We were Care in the Community.
A ward and its human furnishings
plucked from a Victorian conservatory,
poked inside a three-storey cupboard,
adjacent to a bridal shop and opposite
the mug and murder park.
None of our twelve residents
would ever be called for jury service,
get married or beget children -
but that was not the time to unpack
genetic theories of schizophrenia.
We regarded madness as almost wholly
a product of the institution.
What one patient christened The Sound-Air,
that mysterious, invisible device
where insidious voices were embedded
in redbrick and knight’s move thinking,
would be robbed of its power to demand
and direct without any ears to hiss in;
when the asylum lay quite emptied
normalisation would follow tomorrow.
Catatonia, self-harming and shuffling gaits
would vanish like poor table etiquette.
We imagined, by setting a good example,
that some of us would rub off on them.
But we were merely burnt out and no match
for the shades and familiars, which shifted seamlessly
from the outer limits to the inner city.
The Sound-Air relocated between
the third and second storey;
chemical warfare coursed through the taps
and the aural transmitters were re-implanted.
Their belief systems proved more robust
and enduring than ours did.
If you have any thoughts on this poem, Raymond Miller
would be pleased to hear them.