Poems by Pamela Spiro Wagner

Here are a few sample poems from my new book WE MAD CLIMB SHAKY LADDERS, (which, despite what many have been told IS available from Amazon and B & N and upne.com so keep trying if you have been told it is not…I know as I just got some extra copies from amazon). Here is just a teaser to get people interested:

These first two are from the first section, which concerns my childhood and the first intimations of illness. Here are the first indications that touch is difficult, even threatening to me. In the second poem, I describe my twin sister’s wholly different attitude towards her body, how in a more innocent time, wolf whistles by teen age boys were considered harmless, complimentary even, and wearing tight jeans was not an invitation to anything but, as in this poem, pleasure on the part of both young men and the young woman described…


Touch me. No, no, do not touch.

I mean: be careful —

if I break into a hundred pieces

like a Ming vase falling from the mantle

it will be your fault.


Cool as Christmas

plump as a wish

and simonpure as cotton

You stroll the avenue

mean in your jeans

and the boys applaud.

You toss off a shrug

like a compliment

with a flicker of disdain

Catching the whistle

in mid-air and

pitching it back again.

“Eating the Earth” is more or less a true story insofar  the little boy in a nearby neighborhood did rub a certain little girl’s face in dirt for telling him where babies came from  and she did dream the dream descrbed. What this all means is up to the reader to decide, however.


After Tyrone, the little boy next door,

makes her eat a handful of dirt

for telling lies

about where babies come from

her father says it will do her no harm.

You have to eat a peck of dirt

before you die, her father says.

He also says she hadn’t lied:

babies do come that way.

She cries after her father

leaves the room and she sleeps

all night with the lights on.

Her father tells her other things,

that earthworms eat their own weight in dirt

every day and that their do-do

(he says “excrement”)

fertilizes our food.

She makes a face over that

and doesn’t believe him.

Besides, she says, we’re people

not worms.

And we’re so great, huh? he says.

Well, I’d rather be a girl than a worm.

He says nothing.

He is grown up and a doctor,

he doesn’t have to worry about

being a worm.

But she does.

That night she dreams that Tyrone

dumps a jar of worms down her shirt

and that their dreadful undulations

become hers and she begins

eating dirt

and liking it,

the cool coarse grains of sand,

the spicy chips of mica,

the sweet-sour loam become her body

as she lives and breathes,

eating the darkness.


It was a frying pan summer.

I was playing croquet by myself,

missing the wickets on purpose,

rummaging my pockets for dime-sized diversions.

It was a summer of solitaire.

I laid the cards out like soldiers.

I was in command.

Then you came out

with a mallet and a stolen voice

that seemed to rise disembodied

from the gorge of your black throat

and you challenged me to a game.

You ate me with your mosquito demands

though I, I didn’t want to play with anyone!

I hid my trembling in my sleeves

refusing to shake your hand.

I thought: this is how the Black Death was

transmitted, palm to palm, hand to hand,

a contagion like money.

You smiled the glassy grimace

practiced for boys all summer in front of a mirror.

If I looked you in the eye I would die.

I knew then all the sharp vowels of fear.

It was late in the afternoon

and I was frightened

when our shadows merged.


I dreamed my mother cut off

my baby toes, the suturing so perfect

she left no gangrene, no scars, just a fine line

of invisible thread and four toes on each foot

instead of five. The job done, she left me

at the “crutches store” on Whitney Avenue

where I could find no crutches to fit

and so hobbled back toward home

alone and lopsided.

This is true, and she was a good mother

most of the time, which meant

that I never lacked for anything

she could buy, yet still I grew up lame,

disfigured (though not in any

noticeable way) and always with the sense

I had been abandoned before my time.

This has all been said before: our mothers

leave us, then or now, later or sooner,

and we hobble like cripples

toward the women in our lives

who can save us. Or else we limp homeward

knowing we will never make it back

before we wake up. And when we do wake up

we find we, too, are mothers, trying desperately

to save our daughters’ legs

by amputating their smallest least necessary

toes, taking the toes to save the feet

to save the legs they stand on

in a world where we ourselves

are not yet grounded.


You know something is going on.

It is taking place just beyond the range

of your hearing, inside that house

on the corner needing paint and shutters,

the one with the cluttered yard

you always suspected sheltered friends

in name only. It may be in the cellar

where the radio transmitter is being built

or the satellite. A cabal of intelligence

is involved, CIA, MI-6, Mossad.

It is obvious plans are being made;

didn’t your boss arch his eyebrows

while passing your desk this morning,

grunt hello, rather than his usual

“Howahya?” There are veiled threats

to your life and livelihood. Someone

is always watching you watching

and waiting for whatever is going

to happen to happen.


At first it seemed a good idea not to

move a muscle, to resist without

resistance. I stood still and stiller. Soon

I was the stillest object in that room.

I neither moved nor ate nor spoke.

But I was in there all the time,

I heard every word said,

saw what was done and not done.

Indifferent to making the first move,

I let them arrange my limbs, infuse

IVs, even toilet me like a doll.

Oh, their concern was so touching!

And so unnecessary. As if I needed anything

but the viscosity of air that held me up.

I was sorry when they cured

me, when I had to depart that warm box,

the thick closed-in place of not-caring,

and return to the world. I would

never go back, not now. But

the Butterfly Effect says sometimes

the smallest step leads nowhere,

sometimes to global disaster. I tell you

it is enough to scare a person stiff.

Psychiatrist: Honesty, a secondary policy…?

His honesty I mean, my new psychiatrist’s (Li’s). For instance, when I went the first, second and third times, he gave not the slightest indication that he knew me or even of me, and when I mentioned that I was a writer and had written DIVIDED MINDS, he acknowledged only having seen “some twins” on CPTV (our local public television channel) and was wondering if that might have been me…

Now, as of my most recent visit, I come to discover that Li had known all along who I was and that I was the same person he had seen on the TV show and that I had written said book. For all I know he has already read the goddam book and has not admitted it even now. Worse, he admitted this last time that he recognized my name and remembered me from the times in the 80s when I was hospitalized  at a local psychiatric unit right — he had been the chief resident at the time it so happened and would get reports about me and listen to discussions at grand rounds, apparently. He had this info right from the very first phone call I made to him, i.e. when I left an initial message on his answering machine he knew who I was.

Essentially, quite despite my plea at the very first visit that he be honest with me and “never deliberately lie to me” he has decided that honesty would be only on second thought with me, just one out of several strategic possibilities and not his first and only approach. I do not understand this, but it both scares and upsets me terribly. For one thing, I fear enormously that it signifies that he too is part of  the great DO conspiracy I have mentioned so often, if not here then in my older Wagblog. This is not to say that Dr B (Li) s a DO (doctor of osteopathy equally trained in psychiatry and medicine as any MD); he is not. He happens to have attended the same med school as I did, and did a residency as I said at a hospital I was a patient at several to many times.

However, the DOs who have treated me, or been assigned to me, have to a one been in on this conspiracy to tag me as a drug-seeking addict because of my narcoleptic need for Ritalin (a condition they dismiss as either faked or at a minimum not real, merely claimed). As a consequence, they have treated me abysmally, not taking any time to deal with any of my physical complaints but “assuming ” all to be likewise connected to these putative “false claims” of narcolepsy, which is to say not real either. I do not trust Li NOT to fundamentally to believe this, and therefore, despite his dispensing the medication (just as other MDs did in order to “placate me”), to regard me with skepticism, even cynicism. In this case, I would find it impossible to continue to see him, being  likewise utterly unable unable to trust him  — naturally — to take me seriously because of course he never would.

The thing is, I am no longer willing to argue the narcolepsy business. I know I am innocent of any such charges of faking or simulation, and do not need to excuse or explain myself to anyone who questions it. I know how sleepy I have been since the age of 19, and know how disabling the sleepiness has always been. I also know that I have never abused Ritalin, only that I always needed a certain therapeutic dose that no one ever tried to find, because no one ever trusted me to need Ritalin from the get go (despite a diagnosis in the early 80s by a neurologist, Dr Neuren, at H.  Hospital, following an EEG that might not prove anything now, but was enough for him then…). Once that dose was determined by Dr O, a sleep specialist and psychiatrist, I have not needed more and in fact have usually used less than that on days when my chronic sleepiness has not been overwhelming or I have been able to stay physically busy enough to stay awake. I have also learned not to fight taking a nap, and sleep on demand most days, even when that means twice or three times a day, say from 6pm till 9pm and then from 2am till 9am plus another nap the next day at 11am until 2pm…

But where was I? I was speaking of the conspiracy, and I do not joke. I believe quite firmly that these DOs have been infected by someone else who believes it, and have swallowed her opinion hook line and sinker…but be that as it may, if Li himself also refuses to see beyond whatever he recalls of me from the past, then it is useless to continue. I do not even want a “second chance” or to be given the opportunity to somehow prove myself. I do not need his approval or his acceptance of my diagnosis of narcolepsy. I do not need him to believe that I have it, or to give me Ritalin on the basis of some begrudging agreement that he will do so, but only because he does so for so many ADHD patients that he is not afraid for hs license…If that is his attitude, well, F___ him to the max and up the A—!  I don’t need that sort of BS and will willingly and immediately dump him and go elsewhere.

Iin faact, he ought to have “recused himself” before even taking me on and admitted that he already knew me and could not ethically do so, because he already had formed a negative opinion of me that I would have to change…

THIS is what I fear, basically. I do not know if I can surmount this. I do not know that Li can reassure me it is not the case. I do not know that I can ever trust him again, given his recent admission of betrayal, however much it was a “sin of omission. He knew full well what he was omitting and why, and he also knew that I was asking for precisely the information he withheld…


I am going to take off the week of Aug 2-9th in order to be absolutely left alone, because I know no other way to get my thoughts in order and to have some time to get both work and some artwork done…I can’t seem other wise to allow myself a workweek, and feel like no one else will. At least no one respects my right to be left alone during the week, not even at the hours I requested, and I feel so bound to answer the phone and email that I can’t even let it ring between the hours of 10 and 5pm without answering it. Also, I cannot turn the answering machine down, so I have to listen to it, which is a really awful way NOT to “answer the phone”, because they “get to me” anyway that way…So I am taking a week off, to think about how to deal with this, and also to work on my own things.

I hope I can do it. I am lying to those I cannot tell the truth to, those who will not let me be and do what I need to without making me feel guilty, and I am telling the truth to those with whom I can be honest without feelng that they might spill the beans to the former or try to intrude on the week. They know who they are…and the others do not read this blog.


Schizophrenia: Seeing a New Psychiatrist (Edited and Updated)

The first time I visited the office of Dr CLB I had good feelings, even though, as a new vegan (more on that in another post) I noted that his waiting room chairs were all upholstered in leather, even though they were “just” upright chairs, not armchairs, which is where you usually, which is to say, often, find leather being used. In point of fact, the entire building was much more opulent than I was used to, being in a part of the country that once had the reputation for being one of the wealthiest communities in the U.S. or at least in the state. No more, but its past showed there.

I walked in, and due to what I think is my continuing lack of depth perception, I mistook a central large planter in an atrium-type room on the first floor for an island in the middle of a large pool, adding to my initial impression of opulence. The elevator was, whoosh, silent, and took me to the second floor as if without moving, in contrast to the one in our building, which makes each floor a noticeable journey. (Since then, having discovered the stairs, I take those instead, finding a two story elevator trip rather silly.) It then opened on a thickly carpeted hallway, overlooking the pool/atrium, lined with what to me, being there the first time, appeared to be huge, expensively appointed wooden doors. Not just your ordinary run of the mill painted ones, mind you, but heavy imposing grand ones indeed, of stained wood that look like mahogany or cherry. The carpet is a deep rich color with an eye dazzling pattern that I find I cannot look at without getting upset. I easily found Dr B’s office, entered through the outer door, then the inner one to the waiting room, where I sat in one of the leather chairs mentioned earlier.

I knew Dr B vaguely, or knew of him, since he had been a resident or chief resident once at a hospital where I had often been a patient in the 80s, though he had never treated me, nor had he had any individual interaction with me. He has so far never given me any indication that he knows or remembers me, and so I have not asked, though he did say that he had heard of Divided Minds and had seen Lynnie and me on public television, though did not make the connection until I mentioned that I am a twin, and that my sister is a psychiatrist.

Anyhow, that first meeting went well, largely I think, because I felt very well, and because I feel comfortable answering questions, which he asked in abundance, that being an initial, Getting to Know You, session. After that, he has stayed more quiet, which is difficult for me, as I am much more used to Dr O’s directive style, wih her taking such an active role in therapy. It is hard for me to start each session, or take charge of my own therapy. I am so used to simply talking about the previous week, which always worked well for me with Dr O, because it always brought up enough “other stuff” to discuss that we were never ever at a loss for subject matter, not once. But I find that without L’s direction, and without his asking me questions, I feel, I dunno, that I don’t know what to say. I am  so used to Dr O in some sense picking out from my initial answer to the question about my week or even from, How are you, what exactly is most important, that I am simply flummoxed.

I told Dr O that after she left I would most want to work on 2 things in therapy now 1)  gaining “real self-esteem” about who I am, not just for what I do — self esteem meaning, not feeling evil and worthless and to blame for, well you know about all that… and 2) learning not to be or to feel paranoid in life, as well as about specific things. But those seem such tall orders and indeed so intertwined…and I do not know how to work on them, esp with someone like Dr B — L, as he said I could call him. He does not know my history or how deep these things go, how persistent they are and have been.True,  I gave him both of my books, but fear that he is not a reader and in any event has way too much to do to read either one any time soon. He has not even taken the time to call Dr O, or perhaps doesn’t really want to, I dunno. All I know is that he keeps telling me he will, but never does, never did before she left for her trip to Bhutan. She is leaving for good on the last day of July, and I am beginning to doubt that he will manage to speak with her at all before then. It is possible that he does not WANT to, but he ought to say so, and tell me why, rather than simply ignore my request and pretend that he simply missed her by accident…

The introduction to my poetry book gives some idea of my history, and I know he read that, so he has a very small idea of some of what I have been through…snuck in through the back door. But unless he actually reads Divided Minds, which is only part of the story, or talks with Dr O, which is itself only another part, he won’t understand those parts of my history…I understand myself that he might want to make his own assessment. But he needs to really grok that I am not the same person that I was for 35 years, and that he cannot judge my illness or anything about that from me now…I so resent people who discount my past because of that, pretending that it somehow doesn’t matter or didn’t matter, because of where I am now. FOr example, he keeps saying things like: you have this condition that occasionally makes you…As if this is some minor inconvenience or has only had minor consequences for me in my life, rather than having deprived me of 35 years…When it was, as you all know, horrendous, and took so much away from me…Only you guys can really appreciate that. Only you people can truly appreciate the magnitude both of what I have been through a well as the journey I have taken to get to where I am, and I appreciate that no end.

Anyhow, one of the problems with seeing L, apart from whether I can work with a man (which I do not think by itself is any problem at all, though whether I can work with him might be) is that — well, let’s just say that I both felt terrible last session and left there hating myself, hating him, and feeling that I had to leave and find someone else. Feeling like I was contaminating him and that simultaneously he wanted to get rid of me, was laughing at me, and was, I dunno, bored with and sick of me. I also detected what I felt was a note of falsity in his voice, something that sounded like it was using “tried and true technique #2” on me rather than being human and honest…

No one can know, despite my cheery and busy exterior, the depths to which my self-hatred plunges me at times, and frequently, though often without warning…It is not a mood, not at all. It is a building up of thoughts that tip me over a precipice that I need to watch out for. Because it is that precipice of guilt piled upon guilt, and thoughts of how evil I am, piled on top of all that — even without command hallucinations to spark it, OR perhaps it is that missing factor that has so far stopped me? — that lead me to impulses of wanting again to self-immolate, or at a minimum set part of me to the flames. I cannot tell you how often those thoughts arise, and how easy it would be to give in…What good I would feel I was performing for the world, by exercising myself to make such an ablution and atonement!  At the same time, I would be exorcising the evil in me, and if necessary, preventing such evil from infecting more of humanity. But I don’t follow the impulses, nonetheless. Why? Largely because I fear the real time consequences, which I so far manage to remember in time. Consequences? I imagine you think I mean, the burns themsevles, or the pain or soemthing immediately consequential  like that…, no? But it is not that which I fear, only the potential for being locked up if anyone found out that I would dread and which prevents me from acting on my wishes…Otherwise, I would pay no attention. And I refrain too, more easily, because there has been no extra urging or push to do so in the form of those command hallucinations that are so hard to ignore. Thank god for that.

In fact, I have heard NOTHING in the way of voices since February, not that I know of, or at least, nothing that I recognize as “voices” except the occasional name calling, which might in fact have been real.

I am exhausted at the moment, and having trouble distinguishing dreams from reality again, dunno why. I do not for example recall  when I last saw Lynnie, but am convinced that it was recently, and that there was something going on…But my dreams are so realistic and I also remember that my touchstone was always IF you have to ask if something is a dream or real, it is pretty certain to have been a dream! Nevertheless, this is an unnerving development, as it has not been a problem for some time…

I have to write a poem on the word “beach” for the writers group on Tuesday on top of a thoussand other commitments, so I’d better quit here. But there is much more to say and I hope to get to some of it in later days, including my depth perception, veganism and how that is going, and the developments with the book.

*** WE MAD CLILMB SHAKY LADDERS: if you have had trouble ordering it from Barnes and Noble, It IS AVAILABLE. They only tell you it isn’t, because they may not carry it. You have to go to the store and ask them to order it. But I suggest you get it from Amazon for a discount or from http://www.upne.com  to support the press and pay full price at only 4 dollars more. Either way, if you could write some sort of review or at least put your opinion of the book in stars at the site, it would be great. Also at http://www.goodreads.com  THANKS!