Skip to content →

The Day After The Dean of Michigan State College Admits Him To Lansing Sparrow Hospital For Rest, A Naked Theodore Roethke Barricades Himself Behind A Hospital Mattress

The day after the Dean of Michigan State College admits him

to Lansing Sparrow Hospital for rest, a naked Theodore Roethke

barricades himself behind a hospital mattress

refusing sedatives. He won’t even take one

when they try to hide it in a beer.

He’s working on instinct’s last nerves,

a meaty bone’s wisdom rides his mind.

But a brave man gives nothing away, shows a pale modern eye

to the doctors and the therapies that monkey around

in that hydroelectric century.

After his night in the woods, mute under a tree,

he’d emerged like a fawn with a stiff, drunk heart,

like Nijinsky becoming God, his body

monochrome in the silence. He slipped in.

I want to say so much and cannot find the words

Nijinsky wrote in his asylum diary,

I was sorry to leave the tree because the tree understood me.

Roethke heard it all: the abatement of bark, the stripping of it

by the tiniest bug, the needle. Underneath you, there it is.

(There’s what?) That dark that sniffs your salts,

your ditch-hidden angers soaked in ethyl alcohol,

mounted on paper. (What dark?) This dark, doctor. Tune up,

listen, inhale, for Christ’s sake. Don’t try to pull that stuff on me,

says Roethke, sharpening his tools in the barricade,

still tender in the habit of the child, his cargo

that one luminous brain back in the brain’s cave.

from On This Day in Poetry HistoryFind it in the library

Copyright © Persea Books 2016
Used with permissions of The Permissions Company, Inc.
on behalf of Persea Books.

Published in Amy Newman Poems

This program is supported in part by a grant from the Idaho Humanities Council, a State-based program of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this (publication, website, exhibit, etc.) do not necessarily represent those of the Idaho Humanities Council or the National Endowment for the Humanities.