Poems by Valerie Laws (UK)
Photography by John Kirsch (USA/ Mexico)
Published in The Ofi Press issue 43
NOTE: This selection of poems was inspired by the story of Lurine Kirsch and the photography of John Kirsch. They represent the poet's reactions to photos and texts provided by John as well as being the culmination of much personal research by Valerie on lobotomy.
Lobotomy I: Walter Jackson Freeman II
(Inventor of the Transorbital Lobotomy)
Breakthrough? A medical miracle! My method takes minutes
To cure schizoprenia – splits emotion from intellect, cuts
Thalamo-cortical connections of prefrontal cortex
And - but hey, forget jargon. I’m a scientist, trust me, this,
This is simple. My first leucotome? An icepick from the kitchen!
No need to be scared. I just drive this spike deep into the brain,
Skimming each eyeball, right through the socket. Hammer
It home, crack the orbital bone. Swing the pick like
A pendulum, hammer again, give one expert wrench,
Simple and safe, bam! Fixed. Anyplace is my theatre,
No need for a surgeon; no messing, no fuss,
No dressings, no gloves. Watch me do left and right, both
Eyes at once – twenty-five lucky gals in one day, yes sir!
Desperate mania, suicidal ravings, I’ll wipe out
Any shameful cravings. Change your wife’s personality,
Cure stepson’s sulks, Mom’s migraines. Communism.
Electroshocks knock ‘em out, humane and so cheap,
Two hundred dollars buys a biddable wife, daughter, son,
No more mania, not sleeping, no moping or weeping. Yes
I’ve done thousands! Rosemary Kennedy got a bit lippy,
Went a bit wild, worried her Pa, so we put her straight.
Now she lives with the nuns guaranteed safe from scandal,
An innocent soul. Good as gold, a real doll.
So go on. Have yours done. Sign here, so. Watch me go.
Lobotomy II: Spokesman for the Commissioners of Insanity
(who committed Lurine Kirsch)
‘I just can’t control the world anymore.’
This poor woman is clearly insane, needs
Help. Condemned, I mean committed, out of
Her own mouth. ‘Anymore’? Does she think
She ever did? Does she have delusions of grandeur!
An ageing homemaker no longer fertile, true,
Understandably feeling useless, but ‘control’?
Her complaint may seem to the unqualified to
Represent a cure from these delusions, but no,
In our opinion, the fact she 1) thought she ever did
And 2) complains about the delusion’s decease
Suggests 3) that she wants it back. Well luckily
For her and others like her, it’s we who control
The world here in Cherokee, Pottawattamie County,
And as of this day in May 1954, we declare
Lurine Kirsch to be insane, and committed to our care.
She’ll get the best treatment, and her own rocking chair.
Lobotomy III: George Hajworonsky
(psychiatrist who performed Lurine’s lobotomy)
A good three minutes’ work there – cured!
I did more in a blink with this hammer and spike
Than in years of analysis. But it’s satisfied customers
Make my day. She was acting strange, said Tony
Her husband, so he had her committed here. And
Here she’d have stayed, just another woman unhinged
By The Change, but for this little box of tricks.
She’d lost interest in her home, was talking to God –
That’s no good to a man, who wants a wife like that?
He did the right thing coming to us. And now she’s fine.
I’ve done a proper follow-up, listened to him, well
Listening is my job, you know! And he’s
Just thrilled with his new wife, attentive, hanging on his
Every word, fully taken up with home-making. Happy.
I have it from his own lips. Another satisfied customer.
I tell my wife, I’ve got an icepick with her name on
Waiting back at the office, the electroshock machine
Charged, if she ever stops baking me her cherry pies!
A joke she never tires of. Why, she laughs ‘til she cries.
Lobotomy IV: Lurine Kirsch
(before, then after her operation)
God speaks to me, we’re pals. ‘Hey Kid’,
He’ll say from his lodgings in his
Family pictures at church or my
House – I take them down, turn
Them over to catch him out, nothing there
But brown paper backing though – ‘Hey Kid,
How ya doin?’ And I say, ‘God, it’s more
‘Why am I doin? I’ve done right by You,
By Tony, by them all, kept a clean house,
And now I’m wonderin, what’s it all for?
Time’s a-runnin out and I’ve got nothin
But no cobwebs to show for it.’ And God,
He’s thinking that over. But Tony doesn’t like
Me out nights, walking, thinking, thinking,
Like some woman not respectable. Home’s
The place for a decent woman, keeping house
And keeping to the house, that’s it, that’s all
The why you need, he yelled. So I yelled back.
And so they did the operation. Now I
Can’t think clear except on what’s
To hand. Can’t remember the future.
Can’t think out why anything. I keep
Cheerful, do what I can. Rely on my man
And the kids. Don’t raise a fuss. But God
Must be sore at me, because He don’t speak.
Hides somewhere I can’t see. Maybe
He rides along up there behind my brow
Where I can’t hear or reach Him now.
Lobotomy V: Tony Kirsch
You bet I’m happy! Happy that she’s happy. That’s
All I wanted, for it to be like it was before she got –
That Way. Broke my heart to sign them papers, see
Them take her in, her so angry, scared. Going home
Alone, I couldn’t settle, the bed, the kitchen
Empty, washing up my plate and cup. Thinking
Of her alone in there in a padded cell, maybe trussed
Like a turkey in one of them strait waistcoats, like
She was hugging herself in pain. Talking to God,
I mean that’s what the preacher’s for, dammit!
Then they told me about this new operation, no
Hospital, no scars, no pain, no more That Place. They
Could mend her, men with letters after their names,
Like gods, gods who talk to me, men who know
Science, like the atom bomb, robots or
Spaceships, and about as wonderful. Transorbital
Lobotomy. Sounds like science fiction! Yes,
I signed THAT paper pretty fast, you bet! Smiling.
And smiling’s how she come out of there. Peaceful,
Content, busy in the house, no more queer ideas or
Questions for God. I’d say she’s even happier than before.
Lobotomy VI: God
I had great plans for her. Now I’m locked out
I hang above her head, a ball of light
Containing a new universe lost to sight.
Valerie Laws: poet, crime and comedy novelist, stage and radio playwright, sci-art installation specialist, performer, mathematician, swimmer. She performs her work at readings, events, festivals and signings live and in the media world-wide. http://www.valerielaws.com/
JOHN KIRSCH is an editor for an English-language publishing company in Mazatlan, Mexico. Prior to moving to Mexico, Kirsch worked as a reporter and occasional photographer for newspapers in Iowa and Texas. He has a B.A. in journalism from Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, and an A.A. in photography from Hawkeye Community College in Waterloo, Iowa.