|Squall, 1986, by Andrew Wyeth|
the sorry tortured soul beneath the surface cracks
as on her hollow haunted face mouth gapes
as she smiles that sorry twisted smile she smiles
revealing rotten teeth that stain
her muddled thoughts with filthy words
and for a while she listens
as the budgies cheep inside her head
and peck away at fractured brain.
She whines the wasps within her chest
will stop her heart unless she gets
(‘just one tiny’) cigarette and offers
passing males her drooping breasts
and (filthy) sex (she hates)
just for ‘one tiny zzzig-err-raare-t’.
(The men who live inside her head
deride say they’d rather die
than go to bed with her.)
The men (outside) refer (unkindly)
to her mangled pock-marked frame
and jeer at her, call her ugly names,
jeer and joke as she resorts
to the only way she can to cope.
She contorts that tortured face of hers
grimaces to quell the pain
all for the want the need of nicotine
and black clouds gather in her brain
and erupt into a sudden squall,
she yells and screams, head-butts the wall,
punches hard her cheek and then returns
to (some sort of) (troubled) peace again.
She thinks for a while then smiles
that sorry twisted smile she smiles,
shows the males her drooping breasts
and offers sex for cigarettes.
In the good/bad old days’ institutionalism in psychiatric hospitals bred its own strange culture, some patients on long-stay and acute wards, to ‘self-medicate’ their symptoms, to stave off ennui, chain-smoked and within this culture existed tobacco barons and easy lays.
The tobacco barons need not necessarily be smokers rather those that saw (and grasped) opportunity, increasing their personal wealth and their status in the patient pecking order. One cigarette ‘borrowed’ would yield a return of three-to-five, sometimes more and daily the baron was able to sell (the equivalent of in returned 'borrowed' plus 'interest') full packs for money, the more vulnerable smokers sometimes ‘owed’ their next days ration of cigarettes and in essence held a continuous debt.
The ‘easy lays’ – not necessarily women but mostly so – were of two kinds, one would allow men to have sex with her paying with cigarettes and the other pay for cigarettes with sex.
Acute and long stay (apart from the ‘elderly’) wards were ‘open-doored’ – these only being locked when trouble occurred and this freedom and the hospitals extensive grounds allowed this culture to thrive.
After the closure of psychiatric hospitals there existed the problem of where to place institutionalised patients who would never be able to rehabilitate and live independently in the community.
Added to this burden of unwanted institutionalised souls were the upcoming patients with enduring mental health problems who would have joined their ranks. Initially some were placed in NHS ‘rehab’ community units – most (if not all?) have long since closed, the rest in private nursing homes and rehab hostels - or just hostels -and some, where attempts were made to rehabilitate to independent living, now are homeless or if lucky(?) bed down in doss houses, etc.
The lucky(?) few institutionalised ex-patients who found a (locked)nursing home prepared to take them, as well as losing the only (hospital) life they had known through much of their adulthood – some even earlier – are further restrained by new laws re coercive healthism (no smoking in the premises – unless in a tiny room devoid of ‘entertainment’ – have you ever tried to fit twenty men who want (and need) to smoke in a tiny room where friction will occur as a result of this sardine-tin existence? – to the wonderful well-intentioned Safeguarding Vulnerable Adults (SVA) (no grey areas recognised – the world is black and white.)
An odd tobacco baron exists here and so do the easy lays, but the easy lays (of either kind) are not allowed to engage in sex – well neither is anyone really – for under the SVA we have to protect one vulnerable adult from another vulnerable adult…and so their wants and needs are stifled…their new institution more a prison than the old asylums.
I hated psychiatric hospitals but their closure offered nothing in its place….
Thanks to Tess at The Mag for the inspiration for this post. Also linked to dVerse~Poets Pub Open Link Night hosted by the excellent Brian Miller.