Toward the Ward, And After

This is an ongoing collection of writing based on notes written during my youth, in the years leading up to a stay on a psychiatric ward and all the confusing years afterwards; trying to move away from those selves – and to fortify the emerging one. At this point in life now, I’m finding strength from that younger self – and inspiration. The poems in this collection are from those early days, and the poems in Paper Poems are from current days.

The first piece, Summer Science, won a creative non-fiction Flash Writing award in the summer of 2017.

Summer Science

Message: no liquids, no solids. Meet-up: early morning, Ward D, gowns only. Chatroom: roll call, who’s first, etc. Event: electric trance, performed in laboratory / sunroom mashup, with doctor no-mercy and the brief-pulse stimulators.

“Count backwards from ten”, one of them says, and I’m out by six.

The outbox: small sitting room, end-hall; piano, payphone, linoleum, and exit stairwell (optional). No other persons present. 

Stupid, mucked-up twenty-seven year old, with crusty temples and confusion. Already ten years into chemical intervention, and now electrical. All the selves billowing, waning, equally claustrophobic as agoraphobic. I began the summer with Dr. B. saying, “I don’t care if it’s the Canada Day long weekend, what does that have to do with this?” This being her foot, going down on the brake of my fragmentation. I argued it was an arbitrary moment for sudden braking on the same-old, same-old of me. 

And yet, the ensuing months of dormitory routine, scheduled currents and dosages, arranged talking, slowly produced a new iteration.  A file-swiped tabula rasa, with hope anew that my bigger whole could digest all the nested self-similar dolls, and build a neo-set of  rules for processing everyday life. (In the end it took another five years, and a more organic method, to achieve solidity.) 

Friend request: remember me? I’ve been posting images.

Why now? Twenty-seven was millenniums ago.

Follow me?

Time can recover health; years return memory. Why insert errata now?

Hashtag: #crumblinggatekeeper


last night i smashed a woman’s head 
into a porcelain sink.

silent in the hospital bathroom,
i looked at her eyes.

what was taken away
when that current went through?

brain swirling thickly
like yolk in a shell,
cool porcelain a salve.

today i walked by a teacup,
knocking it from the table
and seeing it smash
into eggshells on tile.

my hands grabbed at air frantically,
all day.


Who are you when the tablecloth of mood pulls suddenly from below, cupped and plated habits off-centre but standing? Who can you be when the sound of flicked linen lifts and drags the emptiness in your head, a wing-flap metronome measuring the mass of your non-emotion?

You are your seated numb self, and you can be still.

The bubbled green glass of the cup in your hands is only for juice. Juice is only for breakfast. Breakfast is only for morning. Morning is only for connection: rise, shine, commute, work. The hospital ward will chart a likewise day: routine. Regulated behaviour will moderate irregular surface and balance internal axiom. You will be asked to attend.

Can you get fired from this place? Yes. Can you get rehired? Yes. Does it look good on a resume? No. 

One day you will be trapped in a small office with a flapping colleague, a young man scored across his throat with a single-minded scar. He’s closing the door, walking the sofa, crouching in windowsills, but you remain still. Do you ever…Do you know…Do you want…


On another day you will all tumble out to the the sidewalk, self-assembling in awkward double-file, compelled forward by the activity nurse. You will collect on a small ferry for a short ride to a brief island. Her push for picnic, games, and fun will be met by an equal force of snowballing weariness. The walk home will accelerate rapidly with a uniform pull to be back in the Ward, your nurse losing both magnitude and direction. Group therapy will be cancelled for a day, and when it resumes an old video on communication will be televised in a darkened basement room. The circle of slumped bodies will maintain their stolid velocity in the face of the beamed electrons, the waves of aired social skills.

 the Weight of a Walrus

we exit Ward D with our Warden of Activity for a walk towards Wascana Lake
for a ride on the Wasca Ferry to Willow Island for a whim of an idea
called Wellness.

we are the Who/What/Where/When/Why of our own woe. we cannot reach
Wellbeing from the outside, from the water ferry of our supervised wake.


One evening you will group walk to the famous ice cream kiosk, traveling through the big-name cities of the inner-city streets: Toronto, Montreal, Quebec, Winnipeg. On arrival, you will merge into the east and west line-ups, both heading toward a small window from which 40 flavours of twisted soft cold appear again and again. Standing at this aperture of choice, in the central meander of a neighbourhood stroll, a pinhole breaks open in which you observe the scene upside down and reversed. The surrounding obscura of your dark mood brings into focus a bundle of rays you had previously thrown into a void without the surface of self being able to hold and reflect.

Around this time you will realize that nothing significant is going to change within you, but your ability to maintain planetary speed in the orbit of life now holds promise, eccentricities noted. An observation has been accepted that the length of your travel time has produced a change in position, and there is hope that the displacement will not end up as zero.

she sets me down
now listen, and they all do
you’re not reliable.

in the building of hallways,
this way and that way and
this again, they fan out 
to find me.

i’m higher than the walls,
i’m wider than the doors
i’m out of proportion,
i’m out of breath

i am beyond their naming.

Errand & Regress

At noon I walk towards the central buildings of midtown to watch office girls turn out from glass turnstiles, their Sturm und Drang faces tilted towards a gathering in the clouds infinitely reflected in mirrored towers. Lunch break. Here and there and back again, purpose pivoting neatly within time’s constraints.

At 1pm you will descend to a subterranean craft room for Afternoon Activity. A cumulus cloud of ribbon, yarn, paper, hobby will idle before you on the Formica table. At 2pm will be tea break, at 3pm will be ping pong, at 4pm will be television, at 5pm will be dinner. 

The purpose of activity, says the nurse, is to feel useful.

At the intersection of time passed and distance covered, the office girls will stand knowingly below traffic lights. At green they will move forward again.

 space capsule

riding in the back seat,
i scratch away the ice-white panic
of where we are going.

i see a stop sign turned to those 
who would come towards us.
they stay, we go.


As a child you will notice the hum and flicker of invisible airplay. Your Petri dish mind will culture these sensations into congealed forms and voices. Each year you grow larger these others will microscope inwards to a point of magnified illumination. At fourteen you will have met your match, and you are transfixed. You decide that not eating and strict rules will bring to order the unruliness of outside messages and inside thinking. Reduction by fractional reduction – one becomes half. As a whole the half becomes half again. 

You align under the paradigm of religion.


The apartment is in blue dusk.
My steps are soft,
here and there, these are not my rooms.

I am a man, and I’ve just killed a woman. Gently,
I’ve laid her body to the floor. Her legs
are gone - was I too violent?
I soften the space with stockings,
and shoes that won’t sit right.
Anger, but I must stay calm. Her still face
makes me angry.
I leave.

I leave the body where he left it.
It is not mine anymore, the rooms,
here and there, tiptoe, are not mine

I read notes on the fridge door, look inside
at food left, the hours on the stove clock
are not mine

It seems sad, but I will be here again,
tomorrow. I will look different. He will
show me the dead body, draw me
into a silent dance, through the blue
living room, to a sunny

he will help me out to the ledge, tell me
how to hold on. For dear life,
he’ll chuckle. I’ll wait and wait, 
but he will not join me.

Caressing my desperate fingers first, then,
lifting them one by one, a backwards 
piano player, until i am free.

The body will fall, I will return
to the blue dusk, the silent dance.
He is mine,


And so you are out. Outside again. Out of the ward, outward.

All the space and time of who & where approach your starship mind as galactic backscatter through a window of nothing. When & how did your associations split and distance themselves into planets of unreachability? Why are they back in view with such looming inevitability?

You have reentered the outer edges of your abilities. The structure of Ward D has forced your gravitation free-fall back into orbit. Construct, integrate, apply. You can impose structure on your day, your pathways, your thinking – whole planets of gas and ice and mythological naming. Your feet have been slowed to a chemically earthbound slog. “Beam me up” will no longer be a viable escape chute.

It may be unpredictable! 

What have we learned, what have we learned, what have we learned.


i know you by your 
scooping red chin

your swooping away
of the swarming gnats / your
forked tail cutting through
to the blue sky / i swallow

this blue / a swallow-tailed kite
inside / climbing the
suppression / bearing
the humble breeze / flapping 
off course / off-balanced swooping
scaring / someone

has got your string, swallow
yanking / ingesting back down
this gut / a curtailer
this black swarm

this / a paper cup
of cool water
swallow / ing
letting it slide / this midge
of a pill down / this gnat taking flight / inside
like a swirling fork-tailed bird

i know you by your
scooping pink chin
 Artist (quid pro quo)

the Queen is dead
and they kept her boudoir for amusement. a museum,
i mean. above her bed is a gold plaque,
cine rarium.

change it, the Board 
said, no one 
cares.  sine die,
they want. and stubbed
their cigarettes 
on the escritoire.

a muse, they
said. in exchange
for the room,
Queen Cimmerian’s
bed. of ashes
i write,
it’s only been
one day.

Copyright Dawn Pearcey 2019.