First Meeting With A Psychiatrist

It seemed a third-rate performance
of an actor well used to the role,
the salutary greetings linked in
a single-line monotone:
“Comeinsitdownhowareyoumakeyourselfcomfortable.”

He waited, swaying to and fro,
in his vinyl-covered chair,
puffing on a fat cigar -
the smoke expertly curled
by his tongue into rich rings
of self-aggrandisement.

It was my cue.

I muttered nervously
about my husband's inane cruelties,
his unpredictable outbursts of violence,
his bizarre ideas, the delusions,
he talking aloud in the shower alone,
and how I lived in fear of the threats
to kill us all.

“My children – how can I protect them? ”

I spoke in desperation
to the bald shiny dome of his head
bent over a notebook,
as his pen flowed
and his hand ran on
in the writing of copious notes,
never once looking up.

My mind drifted away,
to a Mandingo town
along with a large throng
of other women, assembled at nightfall,
being chased by men.

I was singled out as the offender,
stripped naked, tied to a post,
and as the rod of Mumbo scourged me
I heard shouts of derision,
hideous noises filling the cool, dusty air-
it was a ritual
in veneration
of a grotestque idol,
the shrieks of Mumbo-Jummery
buzzing in my ears
like the droning
of trapped insects.

His false cough brought me back from Africa
Into this room where we sat.
It seemed to me
his eyes were raping me,
willing me to wantonless veneration.

I noted a couch, cold, clean and vacant,
like a morgue drawer
waiting for an occupant.

My performance was over, his now began,
it started with a dissertation of my ills
in a spate of unmistakable mummery;
high-sounding words resonated in the air,
and the session ended as it had begun,
words linked in a single-line monotone:
“Time’supcomebacknextweekandtakethesepills”.

A prescription was thrust in my hand
as he helped me up and led me out -
the door slammed behind me,
rude in its definition.

Shaking, I tore the paper up
And scattered it on the floor.

Soon night would cast its wand
changing me into a child
aghast in the dark,
tiny hands contracted to shiny cones,
clutching the bed sheets in fear -

waiting for the boogey-man to appear.

(Baie d’Urfé, Québec
1968)

by Philippa Lane

Other poems of LANE (45)

Comments (6)

You are perhaps the most deft poet I have encountered on PH. Your works reads as the work of an polished professional (which you must be) . I look forward to reading more of your work.
Truly an obscured reality, exposing the ambivalence on the part of the Psychiatric patient and emotional flattening on the part of the Psychiatrist. Being a Physician and Psychiatry Resident, I should endorse; what Philippa has so remarkably expressed in this poem. We Psychiatrist may become so cold and indifferent over the time to the misery of those extraordinary minds, which deserves so much empathy. And this is also true with population at large, as so called healthy and normal minds most of the times treat extraordinary or popularly known as abnormal or insane minds with indifference. So sad that we proudly pronounce ourselves humans, but we are deluding as we have lost humanity. Great work done by Philippa Lane. Thanks a lot.
Dear Philippa, Yes, I’ve enjoyed reading more of your work, though I haven’t given comment to as many of them as I’d like to. A large part of this is due to my episodes of complicated bereavement, similar to post traumatic stress syndrome, where I find myself unable to consistently do what I want to do-my wife died in my arms 18 months ago, in a traumatic death, and I seem to be locked into this crazy re-enactment of the whole thing, and can’t seem to get straight with my self, or let go of it. The worst times are on anniversary dates, so I’ve tried to make some notes to guide me through what I want to say to you-I want to comment and offer my critique of First Visit With A Psychiatrist. I chose this one because I’ve had a lot of dealings with mental health doctors and professionals, and because I think this poem offers some great possibilities. 1st Stanza-The stage is set, I’m in the office, OK. 2nd Stanza-I feel for you if this was actually how it was, and no doubt this could be real-but the way its written, it seems stereotypical, with the ‘fat cigar’, and, ‘rich rags of self-aggrandizement.” Maybe there’s a better way to portray your anger, the posturing that was going on. I think if you’d provide some details that show us what was happening, it would seem more real. The smoke rings, “expertly curled” fits well with the “self-aggrandizement”-so these could be drawn more closely together. Good imagery. 3rd Stanza-I wanted to know more details of the “cruelties” (well, not really) , outbursts of violence, bizarre ideas, delusions. The line of “talking to yourself in the shower.“ I liked. But felt that you stepped out of the poem and were addressing someone else. When you reached the part obout, “fear of the threats to kill us all. My Children…”, that’s when the emotional power of the poem thrust itself into the reader. “bald, shiny head” stanza I liked, put a face, or a form to the animal. I liked the transition into the African sequence. The tone of the poem gets more mysterious, interesting and profound, rich, at this point. [I wondered at your own experience at this point]. 5 & 6th Stanza- “the buzzing” got me. 7th Stanza-I think the “false cough” wakes me up, but, “his eyes raping me, willing me with wanton veneration” seemed over the top. I don’t mean to deny how you experienced the situation. 8th Stanza-I like this whole stanza-it says a lot without shouting it. The thought occurred to me that it might well go earlier in the poem. 9th Stanza-This one could be skipped, to allow more strength to the whole-not that its substance is wrong or anything. [Maybe bring the 5/6th stanzas in transition to the 8th] The last 5 lines are really powerful, and I think they could play a part in lieu of some other stanzas. The boogey man, might be too much though, OK, that’s my thoughts, and still, I feel ambivalent about expressing them, because I don’t want to seem unappreciative or coarse. The fact that you wrote this, and that I’m attracted to it, is enough. All else is just froth. Hope you liked my froth. Phillip
Hi, Philippa, I found this poem, written many years before the other I've read of yours, to resound with the same power. I feel you were simply describing your experience, not stereotyping a psychiatrist. Perhaps this psychiatrist was stereotyping himself. You have a facility for expressing raw emotions in powerful lines and images!
I liked the originality of the topic and the switch to Africa and back again. However, I think psychiatrists are an easy target and you're description of this one fits the fairly common stereotype. Sounds like you walked in with a skeptical attitude and walked out with about what you expected to get.
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