Doolally tap

What is it the wind has lost that she keeps looking for under each leaf?”
Jim Harrison ~ Braided Creek: A Conversation in Poetry

Once I’d imagined slipping the net
an intriguing liberation to creation
then tipping through mesh into mush
fell into step with a half-crazed girl
straw bedhead nest of hair
fearful of disturbing birds

Mother had slithered down the plug
bathed herself away leaving only soap as residue
and all her wash things always so taboo*
– but an absolute absence makes no sense
days filled up with nightmare nonsense
potions for notions, spasm and spells
sylph-like voices spoke through cracks
a devil fandangoing in the fireplace
expelled with spit and watercolours
hurled headlong at the hearth

the first thaw began with the walls
they’d wave and waver, rubber to the touch
a padded cell of sessions, safe from harm
in long, lachrymose lulls, dripping with snot
we both nearly drowned
torn tissues fell as paper dolls
drawings featured formulae and burials
squiggles summoned sums, lines geometric
and ultimately a woman rose from the earth
covered in leaves

the wind had lost her mother’s voice
and secretly she taped our talks
for all eternity

Dedication: For each troubled soul who must bond with a stranger and because therapist is not catalyst, it had to have changed us both

Title is British Army slang for an unbalanced state of mind (derived from the Deolali sanatorium, India) as my prompt for this Tuesday’s Poetics challenge is: Making much of Madness

38 thoughts on “Doolally tap

  1. This is a poem to read over and over, so many great alliterations and a rhythm with all the line breaks in the right place… after reading the footnote I read the whole poem in another light, imagining how illness and madness feed each off each other, not just from the one affected by illness but all those around.

    1. thanks you for this feedback as I did wonder if the poem was too broken in its rhythm but then again there is no smooth road to and from mental health

  2. A familiar term, doolally, but not with the tap on the end. This is a poem to immerse oneself in, there is so much to take in, language to savour and images to imagine. I savoured the internal rhyme of ‘liberation to creation’ and the rhythm of ‘tipping through mesh into mush’. I shuddered at the disturbing picture of mother slithering down the plug having bathed herself away. The madness grows with each stanza, from the ‘devil fandangoing in the fireplace’ to the walls waving and wavering.

    1. usually the tap is dropped! thank you for your comment Kim – a child tries to make sense of loss and the literal offered some kind of logic since mother bathed frequently

  3. I agree with Bjorn and Kim. This is so intricately woven, and creates a sense of uncomfortableness within. I admire not only what you have written here, but also your choice of profession Laura.

  4. You “fell into step” with her, meeting her where she was, then “torn tissues fell as paper dolls”. This hero’s journey, walking side by side, takes such courage for both. To have that amount of time to spend with a patient is a privilege. So glad you were there to walk with her.

    1. yes being given time is one of the healing ingredients – sadly it is costly and the accountants have replaced such open ended sessions with a kind of programming CBT.

      1. Are you talking about DBT? Yes, time is the great healer and having a caring companion walking with a person along the way can make miracles happen.

          1. Oh ok. When you said a more intensive kind of CBT, I was thinking DBT, which is being used a lot around here lately.

      1. Fun to use his writing for prompts. You’re a deep writer/thinker, Laura. Just skimmed your 3 selections but doing them justice will/would take time.

  5. Mum, this is incredible, beautiful, sad and touching, I love the imagery, especially ‘a devil fandangoing in the fireplace’ and ‘rubber to the touch’ and how you convey the young woman’s story with such eloquence and empathy.

  6. Mental health clinician and poet; quite the combination. You deserve all the accolades and more. The structure and rhythms of the piece are off-kilter, and madness seems to blossom and develop within its paper walls.

  7. One can feel the anguish in the madness as people live out their tormented thoughts. I really liked your poem. The imagery was icky sticky good! Your mother going down the drain was an interesting touch!

  8. Slipping the net to fall into step with a half-crazed girl.. takes courage and trust on both sides. The messiness of it all is palpable, and the line “we both nearly drowned” speaks of the toll it takes on therapist as well as patient. You capture the relationship vividly.

  9. I found this almost unbearable to read. It’s interesting that the things we value in poetry – alliteration, choppy phrasing, metaphor, strange comparisons – could also be seen as symptoms of major mental illness – clang association, word salad, delusions. I kind of had both things going on in my head at the same time.

    1. yes it should have touched a nerve Sarah – and there was some kind of healing towards the end
      well observed too with the schizophasia element that makes up so much of our poetry

  10. Wow, Laura, this is disturbingly real and beautifully empathetic! The chaos and confusion caused by a mother slipping down the drain, the near drowning and torn tissues of deep grief, and the fearful image of devil fandango-ing create a powerful poem of mental anguish.

  11. I think Mad Sweeney and the wounded healer both reside in the poet’s spirit — Lord, how many of us have had our disordered seasons, our returns with the gift which can only be given back to all … Great sense of the fall into wilderness, of “days filled with nightmare nonsense” the long winter and eventual spring with its woman rising “covered with leaves.” to be mothered by the wind and be a mother to those wandering in darkness. Well done.

  12. “a devil fandangoing in the fireplace” – love this line. It immediately evoked an image in my head.

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