GATHERING UP THE PIECES by Judson Simmons A voice sings into the night – it must be an angel. It must be a merciful song, calling to calm me back to sleep. A nurse hushes me, promises it’s all just one big dream… So the doctors feed me more pills; fat ones; round ones; beige and white – chalk tasting and impossible to swallow. They take blood daily: I’m donating these vials to sanity. All the while that angel keeps singing. * The man in the bed next to me cries himself to sleep – he tosses and turns, turns to fight just to stay awake so he won’t dream. He holds conversations with himself or someone just like him. I hold the pillow over my ears just to drown out his whispers. * On and on and on the voices dance around my head like young, petite ballerinas. At night their tiny feet tiptoe through my mind – I call out but they never answer. I’m tired of being ignored, tired of falling asleep when the doctors want me to. The nurses sit at the end of the hallway – I know they’re talking about me. I know they whisper deceit and venom. * They sit us in the garden area twice a day; surrounded by walls – orange brick, as tall as the eye can see. I imagine the stars are beacons beckoning me to follow them. Yet, it seems that some things are always more distant than they appear… * I’m writing letters home but never mailing them. I see my parents twice a week and my brother calls: his voice sounds disinterested. It seems we’re nothing more than strangers on a bus sitting next to each other. * This is my regret. I keep it close, guarded only by slipping the pills they feed me between the mattress pads. Outside: it’s so beautiful; in here: our voices fall muted against the grayness of the walls. There are so many things I miss while tucked away in this room with no windows – some things I would’ve never noticed: the windshield wipers erasing away the morning dew or the look of wonder in a child’s face as they pull apart the bodies of love bugs.