By Elaine Mintzer


I'm her teacher who called from school today
because she ran away again, into the dugouts,
behind the snack stand, around the tennis court,
and into a closet in the counseling office
where she snarled like a dog.
She refused her meds, and kicked the boy
with the white cane.
“Why does he get special treatment,”
she complained, “just because he’s blind?”
She loves her happy self. Loves, loves, loves
her bouncy-dancing, crazy-screaming,
profanity-spewing, wise-cracking, cane-kicking,
wild self.
She doesn’t want to be as boring as the rest of us.

How old was she when her parents’perfect baby
became imperfect?
When the suspicions that ate at them
were validated by a pediatrician
who sent them to a psychiatrist,
who sent them to a neurologist,
who sent them to a family reconciliation therapist.

She brings her brain scans to school.
“This,”she says, pointing to the picture,
“is where the activity is most intense.”
She hears colors that collide behind her eyes.
A staccato of red, and a volley of purple
splinter in an arpeggio of orange.
One linear thought would be nice,
a mood that ebbs and flows in easy waves,
not the random shifts of treacherous teachers
and parents who squawk and bark and plead.

There is no sign on her body that says Caution.
Out of Order. Chemical Imbalance.
No theory of quantum physics explains the distance
between where she is and the smile she wears;
explains an absence of feeling so vast
it laughs in the wings as she flubs her lines,
forgets to smile on cue.

Ask me if there is mental illness
in my family and I’ll say no.
I’m fine.
My children are fine.
And my mom and dad.
We are all fine.
I don’t count my depression,
or family therapy
or individual therapy.
I don’t count my step-kids
or my uncles,
I won’t name the ones
who were drug-dependent
or bipolar
or shell-shocked
or schizophrenic.
I forget all about
the eating-disordered,
the senile,
the homeless,
the incarcerated,
the suicidal.
I remember them as
students with promise,
stock brokers,
gas jockeys,
I remember them as
the dear children
and the damned ones.

They’re as common as blades of grass
that break through the asphalt,
or crows that chatter from the rail
on the neighbor’s deck.
It’s as common as Mom on the couch
with a headache,
Dad working late again tonight,
or the dog gnawing at the bare skin
on his left flank.

How long can parents hold their breath?
Till the pregnancy is confirmed,
till the fingers are counted,
till the first steps are taken,
till the first words are spoken,
till the doctor says this is normal,
till the doctor says this is not,
till the first medication takes effect,
till the next medication,
till the hope is all gone,
till the smile returns,
till the diploma’s received,
till the vows are exchanged,
till the grass cuts through the asphalt,
till the crows stop mocking

The Story Behind Till the Crows

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