In the State Hospital (1976)
by Rosemarie Crisafi

Where caution signs
swing as you walk
through halls sopping with kaki
green paint where patients
smoked Marlboros on the plastic
chairs. When, admitted and stripped,
they warned: if you don't cause trouble,
you won't get any as you bend
and he puts a thermometer
in with Vaseline, fingers try to loosen
the stiffened muscles, before they hand you
a gray canvas tent to wear,
rubbing rough against your nipples
on the bicentennial. Blond Michelle,
one of the amazons, notices
your exquisite skin as you enter
the cramped dormitory to take a place
in the corner bed. Noisy
wall mounted fans waft
hot air, mingling sweat odors, circulating
desperation as lice,
tiny white specks attach
to the base of hairs.
Someone grinds her sobs
into pillow linen as criminals
pass, the last thing the girl
who had slit her wrists,
heard, before she
was pulled under the current
of flesh. Some nights she fought
as if she could win
gasping as the undertow pulled,
vomiting up as she ran,
to the dim bathroom, as if
the cold tile was a cure.

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