Back to Issue Forty

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder with Secret Knock


My hand, soaked in blood.
My head, cracked open. I tell

the five-year-old to fetch the phone.
The two-year-old to fetch a towel.

My hand, soaked in blood,
holds the towel to my head,

cracked open. The children—
their round eyes, black planets

smacked off their orbits.
And the hostess

to whom I say, May I please
speak to Jennifer, our mother,

who has left us alone
again. And the number, a number

we practiced. For exactly this, I think,
proud. And I, the oldest,

age six, calm, calmer
than I am now, a mother

who, alone with my baby, kills
the lights, hides in the bathroom

because someone is at the door,
and we must never answer the door.

And I scream at my spouse
because why the fuck are flowers

arriving when I am home alone
because I forget who I am or how old.

And the chair we keep by the door
for climbing, for bolting

the chain. And the wait, the length
of her shift, for the secret knock,

a knock (I now know)
everyone knows. And the diagnosis:

retraumatized. And the infant,
lifted from my womb split open.

And the stitches on my gut.
And the stitches on my head.

And the blood on my hand
holding my child brain bits in.

And the blood on the pads I filch
from the hospital. And the hospital

where our mother tells the doctor
a lie to keep them

from taking us away. And the hospital
where, between contractions,

they ask whether I feel safe
at home, safe enough

to take the baby back with me.
And by instinct, I say yes,

but for a second, I am tripped again,
six again, and I am lying.



Bipolar II Disorder: First Evaluation


Someone in a gunmetal trench coat stares—   across the street—
on Fourteenth—   light flips green—   he stays put—   

I stalk by—   nod—   he nods back—   I veer right, stride south—   the itch
to swing around—   if he’s still there, human—   if not, angel—

I glance back—   gone—   nowhere in sight—   a sighting,
I’m sure—   so sure, so sure, I float home—   high episodes of euphoria

someone’s wedding lopsided on a hill—   can’t keep still—   
distractibility—   drink till I can’t drive—   then drive

to five years ago—   fuck in his new bed—   can’t sleep—   never sleep—
decreased need for sleep—   gun it at dawn—   to what wrecked

five years ago—   fuck this one on the floor—   excessive
involvement in pleasurable activities—   with high potential for painful consequences

let’s call them painful consequences—   the one who strapped me
to his motorcycle—   the one who trapped me in his shower—   the one

whose sister tried to die—   who couldn’t unless he choked me—
who could, but on the rooftop—   in the conference room—   

at the bar—   sexual indiscretions—   or, years prior,
down twelve acetaminophens—   twin dorm bed—   bed,

always in bed—   hopelessness—   major depressive episodes—   then—
mid-try—   a bright pull to rise—   why die when I can swim to Paris—   

Manhattan—   you can’t swing a dead cat without snagging a poet
in Manhattan—   flight of ideas—   inflated self-esteem or grandiosity

and can’t I shut up—   all caps—   and turn down the music—   cranked
high—   blaze down Pacific Coast Highway past midnight—   past midnight,

break into the Hollywood Bowl to dance—   scale the stage—   then
dance—   decide to learn—   decide to learn to dive—   to silk—   

to climb—   a new language—   I need help in seven thousand languages—
increase in goal-directed activity—   and the poet in me, a sucker

for endings—   seven thousand ways to end—   none of them lush enough—



Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder with Rovelli’s Theories of Time


A crude green shoot
astonished to wake in a glacier,

my second attempt
sprouted out of nowhere.

I was happy then. How
did the pills find my throat?

The entire universe is like a mountain
that collapses

in slow motion. My brain, snared
sometime before I could speak

and after my last benzo
endures a mode of time

truer than the ticking. The passage
from one moment of time to the next

is illusory. Was I
the woman or the child

when on the phone with my father
who phoned often to say

he planned to kill himself?
Again and again he said this

for hours as I lay in the lap
of a man who, just a boy, supplied

the joints that singed my lips.
What came first?

The calls or the pills? The Bible says
God made the sun

days after he made light,
days after he made days.

Why bother with a sun at all?
That fiction of seasons, of healing

time swears it’ll fetch
but fails to bring. My father’s fists,

that boy in the fog, those years
I, tanked out of my wits,

baited bruisers at bars
because I couldn’t take how I could

feel the blows, can feel them now,
but found no marks

on my body—a discrepancy
I needed to machete from my brain.

When I was pregnant
and petrified

of giving birth to my father,
I found him in a dream,

bloodied and writhing,
bound by chains in my shower.

Yes, I found my father
bound in the one place where,

during the worst of it,
I’d bare my fears and pray.


Eugenia Leigh is a Korean American poet and the author of Bianca (Four Way Books, forthcoming 2023) and Blood, Sparrows and Sparrows (Four Way Books, 2014). Her poems and essays have appeared in numerous publications including The Nation, Ploughshares, Poetry, Tahoma Literary Review, Waxwing, and the 2017 Best of the Net Anthology. The recipient of Poetry’s 2021 Bess Hokin Prize as well as fellowships and awards from Poets & Writers Magazine, Kundiman, and elsewhere, Eugenia received her MFA from Sarah Lawrence College.

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