Stuart Barnes

in response to my first GROW meeting
(GROW is a World Community Mental Health Movement, a 12 Step Program)

It began as a recommendation
from a soul mate’s brother who,
in the Australian tropics in the 1980s,
was unable to leave his bedroom for many months
for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

I never thought I’d one day fill his shoes:
turning on, off, on the irresistible white dials of the gas stove;
or locking, unlocking, relocking the gleaming front door
while another soul mate doodled with saintly patience
on a paper napkin at the corner café

– so palpable the fear I’d again set fire
to something in my apartment (high on ketamine
and Ecstasy, I’d years ago passed out in bed with a smouldering cigarette);
or arrive home late one night to find, grinning like the Cheshire Cat,
in my leather armchair the man who’d raped me –

so strange the manifestations of the mind.

It was an August evening – moon a grinning scimitar,
roily purplish skies – when I locked, un-
locked, relocked my freedom fighter mountain bike outside
a community hall in Carlton North. No anima animus on the streets.
The exhaust from the nearby freeway mirrored the clouds.

I made it, I remember praying, but only God above knows how.
Legs wobbly as a foal’s propelled me toward the front door.
Inside a small room – chill air, plastic callas, holy ring of empty chairs,
fluorescents menacing as Mao – I waited for my Minotaur,
checking the 1950s Smiths electric wall clock;

at the stroke of seven the whitecoats’ patients entered.
All bravely introduced themselves, first names only,
several explaining their diagnoses: Borderline
Personality and Bipolar Disorders, OCD, schizophrenias.
Unsoundness compounded, I stared at the window’s chain-link grid:

to keep the sane ones out? I thought, or the mad men like me in?


Clash of the Yellowhammers – shot in Scot-
land by seventeen-year-old Fergus Gill,
2009’s Young Photographer.
Two males whir before a sheaf of oats, one’s
wings unfurled in warning, defending, the
other shattering the morning with its
wail; the snowy backdrop’s a luminous
nurse. Once upon a time you’d curse like that
bird: flying at dawn into a dybbuk
rage, attacking what I’d always attempt
to conserve. My broken nose healed (‘I don’t
deserve you’), but the psychic scars are still
bloody as Bluebeard’s wives. The sepias
lie. Only the whitecoats could bring you peace.

Stuart Barnes' poetry has been published in print and online. He also writes short stories and is working on his first novel. He lives in Melbourne, Australia.
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