Shira Erlichman

Ode to Lithium #-9: Dear Dr. Stone

Doctor at the Trauma Unit at McLean Hospital,
at least in 2009 when I met you, you were.
I say your name because I can’t believe it is your name.
How appropriate. You who called me out of my small room
in the mental hospital,
off my bed where I sat stunned,
having just arrived in the unblinking light of 7 AM
having slept on a gurney in the ER.
You stared straight through my skull
like there was a movie on behind me
and listed medications to it.
You deserve your name.
I remember thinking that.
Looking into the prophecy of your face
and seeing a hard substance,
center of a drupaceous fruit, as in a peach.
Stone, also a verb, to throw stones at,
to kill by throwing stones.
You listed “Trihexyphenidyl” and I said, “I’ve taken that.”
You said “Seroquel and Risperdal.” I remember
I even tried to like you, starting with the mole on your chin.
I thought, If I can like that small brown stone,
I can like her.

Your lips were tight, your chin barely bobbed,
your eyes committed to the plot of abyss through and behind me,
but I tried, because even on the worst of all mornings,
I wanted to trust something, even if it was you.
Wanted your name to foretell a polishing.
In the electric glaze of a mania-maze I felt
a smooth baby shark swimming in my cerebellum
and I kept saying,
“I’ve taken that.”
You landed on Abilify. I said,
“That one made me throw up, it made me sick.”
Monotone, you instructed,
“You’re going to take it again.”
Through the slap of neon lights, to a face unmoving:
“But I took it, it made me puke.”
You wrote the prescription.
Maybe you were a mother. It was possible.
Maybe you were dead. There are ways
to be both. Maybe you once became a doctor to heal
an unhealable fissure in your quiet and flaming past,
or because you were curious, passionate, even
kind. Now here I was, one of many puzzlebodies
come to sit in your windowless room, rickety proof
of a faulty universe, a Godless God,
girl who couldn’t or wouldn’t be solved.
There is a calculus to apathy.
I retreated to my small room to sit and sleep
two days on a wiry bed frame on public sheets
that had belonged to others’ private sweat.
On the first day I swallowed your prescription
and collaged a paper-mache journal.
On the second day I vomited
the Abilify on the carpet.
When I returned to your office,
you checked some boxes,
made no eye contact,
said, “Well, now we know.”

Ode to Lithium #15: Unwished For

I’m standing in my town’s ice cream shop when I notice them: the white couple smiling at me. Blonde woman standing beside a mailbox, waiting patiently for news, husband reassuringly placing a hand on her shoulder. The flyer paper is pink: international color of positivity in the face of infertility. They are having a hard time, my couple. That’s why they’re here in my ice cream shop. But they have faith, they’re trying, haven’t quit wanting what they want, in spite of it all.

            Could you be the one?

I lick the crest of my cone slowly, examine their bullet-pointed criteria.

            21 to 42 years.

It’s not conscious, but somewhere inside a voice says: “Check.”

            No criminal record.                               “Check.”

            No history of mental illness.

I say, out loud to the paper, not caring if the teenager behind me churning into an icy chunk with a steady fist hears, I say: “I know this is different, Susan, Jim, but I would never wish Frida to not have been hit by that trolley. I would never look her in the face and say, ‘I choose to unmake you and your paintings and your horror-ing heart. I rob the woods of your little deer.’”

“It’s different,” Susan says, “You’re not Frida.”

“Plus,” adds Jim, “That was physical. A freak accident. Try another argument.”

What they don’t want of me lives. It sees through my eyes that they would prefer it dead. It knows better than to whimper, or show defeat. What they don’t want of me breathes.

“Eugenicists,” it says.

The woman gasps, hand to chest.

It continues: “You want to spare yourselves. That’s not love.”

“We don’t want her to suffer,” they chime in unison. Oh? Her? It was decided: A girl. Claire. Or, Vanessa. Or, Claire. She’d have red curls, love olives, sing in her sleep.

“She doesn’t want to suffer either,” I peeled the words open slowly, “But she’d rather be alive, than not suffer.”

I am not talking to a piece of paper in Herrell’s Ice Cream Shop. I am not invoking Frida. I am not naming an unloved ghost Claire. I’m licking my wrist of a smudge of strawberry cream, listening to the terrible Top 40 hit blaring overhead. I’m staring at the words No history of mental illness, trying to move my feet and leave the world where this is taped up, natural as the moon.

Will the Norman Rockwell of our time paint me standing here before it? In my jean cut-offs, finishing what's left of a soggy cone, drugs in my blood, unwished for by strangers.

Shira Erlichman

Shira Erlichman is a poet, musician and visual artist. A three time Pushcart Prize nominee, her work can be found in The Huffington Post, Buzzfeed Reader, PBS Poetry, The Massachusetts Review, and The Baffler, among others. She was awarded a residency by the Millay Colony, the James Merrill Fellowship by the Vermont Studio Center, and the Visions of Wellbeing Focus Fellowship at AIR Serenbe. Her new album Subtle Creature premiered in October 2016 in BUST, who hailed it as "a must-listen" and a "spectacular mystery." Israeli-born, raised in Massachusetts, she now lives in Brooklyn. Learn more at