Two Poems by Jeanann Verlee

“In the Years After the Psych Ward” & “At the junction”

In the Years After the Psych Ward

after John Murillo

I have to whisper soft as a child. First
she pinches her eyes closed, I notice
but go on. For months, she barricades
herself beneath pillows, flinches
when the lights come on. Or off.
Flinches if a door rattles down the hall,
if I reach to stroke her hair or her hand
or cradle her breast or press my lips
to hers or change my shoes or unbuckle
anything. I’ve learned not to ask what
their bodies did to hers, which hell
urged her into madness. I know it
is not for me to know. It’s not that she
won’t let me touch her. It’s that she
does. Though her skin tightens, jaw
clasps. Though she demands it face-
down to hide wince, cringe. This sick gift:
offering herself to me like a platter
of spoiled meat. How do I refuse? Been
this way since she’s back in the world.

The bridge, the overdose, the spilled
wrist. That she’s even here is a miracle.
Guess you could say the same of me.

     Italicized lines are adapted from “The Prisoner’s Wife” by John Murillo.


At the junction

of Manic and Post-Traumatic Stress
stand the clutch of women I keep closest.

After the assault, they usher me
toward the intangible. Let go, they say.

Can’t be strong always. Fit. Wail. Riot.
Go unapologetically mad.

Instead, I pop another Abilify. A Buspar. Ten.
No longer allowed Xanax, so I settle

for wine. And Benadryl. And Melatonin.
And wine. What they cannot understand

is the anatomy of a manic girl
breaking. No clean edges, no roads back.

Only bloodspatter, leak, voltage.
Sonic boom. Brushfire. Jail time.

Every day, a glorious and appalling
new way to burn down my own house.

Here, the white pill; here, the blue. Here,
the sherry, the roast, the chaser. The nicotine,

the kiss. Fill and keep filling. Swallow, swallow.
Keep the body occupied. Keep it from igniting.


“And I piss on the great saguaro; with my / Lips split open and wide owl eyes.”