Wendy Barker


1963, at twenty-one, I saw little men dancing around
the bedroom, guffawing at me, like humanoid pustules
popping out of walls. My husband took me to a doctor
who sent us to a shrink. “Plain as day,” he said, “piece
of cake,” pointing to a page in a fat leather-bound book:
“schizophrenia.” As if easy to diagnose as chicken pox,
smallpox. “Crazy!” we shouted, thrilled at something’s
being so odd it might as well be “insane!” In a delightful
way, we meant. But not so delightful if committed to an
asylum. I’d known the history of women confined to
loony bins for reading novels, grief over a child’s death,
masturbation, or marriage trouble. Outspoken women
became “hysterics,” and were locked up. “I’ll commit her,”
said the shrink, “and we’ll start electric shock treatments.
She’ll probably need a lobotomy.” He charged us $700,
but my husband lied, said he’d forgotten the checkbook.
Called my folks who took me to an old physician friend,
who listened as I explained that for asthma I’d been
prescribed Marax, which made me jittery. So then I was
given Phenobarbital. That combo, those dosages: lethal,
this medic said. A couple more weeks and I’d be dead.
A pox on that shrink. At least the lesions are invisible.

Wendy Barker

is the author, most recently, of Gloss (Saint Julian Press, 2020.) Her penultimate collection, One Blackbird at a Time (BkMk Press, 2015), won the John Ciardi Prize. In addition to seven full-length collections, she has published five chapbooks, and her poems have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies, including Best American Poetry 2013. She teaches at UT San Antonio.