At the Playground, Singing for Psychiatric Outpatients

Peter Everwine

 
The bright-faced children have gone home,
trailing the sun to supper.
                   Tonight,
these others have come,
almost sweetly shy, starched
for their monthly party.
Nurse herds them into metal chairs.
I've come to sing, Nurse tells them,
and they fold their hands
--these lately mad who failed behind a door
or slipped under in a jammed street,
whose eyes blossomed like silver
fists in mirrors, in plate-glass windows.
Nurse is waiting for me.
So I sing for them,
                    for the boy
in the front row, groping
the stiff corners of his pockets;
for the ugly one in pink anklets
--her legs have never felt a razor,
though her wrist has; for him
whose fingers are eaten by ants; for her
whose face sags like a torn sack.
They do not like my songs,
but infinitely polite, they turn
their smiles up into the dark
as if a smile should fall softly,
obliquely, like rain.
"Home on the Range," Nurse calls out,
her sure fingers on the pulse of America.
I start in faltering voice,
half-forgetting those dead words
sung at campfires in the past.
One joins, and then another:
Home, home on the range. . .
Where the deer. . .
And the skies are. . .
The voices crack and lurch, we
are singing--the boy, the ugly one--
singing like crows in the empty
prairie of a children's playground
where if there are distances that shine
they shine like the eyes of pain.
 
From From the Meadow: Selected and New Poems by Peter Everwine. Copyright © 2004 by Peter Everwine. Used by permission of the University of Pittsburgh Press. All rights reserved.

Further Reading

Pockets
A Sock Is a Pocket for Your Toes [excerpt]
by Elizabeth Garton Scanlon
At the Public Market Museum: Charleston, South Carolina
by Jane Kenyon
Blankets of Bark
by Sherwin Bitsui
Broadway
by Mark Doty
Chaplinesque
by Hart Crane
Go Greyhound
by Bob Hicok
Gospel
by Philip Levine
Inventing Father In Las Vegas
by Lynn Emanuel
Pockets
by Howard Nemerov
Regarding Chainsaws
by Hayden Carruth
The Waltz We Were Born For
by Walt McDonald
Two Countries
by Naomi Shihab Nye