How a Psychiatrist Writes a Poem

June 10, 2014

I begin by remembering my hours as a patient and Freud’s “Fundamental Rule”: Say Whatever Comes to Mind...

I begin by remembering

my hours as a patient

and Freud’s “Fundamental Rule”:

Say Whatever Comes to Mind,

which is the sound of brown leaves

skittering across the sidewalk

on this mild November day

and the smell of smoke

from fires burning in the fields.

Then I relax into my leather chair

and recall the details of this morning-

my wife curled below our down comforter,

her breasts still warm while I dressed,

the texture of walnut bread in my mouth,

the taste of Earl Grey tea.

This is the moment my therapist

would cross his legs, look into my eyes,

and wait for me to reveal something

more painful, closer to the heart,

and just to please him

I might report a few small agonies

from my trip to the session-a delay

for the bridge repair at Rawson Brook,

the red glow from my battery-failure light,

or the threat of anthrax reported on the radio.

I’d say, “Bioterror reminds me of my father’s illness.”

And now that I’m talking about my father,

I can see my therapist move forward

in his chair and nod a bit faster,

which brings something to mind

I never thought to discuss-

last night’s conversation with my mother

who told me she has a melanoma

on her thigh, the thigh I hugged

as a five year old when we shopped

in the aisles of the Grand Union.

I remember those moments

as the closest we ever shared-

the soft, smooth plain of skin,

her delicate gold ankle bracelet,

khaki shorts and Shalimar perfume.

Yes, psychotherapy always leads back

to mother. But before I can resolve

my Oedipal drama in therapy or this poem,

before I can make sense of the grief

I am just beginning to feel,

I hear my therapist say, “Time’s up,”

and he stands and gazes outside,

the way I gaze out my office window right now,

noticing how the leaves still cling

to the oak before they let go.