There’s no clinical test for schizophrenia.
They used to say we smelt different,
but for many years we’ve been washing ourselves
and they scarcely notice it any more.
When I was seventeen I thought it was my house
that smelt of schizophrenia:
instead it was me.
I’ll tell you what happened.
My bones began to migrate inside me
and sprout like beans
so they took me down to the insulin room.
They laid me on the floor beside the others
and a nurse with a yellow eye like a firebell
gave us our injections,
our slow unravelling hour after hour
in the strobe-lit patch of sadness
at the bottom of the vortex.
Once my bones had resumed their station
and my convulsions had been counted,
the nurse with an eye like a firebell
would drag me back to the wide of the world
with my heart gurgling,
my headpiece glutinous
and my throat lopsided, gasping
for glucose –
for that proffered glass of glucose and water
stirred with a long spoon,
for that white and steaming plate
of mashed-up milk and potato.
With my shaky hands I somehow
slopped it all inside me –
I could have swum in it, drunk whole tankfuls
and still needed more.
After fifty years of fitful remission
I dig the earth, distract myself, grow beans;
but at night my bones still move about
under the sadness of my skin,
and behind my face I can still see
the nurse’s yellow eye, his needles,
the upheavals in the insulin room
and all those boys and girls,
half-spooked and slowly disengaging,
gasping for glucose.
I’m always well again when the day comes,
goes without saying, and it’s as if
the thing had never happened to me at all,
or only in the quiet of my skull.
It’s in these hollows that it snuggles, twisting
about my thought-strings like the wisps
of mist I used to follow over the cool
strobe-lit darkness of the insulin pool.
There is no clinical test for schizophrenia.
Perhaps there’s no such thing, perhaps
it’s only a breath, a puff of fear, the empty
name of its own smell, this smell
that never really leaves us. Tell me, how else,
once my bones have migrated,
could you possibly know I was here at all,
as we stand talking together?