CODE, Bonnie Schell

by Bonnie Schell

Her expertise is tracing grave histories, 
the woman in Harbor Hills1
who waits by the only pay phone 
for her FBI connection to call.
It will be dit-duh-duh-dit, again, with pauses
repeated. She only wants someone 
somewhere when she delivers the code 
to proclaim the meaning.  She is clairvoyant
wraps her head in strips of gold and ruby lame and tells
young inmate-patients from the jail 
that she can take out eyes. Eat them. They stay away. 

This woman in Harbor Hills 
calls the Anti-Christ in Sacramento collect.
She sees him sleeping under bulky volumes of unrecorded 
deals between millionaires and mercenaries.

At dawn the night orderlies argue
in Spanish about water rights and crack
while she hums Taps to food stamp vendors, 
Public Guardians who have lost her few treasures.2
The nurses go for coffee to divvy up Klonapin prn.  

The woman at Harbor Hills shrieks 
when her suitor’s blood drips in the high weeds
next to the hospital. He traded his MediCal card 
for a dollar, broken feet, and a grocery cart 
pushing his body into the ocean. 
She gasps, runs for the phone. Patients 
shuffle into their compartments to wait.

The ward psychiatrist who has certified 
the woman at Harbor Hills as gravely disabled
summons the orderlies to prepare restraints. 
He grunts after the woman down the hall,
whispers a greeting behind her at the phone.
“You would benefit from seclusion.”
He thrusts his pink hand in the receiver’s curve.

Five orderlies drag her dead-weight limbs and head.  
The doctor follows with his clipboard, 
slips in without announcement,
begs the woman to touch his palm,
tell his fortune and how much longer he has.
And the woman in Harbor Hills clears her tongue
of ready spit, strokes his wish, then lies:
“I see a long life.  Surely, you are God.”

1Harbor Hills is an Institute for Mental Disease and a skilled nursing facility in Santa Cruz, CA.

2Possessions of 67 year old Caucasian female recorded by the Public Guardian: 2 pillows with multiple cigarette burns; sleeping bag with same; two blue towels; 1 lawn leaf bag of clothes and underwear; large box of discontinued greeting cards; box of pots and pans all scorched or split; 1 Sundesign twin cassette player missing all buttons; partial flash lights; 13 candles and holders; 8 strings of Christmas twinkle lights; picture of someone else’s granddaughter from a yard sale.

Bonnie Jo Schell was diagnosed in Atlanta, GA as mentally different at age 17. She moved to California, founding the Mental Health Client Action Network, a drop-in center for the neurologically diverse and frequently homeless, whose poetry she printed in Voices & Visions chapbooks. Bonnie has published poetry in Quarry West 35/36, Poets & Writers of the Monterey Bay, WNC Woman, Chinquapin 9 & 15, Knuts House Press, and in Coast Lines: Eight Santa Cruz Poets.

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