Psychiatric TimesVol 38, Issue 12

"...But tonight I’m twenty years and two hundred leagues from the sea, her painting suddenly a family portrait—weather-beaten me in the middle with worried-window-eyes..."

painted eye

Mari Dein/AdobeStock


-from the painting “Fish Houses, Monhegan Island” by Sylvia Alberts

I remember watching Sylvia paint

three rough pine buildings raised

on stilts, each with a wide ramp

to roll catch through a yawning door,

their floors soaked pink and green

with fluids spilled from prey, a Skull

and Crossbones flapping the pole.

But tonight I’m twenty years

and two hundred leagues from the sea,

her painting suddenly a family portrait—

weather-beaten me in the middle

with worried-window-eyes,

door contorted as Munch’s scream,

my wife sharing our dark inner wall,

with her outside clapboards lit yellow

by summer sun, our teenage daughter

a detached building without an entrance,

eyes measuring a changing tide.

And with one slow blink my reality shifts

back to pandemic winter, the painting

at rest on the mantle, choices made

long ago drifted full circle, daughter,

husband, and grandchildren beached

back home, our sheltered-in-place family

sprawled around the fireplace, lost

in a recording of Treasure Island,

Captain Flint perched on Long John Silver’s

shoulder and squawking X marks the spot!,

my gaze refocused on gold doubloons

with familiar faces spilled at my feet.

Pareidolia: the tendency to perceive a specific, often meaningful image in a random or ambiguous visual pattern.

Dr Berlin has been writing a poem about his experience of being a doctor every month for the past 23 years in Psychiatric TimesTM in a column called “Poetry of the Times.” He is instructor in psychiatry, University of Massachusetts Medical School, Worcester, Massachusetts. ❒

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