Staying Sane

Judith Huang

For J.

 

In among the inmates

the walls are grey and stale

I bring a red velvet cupcake

to cheer up the inmate girl

Woman, you are not half as bad

as the others in this place.

You’re not moaning in the corridors

You’re not rattling at your chains

It would be so easy

for me too wind up in this place

or a place like this. Years later

I sit besides my father

eyeing the hospital’s billboard ad

of a torso disappearing

into wallpaper creepers. I could do

with such a rest.

I am depressed. I am depressed.

I can’t bother to get dressed.

I lean my throbbing forehead

against the window pane.

Your hands dip into the bag

of books I’ve brought along.

I think of all your favourite things

I brought to show you don’t belong.

The Diagnosis

Judith Huang

For Q

 

That winter in New York

when your voice broke into sobs

every time you called

I told your father

“I think I better go over”

I rented an apartment

a small one, with a kitchen

so I could cook for you

so I could listen to you

complain about all the doctors

who didn’t understand.

It took thirteen years

to find the right meds

but I always held your life

in my two hands, the way I did

when I cupped my own belly

before I saw your face.

 

The snow stuck to the sidewalks

and turned to grey puddles

from the heat from the air vents.

I went to Canal Street and bought

the kailan that you liked to eat

to balance out your mood from day to day

I knew that you, my dear

precocious girl, would make it through

the year, and that the world

had not heard the end of you yet.

 

Two Crowns

Judith Huang

                                                           

The bed and breakfast where you were staying

had ornate wallpaper 

and free hard boiled eggs. We peeled them,

white, bald, pristine,

with a chapskate glee

in the evenings before I took

the T back to my dorm in Harvard Square.

 

It was strange to have you there

like having a character from a different book

than this new one I was writing: my college life

and I told my therapist it was weird,

I just wanted to be a normal

freshman, with no parent in tow, you know?

 

The asshole sophomore who bit

my blockmate when he danced with her

insinuated I was some kind of

spoiled daddy’s girl, snarking,

"So you came all the way from the other side

of the world, just to help her move?"

 

How can he judge? He can't know why

you're here, I thought. He can’t know

it was a triumph just to make it

through the year. How I’d dropped

a class, how I’d swallowed pills every day

and puked up everything I ate

 

because the girl in the next ward

had a virulent stomach flu 

and retched all night. How you were by me

all that time and he – he’s just some schmuck

who thinks I'm privileged – but who gives a fuck?

 

At semester’s end we make it to New York

and there, I’m posing in my sundress

in Central Park, my smile not least

betraying something dull behind my eyes.

You take my photo outside the Plaza Hotel,

my Advo shirt carefully accessorized

 

with a gold vintage costume necklace

with a clasp that clicks shut. You’re happy

to accompany me downtown, and though

you don’t say much, it’s the best time

we’ve had alone together, and it's all due

to the fact that I broke down.

 

Even today I retrace the way

I cracked boiled eggs from when you showed me how:

Tap the middle sharply, then roll the whole

circumference against the table, one full round

then uncap the halves to form

two crowns.

 

© 2015 Cogswell College •  191 Baypointe Parkway, San Jose, CA 95134 800.264.7955 • www.cogswell.edu