Editor’s note: This spring, Health Affairs held its first ever poetry contest. Three winning poems were published in the journal. We’re also featuring some of our other favorites on the Blog throughout the month of October.

Mental Illness Runs In My Blood

My lineage has holes

family members who have held clippers

to the branch keeping them on the family tree

ropes hanging from its arms are ribbons tied to fingers

help you to remember

my grandma draws crochet needles through

all of these dropped stitches

her job to stop the apple

falling so far from the tree.

 

Isaac Newton sitting below is me

at age skinned-knee

wondering why they chose to leave my family

white din of hospital beds

swallowing your cousin

she is here to hide from the disease

nurses spell out

how much nobody can do for her.

At age fourteen I wonder

if it is weak to ride a pill bottle

to their side.

Under my graduation cap

their hands slip through

swearing my palms would be glue

branch stretched out over the quicksand

I would be the doctor to my

own patient heart.

 

See the dangers in self-diagnosis

too-hard beating of your heart

under their thumbs

drum sounding out success story

calling for change in this generation

at war with our own heads

using parents’ guns to rip through skulls

still soft

missing the point

missing the prom

far too many empty-nested dads and moms

who couldn’t see past closed doors

open the doors to the industry

unlock all these labels kids chain

to their own necks in attempt

to understand pressures passed-down

fruits of the family tree

see the other side of this self-prescribed story

stop looking for an ending.

-Mo Fowler

 

No Young People Here

Does the brown man with slumped face stare?

One round eye fixed, one puffed slit slants

Still, in institution blues, sits in brake-locked wheelchair

His swollen head most times upright may nod by chance

 

One round eye fixed, one puffed slit slants

Parked in too bright halls, always in view

His swollen head upright most times may nod by chance

How did his body fail? Why does he look at you?

 

Parked in too bright halls, always in view

His slight distortion disturbing as his ubiquity

How did his body fail? Why does he look at you?

Roll by quickly, stomach wrenched, try not to see

 

this ugly state may be better than you

Still, in institution blues, sits in brake-locked wheelchair

stroked, he may rise soon, may walk, as you yearn to do

Does the brown man with slumped face stare?

– Akua Lezli Hope