Social Work in America

by Jane M. Engleman

Mental illness was a headache,
a car accident, a missing mother,
a weird flutter of the eye,
before he got swept to the edge
before he got flung headlong
into the jagged bubbles,
homeless, cold, running without your phone
for 911, without your webs and your meds,
blood-streaked spray of an emergency
from which you pretend to drag him,
chained, wild, freaking, by now
buddy-buddy with the stones
and the frozen dead.

You could have given him a home,
at first bewildered along the easy river,
fifty miles up, could have modeled
courage, swam with him to the bank,
but you couldn’t decide: expense, risk,
scrap? You chose to have him go on
over and now they’ve got him,
the currents of bleach and serrated rocks,
and they’ve got you, too,
your proud degrees, your red-painted skiff,
your threads, your shell of kindling,
your department watching with looks
of horror at your twenty-thousand exclusive
peer-reviewed books, at your disposal,
on the safety of the cliffs.

You want to do something. More is coming.
You may have to move from your comfortable
house you bought on the banks down by the river
to appreciate its giggling by in awesome blues.

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