Poetry of the Times

February 1, 2007
Richard M. Berlin, MD

Poetry of the Times

February 2007, Vol. XXIV, No. 2

How to Write Your Own DSM

Go to a beach like Coney Island
on a sweltering Sunday circa 1930
with people postage-stamped on the sand
between the breakers and the boardwalk.
Let them signify the population of the world.
Count them carefully. Get a good night's sleep.

On Monday, the moon's day,
choose people whose shape or size
or color remind you of the man in the moon,
the face of our greatest metaphor.
Imagine him floating above us
with his look of surprise
as he reads the categories
you are inventing.
Take those who are moonstruck
and give their group a name.

Now it is Tuesday, a nothing of a day.
Gather the nobodies, the scrawny boys
lifting weights, the girls with skinny legs,
the weak, sick, injured, and lame.
Take those who are sunburned
and give their group a name.

Wednesday divides the week in half,
and if you are catching on, you will go
into the sands and gather the half-hearted
women who have compromised
and men who balance their lives like
amputees walking on one good leg.
Bring them all to the boardwalk
and ask them to dance.
Take those who don't stumble
and give their group a name.

Thursday is Thor's day,
the carrot-topped Norse god
who could devour several oxen
in a single sitting, the thunderbolt-
throwing giant who cross-dressed
as a bride to reclaim his stolen hammer.
Take all the gorging, red-haired men
wearing women's bikinis,
and give their group a name.

Friday has nothing to do
with fried, but as the sixth day,
Friday's power and glory
resides in those with a sixth sense,
people who see ghosts or channel spirits
like Freud's or Kraepelin's or Jung's.
Take those wearing a Tyrolean hat
and give their group a name.

Saturday is the day for love,
under the boardwalk or on a blanket
spread in the cool shade
of a striped red umbrella,
a day for mothers to massage
sunscreen into their children's backs
and for fathers to strip off their shirts
to reveal their pale white bellies.
Go to the water's edge and draw
a huge heart with your categories
written inside. This is the cover
of your classification. Sit quietly
while the tide rises and watch
the waves scour your words away.

Dr Berlin is associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. E-mail: rberlin@massmed.org. An interview with Dr Berlin is included in the December 2006 special supplement to The Lancet that focuses on medicine and creativity.