Hybrid haibun & new perspectives
A Creative Study: Robin Anna Smith
I write both poetry and prose, often hybrids, such as haibun*. My compositions are written plainly, the way I speak, because I want my stories to feel the way I do when I'm telling them verbally. As a person who has lived with a dissociative disorder since early childhood, I'm able to maintain a distance from my stories, while still being in the midst of them. When writing, I try to leave enough white space to allow a reader to come into my world and interpret things from their own vantage point and possibly come away with a new perspective. Sometimes, I'm told people are unsettled or disturbed by my work. While I don't purposely write to shock, I do attempt to reflect on subjects that people would often prefer to ignore, as well as highlight contradictions in everyday life.
*haibun is is a prosimetric literary form originating in Japan, combining prose and haiku. The range of haibun is broad and frequently includes autobiography, diary, essay, prose poem, short story and travel journal.
he convinces me to comply
It’s been a year since my long-time friend-turned-boyfriend-turned-ex began stalking and threatening me. He would show up at my school and work regularly to intimidate. Eventually, he graduated to breaking into my home at night. My parents, friends, and teachers probed me for information about my change in mood. I was evasive.
people full of assumptions
One of the best and worst days of my life was the day I gave birth. It signaled the beginning of the end of his obsession with me, but also of an indescribable emptiness. Though finally able to reclaim my body, it’s not the same as before him.
I wonder what her name is
* * *
borrowing a car we take Amtrak to the suburbs
Windows down on the highway in your mom’s Impala. We’re making our way down I-90, toward Indiana. It’s offensively hot, but we don’t mind. Happy to be getting out of the city for a few days. "Don’t Stop Believin’" blares from the radio and we're belting it out.
I’m riding shotgun and from the corner of my eye, I notice a motorcycle. Absorbed in song, I don’t pay much attention. It creeps back up again and then falls back. Still singing, I make note of the biker's face. A few moments later, the same guy is coming up on the driver’s side.
Suddenly you shout “Oh my God!” and swerve. He’s flicking his tongue at us like Gene Simmons. His pants are unzipped and he’s beating off, balls flapping in the wind. We scream, roll up the windows, and try to pull away. He speeds up next to us, never slowing down the activity of his hand.
Miles pass, as we try to think of other deterrents, none of which would work. We are panicking. Should we get off at the next exit? What if he follows us? We should throw something at him. But what if he crashes and dies? Will we go to jail?
He abruptly veers away onto an exit ramp, smiling and nodding at us with satisfaction. Dick in hand—still going...
Chicago ‘L’ train stars follow me home from the platform
* * *
the white space between memories
I open my eyes to a creepy clown face staring down at me. No idea where I am. Glancing around, I come to realize this is a hospital. Don’t know how I got here or why I’m in a pediatric room. Shifting in bed, I feel my body is crusted with something. Touching my hair, dark flakes come off into my hand. When I get up to use the bathroom, I can better see what’s all over me. It’s vomit, feces, and oil paint. Shortly after returning to bed, people start filtering in, asking questions. I don't know what to tell them.
After a lecture, from my Commander, I'm given a referral to the base shrink. I shower and dress, then I’m discharged from the hospital. My training partner gives me a ride back to the barracks. Anticipating a mess I’m surprised to see my room is spotless. Friends who broke in, and called the ambulance last night, come to check on me. They give a play-by-play of everything that happened.
a handful of pills
I overdose on negative thoughts
* * *
I’m at a bar when a friend of a friend starts flirting with me. Brooks Brothers suit, Johnny Depp cheekbones. He buys me a couple cocktails and we talk for a while. He shakes a small pouch from his pocket and asks if I want to go to the ladies' room with him.
No one seems to mind as we shove our way to the back stall. A few lines later, I expect him to make a move on me but he doesn’t. Must be a nicer guy than I’m used to. When we return to the table, we see that our group has left. One more drink, then he offers to drive me home.
We sit in his BMW outside my apartment. He says a beautiful woman like me deserves nice things and should be treated like a queen. Wouldn’t I like that? Of course, I would.
he offers me a job
as a call girl
* * *
the lion paces the fence line canned hunt
I can see my hand shaking out of the corner of my eye. You’re sifting through your bag. I look you over. Dark greasy tendrils of hair. Sharp angles of a jaw and nose. Tall, gangly body that you slouch one minute and puff up the next, like an overcorrection.
white flag the deer scents a wolf
I can feel you hovering over me. The look in your drugged-up eyes, the smell of cigarettes, cheap booze, and ether, the drips of sweat from your face pressed into me. I feel my body giving way as you throw me onto the floor, your hands on my throat, ready to crush out my life like a roach under your boot.
field sport the shooter claims his trophy
Guilt, as I think about the others you probably hurt after me—events which could have been prevented if I’d spoken up sooner. You should have been in jail. Even after you left me alone, I couldn’t process those events, let alone talk about them with someone else.
an antelope escapes the cheetah endurance race
It’s been thirty years since you stopped stalking me. Every few years, I spend hours checking the internet for any signs of you. This is despite having read the police report about your death over twenty years ago. Part of my brain knows you can’t harm me now. Other parts will always be watching for you.
* * *
Against My Will
72-hour hold/a danger to whom
“How you doin’ this morning?” a nurse awakens me.
“Uh... Okay,” I say, too sedated to reflect on how I really feel.
“Are you still hearing the voices today?”
I search my brain for an answer and find it’s completely empty. “No.”
I should feel relieved, but it just makes me feel lonely.
“Good! That means the medicine is working. I’m gonna help you get up and moved into your room soon. Okay for me to unbuckle you?”
Confused, I look down and then around.
Gurney with straps for ankles and wrists. Stark white walls. Video camera mounted in the corner. Twelve-by-twelve-inch reinforced window on a locked door.
I’ve seen this in movies but this is a different perspective.
blank stares/inmates turn up the silence
She takes me to my room, there’s a girl curled in a ball. She introduces us but the ball doesn’t move or make a sound. I follow suit on my own bed. Over the next hour or so my roommate spends most of her time in the bathroom getting sick.
They say she’s detoxing and not to worry, but this is disturbing.
Someone pops their head in the doorway and tells me to come eat breakfast. I’m not hungry, but it’s opportunity to get away from the noise.
Breakfast is pancakes, which I never thought could be bad, but they managed. I drink my juice and coffee, and leave the rest.
Soon it’s time for group therapy. Mandatory. The room is filled with maybe a dozen or so people. All with the same face but different stories. All equally upsetting.
I feel as if the earth will part and swallow us.
A burst of adrenaline rushes through me. I jump up and run out of the room. Weaving and stumbling down the halls, I get lost. Two orderlies corral me in a corner and I crumple to the floor.
“What’s wrong? Why did you leave group? Where are you going?”
I rock back and forth, crying and repeating, “I can’t. I just can’t.”
searching for a place to hide/my empathy
They allow me to go back to my room for a bit to calm down. One brings a pill for me to take and walks by my room every 15 minutes to check if I’m still agitated.
It’s time for lunch and I’m herded with the others into the cafeteria. I don’t want to eat; I just want to go back to bed. After a few bites, I push my food around my plate. As I wait to be dismissed, I look around at the other zombie-people, poking at their food.
Soft, mushy, flavorless. Even the food here is “safe.”
After we clean up, it’s art therapy time.
Finally, something I can enjoy.
I grab some crayons and paper, and start drawing an idealized picture of the hospital’s exterior. Flowers. Trees. Little furry animals. I’m reminded how lucky I am to have my imagination as an escape.
shade of a banyan tree/squirrels eat raisins from my hand
After I pretend to socialize a nurse calls me in to see the doctor. Condescending middle-aged guy with a God complex. He explains how life is hard and I obviously can’t handle it. My sedation is wearing off again and my anger and frustration are growing.
I came here to keep from killing someone yet it’s making me want to kill everyone in this place.
I head to the common room and they’re starting a coping skills class. It’s your typical twelve-step program.
They could have given handouts for this and let us go back to bed.
When the class is over we’re allowed free time, but we have to remain in the common room. I decide to write some poems to block out the noise.
socks, socks, in a box
bring me the bagels—I want some lox
I used to have the chicken pox
but all the chickens were really cocks
...and something else about pancakes and how they could also be used as a trampoline for Tigger if you stacked them up.
When I’m manic, my brain goes all Dr. Seuss on Froot Loops. I hate this damn medicine for slowing things down.
the opera singer’s vocal acrobatics/mood swings
It’s already time to eat again and they’re serving the same food but in different colors. The exception is there are cookies and instead of being mush, they are hard as rocks. Again, I have my drinks and move the food around to look like there is less of it.
I head back to the common room with everyone. Some of these people are talking non-stop—to each other, to themselves, to God—and it is raking my nerves. I really need some quiet and privacy.
Time for evening pills. Finally, I get to go to bed!
We line up single-file in the hallway. I watch each person as they step up to the nurse’s window. Each person questions what is in their tiny cup. Each person is told to swallow it or lose “privileges.” When I make it to the window, I grab my cup, toss them back, and swallow.
The sooner I get out of here, the better.
I go to my room to get ready for bed and see that I have a new roommate.
This one is talking a lot. All I want to do is finally rest. She starts telling me about her abusive husband and how she claims to be suicidal to escape him by being committed. From all she says, I get the feeling she really does contemplate suicide.
Her husband is the one who should be locked up—not her.
Lights out. She continues at a whisper. I listen until she finally slows down and seems to have gotten out what she needed to share. We agree that we both need some rest. She seems to fall asleep and I lie awake, thinking of how to kill her husband.
the crack of a baseball bat/his thick skull
Robin Anna Smith is a non-binary, disabled writer and visual artist, currently residing in Wilmington, Delaware. She began writing when she became bed-bound and acquired aphasia due to illness. Through writing, she has had significant recovery in her communication skills. Her work appears in a variety of international online and print journals, and in Unsealing Our Secrets: A Short Poem Anthology About Sexual Abuse. More of her work can be found at her website robinannasmith.com and Twitter @robinannasmith.