President John Kennedy wanted to shut the doors
On the large State hospitals where the insane
Were kept on large wards, screaming heard on every floor,
Men and women, in threadbare hospital gowns
Holding their heads while the demons yelled in their ears,
Obscenities, orders to hurt others, language cut loose
From meaning, all common ground lost and words
Aimed not outwards, but inside, poisonous.
My grandmother died here, in Pilgrim State,
Maintained as a state hospital for over 100 years.
She begged my father to take her home,
But he walked away, returning only when she was dying,
In a hallway with her name written in crayon on the lid
Of a coffee tin—tied to her wrought-iron bed.
Silent, in a coma, breathing heavily, she died that night.
Kennedy thought that new medicines would make locked wards,
Obsolete. People could be treated in their hometowns.
But that’s not what happened. Instead, lost, frightened, cold and hungry
They huddled together on the fringes of cities
Where they hallucinated and punched themselves, gesturing wildly,
Or were beaten or murdered by suburban teens,
Out for a lark. The sick show up at soup kitchens,
If they can find their way there,
If they can stop yelling long enough to down a bowl of soup.
There are no bathrooms or places for a shower.
No wonder they smell.
But with every passing year Americans think it’s not their responsibility
To take care of these people. The homeless caused their own damned problems.
These people should have made money, had a family and a home.
He’s not my brother, or family or friend.
No one we know.
But turning our heads is no protection.
The man crossing the street with wild eyes and dreadlocks
Yelling at passing cars might be your grown-up son
In thirty years.
When Cain asked God, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”
He was banished from human contact.
God isn’t trying to make us feel guilty.
It just when we deny the humanity of each other,
Our soul dies, drop by drop,
A kind of spiritual insanity.
Much more dangerous
Than the crazies on our streets.
Monday, October 08, 2012