English poetry

Poems in English


Richard Chessick, John Gedo, James Grotstein and Vamik Voltan

What darknesses have you lit up for me

What depths of infinite space plumbed

With your finely honed probes

What days of unending distress lightened

With your wisdom, skills and jouissance?

Conquistadores of the unconscious

For three decades how often have I come to you

And from your teachings gathered the manna

Of meaning eluding me alone in my northern eyrie?

Chance or God’s guidance – being a poet I chose the latter –

Brought me to dip my ankle like an amah’s blessing

Into the Holy Ganges of prelude and grosse fuge

Of ego and unconscious, wandering alone

In uncharted waters and faltering

Until I raised my hand and found it grasped

By your firm fingers pulling inexorably shoreward.

Did I know, how could I know, madness

Would descend on my family, first a sad grandfather

Who had wrought destruction on three generations

Including our children’s?

I locked with the horns of madness,

Trusted my learning, won from you at whose feet I sat

Alone and in spirit; yet not once did you let me down,

In ward rounds, staying on after the other visitors –

How few and lost – had gone, chatting to a charge nurse

While together we made our case

To the well meaning but unenlightened psychiatrist,

Chair of the department no less, grumbling good-naturedly

At our fumbling formulations of splitting as a diagnostic aid.

When Cyril’s nightmare vision of me in a white coat

Leading a posse of nurses chasing him round his flat

With a flotilla of ambulances on witches’ brooms

Bringing his psychotic core to the fore and

The departmental chairman finally signing the form.

Cyril discharged on Largactil survived two years

To die on a dual carriageway ‘high on morphine’

And I learned healing is caring as much as knowing,

The slow hard lesson of a lifetime, the concentration

Of a chess master, the footwork of a dancer,

The patience of a scholar and a saint’s humility,

While I have only a poet’s quickness, a journalist’s

Ability to speed-read and the clumsiness

Of a circus clown.

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