Bio Note: I have worked in a mental hospital for the past 10 years. Although I have tried to keep my "day job” separate from vocation, in the past few years, I found that I needed to express some of the mixed emotions about such a job. These poems and many of the others in my recent collection, Notes to the Mental Hospital Timekeeper, (Kelsay Books, 2019) explore these emotions and different aspects of mental illness.
The March Hare
♫ Matchmaker, Matchmaker, Make Me a Match ♫ It was almost the end of the shift, someone on the Muzak above was playing a bebop version of Matchmaker, when one of the patients sauntered over. Slouching in front of me, he hooked his thumbs into his belt loops, spread his legs apart and rocked back and forth copping a kind of wise guy, cowboy attitude. He said he wanted to leave, and he understood the best way to get outta Dodge was to get married, and then, he could leave tonight. I could call him a cab, but first, I had to find him a woman to marry. He must have been sizing me up all night. I’d been hanging out in a nice comfy armchair, with a modern, cartoonish pattern of outsized flowers in a soothing, non-violent color scheme that went well with the rest of the unit’s subtle decor. The tune, piping down from the ceiling, changed to something I couldn’t recognize, but I was still feeling pretty good: no woman in my life, music in my ears, and until then, a quiet night in the tilting house of the hare. By now, he was looming over me, intently waiting for my answer. All six foot six of him, and by his girth, a good four hundred and fifty pounds–– maybe more. . . . Well, I said, as I stood up to my full five foot nine and a half inches, let me look into this. I’ve got to enquire to see who’s available. It might take a . . . moment or two, but I’ll get right back, and I sauntered out of reach whistling whatever tune was playing––maybe Hit the Road, Jack with a fast alto sax squealing out like a tire or Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover, something memorable for one man’s desire but not another’s.
Originally published in The Worcester Review
Note to the Mental Hospital Timekeeper
Dear Bob, Today, I subbed at the hospital school, babysitting class after class, teaching the kids nothing––the ones who live across the street in the group homes the hospital runs. As you can see from the time clock, ADP provides both you and me, it took the allotted six point five hours before the kids and I gathered up our coats and hats, calling it a day, and they trudged back to the locked doors of their houses, and I climbed the stairs to the locked door of my garret, where I write you this poem instead of my usual email––not about the extra money I am due––but about the grains of sand, which seemed to sift through my fingers, today, each grain chafing at another life each child imagines living, and about the heaviness weighing on them, drooping their shoulders like sand bags the residents of some river town carry to make the embankments they need to hold back the imminent flood. Nonetheless, please remember to credit me the higher pay rate I am in fact due, if only for offering my empty hand, then for filling it with pencils I personally sharpened, cursing the pencil maker for their off-center leads, as I then gave each student their own wand to calculate the magic of wisdom and to mark down the answers they are trying to find: the true values of the algebraic x’s in the countless disappointments that make up the lopsided equations of their lives. Tomorrow, I’ll sub again, and I promise to send you another reminder. Until then, keep the home fires burning and the old time clock well oiled. We’ll never know—will we— when the electric world will fail, and the spark of connection dies.
Originally published in Naugatuck River Review
©2020 Tim Mayo
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