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ISSUE:  Autumn 1988
I got down on my knees with the little
weeds and whispered to them. I counseled
flowers, saying hey you stand up straight.
I hypnotized a crepe snake. That’s what
I did for so many dollars an hour, building
a common garden of construction paper,
fingerpaint and Scotch tape in the rec room
of the Adolescent Long-Term Treatment Program.

That garden was a cost-effective therapy,
and the dance we held that evening
was a learning lab, therapy disguised as fun.
The kids made funny costumes from bedsheets
and danced beneath stars of aluminum foil.
They played crazy music on the radio
and danced like crazy. Rock, funk, soul.
Anything can be therapy. And with lights low,
if that is allowed, any shadowy dance
can be a beautiful scene from a Hollywood movie.

I poured sugarless punch into Styrofoam cups,
kept count of the dangerous plastic forks
and monitored touch. I stood back far enough
to translate body language, close enough to refeel
pain that might be used to document a diagnosis.
They were dancing like kids. Dancing like rabbits
behind wire mesh in the seclusion of a city garden.
Psychotic, arsonist, suicide—later, they’d suffer
the names life gave them. We tried everything.
And sometimes it was painful to watch them dance

with the skill they had to make dancing painful.
And when the dancing was done I uprooted the whole
garden, fashioned bouquets for the trash barrel
with fervor, like someone who needs psychiatric help.
Then dimmed the lights and sat in rec room darkness,
letting darkness fill me as an owl fills with wisdom,
a china owl in a city garden, waiting for something
human to happen and make sense, the patient approach.


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