A Poem by David Gilbert on World Mental Health Day

But Lesley-Anne

Everyone I know here is tired
and trying to shake off
an invisible layer of dust
as if love might exist
somewhere in the pile
or down the back of the sofa.

I used to believe it was only
a mad minority of us
who didn’t understand
how to live – or where
leaving ends
and total departure begins.

Now getting used to being lost
is the order of the day:
The red bike leans against the fence.
The blue bucket is on its side
and my boy’s punch bag
has taken its final battering.

All these are for the dump.
We feel
as if growing older
should provide a sense
of what to keep.
My wife says
I write too much

about my time back there.
But Lesley-Anne
and I had been up all night again
in the brown ripped chairs
and she told me how she’d
always wanted to be a beautician

but when her father died
she’d edged off her balcony
and couldn’t now feel anything
from her neck down. She
looked at me
lopsided and asked

me to fetch my guitar –
the one my mother
had brought in for me
thinking how when I used to play
it made me feel better,
thinking this was hope,

not realising her reminder
of what I’d lost only
made me feel worse –
and asked me to play for her.
Now there are so many
old toys left in boxes

and mice have nibbled
at the shelves in the garage
and all that wrangling
with boyhood is over.
My father too
all his life

seemed unable
to explain or grasp
what he must do. Do I know
better now? Or will I
realise more than him?
We weep without reason.

No friend of earth.
The sparrows rub their beaks
sideways against twigs.
The aim is still to lift ourselves 
at night when stars are playthings
at the edge of their own

I phoned another friend
whose daughter too
is lost. Or at least trying
to make sense of disconnection.
The earth is

a psychiatric ward
with the inaudible,
the slipshod
and the weary
looking out together
across the hospital car park.


David Gilbert is Writer in Residence at The Bethlem Gallery, author of ‘The Patient Revolution – how we can heal healthcare’ and ‘The Rare Bird Recovery Protocol’ (poetry collection).


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