Poetry: Mental Health by Kai Carlson-Wee
Kai Carlson-Wee’s single stanza poem lands on the page with weight and space and time. “Mental Health” works to unfold the banality of medicated routine, while never losing sight of the drugs that punctuate its hours, or the slow fog that creeps into everything.
One pill in the morning with breakfast. Orange juice
and oatmeal. Brown sugar melted on top. No coffee.
No cigarettes. One multi-vitamin with extra niacin for
stress relief, natural. One St. John’s Wart and a dab
of Valarian Root extract under the tongue. Hold it
for ten seconds and swallow it down. Leave the house
in the rhythmic rain. Two blocks waiting for the city
bus under the awning of M & H Gas. Two dollar fare
for the next four hours. The crowded seats and broken
black umbrellas against the edge. You can ride all day
if you know the right driver. Half an Ativan under
the tongue for stress relief. Hold it until it dissolves.
Chew the powder from molar to molar. Swallow
the excess down. Ride the rain-soaked streets of fog.
The rising fog and drifting fog that slithers on the lake.
The parking lot fog and cemetery headstones, branches
of maples and swerving commuter cars finding their way
to the fastest lane. The folding doors open and people
continue to climb the lighted stairs. Stop after stop
and the plastic goulashes and shopping bags dripping
with rain. The man behind you selling a rock of crack
to a younger man, homeless. They shake the plastic
bag and all goes on again, normal, with real affection.
Weather and breakfast and Halloween costumes and
where the bus might stop next. Open your backpack
and take out a racquetball. Squeeze it between your
thighs and remember to count your breaths. Think of
your favorite places to hike. The mountains extending
beyond you forever in four different fields of cloud.
Decide to get off the bus and walk. The driver nods
and rain beats down and the uptown businessmen
shuffle beneath the bulbous roof of glass. All your steps
are washed away in the smallest shining flood. Walk
the blocks and count the squares and count the endless
passing cars. The lights are red and liquid gold and fog
continues to touch your legs and search for a way inside
your brain. Your ears, your open mouth, your nose.
It moves itself toward every hole. Open your backpack
and take out a Seroquel, morning and night, for distorted
thoughts and hallucinations. Hold the taste against your
tongue and count your breaths and close your eyes
and remember to watch the graceful gait of mule deer
crossing the ridge. Barely a year old, lonely together,
they move through paintbrush and dew-soaked heather
and alder and aspen and down through larches and gold-
tinted boulders to drink from Railroad Creek. You watch
the cars divide the fog. Water rolls between the lanes.
You cross the K-Mart parking lot, the Lake Street bridge
and drowning lights. You count the weight of every
breath. You know it can’t go on like this. But here you
are. This is life. This is the way your day begins.
Kai Carlson-Wee is the author of RAIL (BOA Editions, 2018). He has received fellowships from the MacDowell Colony, the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference, the Sewanee Writers' Conference, and his work has appeared in Ploughshares, Best New Poets, AGNI, New England Review, andThe Southern Review. His photography has been featured in Narrative Magazine and his poetry film, Riding the Highline, has screened at film festivals across the country. A former Wallace Stegner Fellow, he lives in San Francisco and teaches poetry at Stanford University.