From the first phrase this is just utterly terrifying in the familiarity of the feelings, the ones we keep locked up and never show, that here have escaped for us to see the bitter consequences that come when we reveal them to the wrong people. I love how the rhyme seeps into the piece slowly as the madness, horror and grief get stronger; somehow that contrast of control in the words gives even more purpose to the madness in the last lines, and more horror as well. So glad I didn't read this before I tried to write something--I'd be marking out my own eyes.
This is remarkably true to the inner world of madness as to be the very voice of someone suffering the effects of abuse and its ability to scramble mind's balance. Wool and fire and turpentine eyes- damn! And where she ended up- horror over horror.
Sherry Blue Sky said…
You just totally. nailed. it. Brilliantly!
Sumana Roy said…
the pain is so tangible...great
Marian said…
whoosh, i feel like i know something of that fire. very, very nice, Shay.
Anonymous said…
This is great! Those suitcases, just waiting to go home. You rocked the challenge with your mad woman.
Lolamouse said…
This made me remember a day when I was young, probably about 10 or so, that I scratched the eyes out of several pictures I had because I was so angry at the people. I often looked at the white blank eyeholes and felt a mixture of thrill and horror at myself. This poem brought it all back.
Susan said…
Vivid, believable. Gosh. Great title. I especially like what she learns from her postcards ...
I don't believe you wrote to the prompt. I believe this am a documentary. A fanciful feast of fire and imagination. Loved it .
Mama Zen said…
This is brilliant and disturbing.
Susie Clevenger said…
Brilliant pen strokes of a peek into a troubled mind. I have walked too close to insane in some dark periods of my life. This is too real.
Anonymous said…
frightening and fantastic, Shay ~
Sioux Roslawski said…
Shay--This was just a speck of dirt away from the edge of the dark abyss.
Mimi Foxmorton said…
As always, you step over the line from the ordinary to bring us to the guts and heart of any topic. Chilling. And wonderful!
Sara said…

Loved the poem, but I sort of got sidetracked by the links to the suitcases. OMG, I can't imagine being in a place like that, but there's so sad about suitcases being left behind and yet, if I'm really honest there's also something fascinating about them.
Kerry O'Connor said…
Phew! I knew you would write an amazing response to this prompt, and this lives up to expectations. The narrative voice is both appealing and sinister at the same time, and I feel torn between sympathy and terror at your little fire-starter.
Margaret said…
I think this might be my fifth time reading this. My long delay in responding to this challenge is in no way a representation of a lack-luster attitude. Just been BUSY and I wanted to MAKE TIME for these responses.

Since I have read this quite a few times, I feel like I know this woman. I want to set her free, and lock up her mother and doctor! The "famous people - their eyes never close" is just SO good and I find myself saying over and over "Mama kept the rooster, cut the head off the hen"… I can see her saying that with fixed eyes looking out through tousled hair that she is twining about her fingers…

Fireball sheep is absolutely perfect - makes me wonder at the drugs they were giving her! and her suitcase to be opened 100 years later… I actually thought the first time I read this that at the end she was going to stab the doctor with his pen!

Of course, great character development and I did NOW you would excel with this. ;)

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