Kathleen Bryce Niles-Overton

A Trickery of Witches

 

She was my nemesis.

A freight train of a woman,

ripping up the miles I put

between us, blowing black smoke

into a marriage that tried to be.

 

Decades later,

she feigned no memory of the terror

she manufactured so skillfully,

so simply into my innocent life.

 

It was my faulty remembrances.

The threats just my fantasy…

How could she do those

things when she loved me so?

 

Slowly pouring that single shovelful of dirt

on that single wooden casket could have been

enough.

 

It was not.

 

A Nest of Wasps

 

With their insect tongues like hypodermics

they inoculate each other over and over

 

Thirty years does not lessen the sting

nor make them perfect this prescription

for family

My in-laws take particular delight

in passing out pain like vials of pills

for whatever may ail

 

They are physicians

long studied with the same clinicians

It is time for them to stop practicing

 

They are perfect

 

A Bill of Particulars

 

She was the one on whom

he practiced his art,

She was crazy about him.

And, she was crazy:

five days a week on the couch

pills and shock therapy

two children

 

a collection agency full of bills

there was nothing to do

but cut her loose, cut the losses.

 

He was not brutal then;

that was left for the real wife.

He was apprenticing as a husband.

No father of his own to imitate

he was making it all up,

starring in his own biography,

and the first wife and the first heirs

 

their names never on the marquee.

 

A Black Angel

 

The kitchen stove,

sainted relic at

Most Holy Rosary Rectory,

exploded.

Single clap of thunder

flash of brilliance,

huge strike of bells,

like a call to worship.

 

My grandmother,

their West Indian cook,

was scorched.

Beautiful black face,

lost in bandages,

white as resurrection cassocks…

dark pupils reflecting brimstone

small nostrils remembering incense

mouth round as Sunday’s host.

Those, (and God’s sense of fair play),

separated her from being a ghost.

 

The priest went hungry for some days,

whining about, picking at leftovers,

burning bits of meat

washing self-pity with altar wine.

 

The nuns,

unable to eat,

hovered around the bed,

swathing burnt flesh in gauze,

praying through smoke and ash

promising litanies

reciting rosaries

reminding the saints that this was their angel.


 

“Canst thou minister to a diseased mind…”
Macbeth, Act V, Sc. 3

It is so easy to convince ourselves
as we sit casually aside a cluttered desk
that we have gleaned the answers
some torn from a book
others stolen from a teacher
or gathered from years in practice
that we can fix those fractured minds….

psyches lost to ugly memories
brains tortured and fragmented
thoughts convoluted and dissembled
trying to walk down paths they never knew
running frantically in circles
skipping through jagged streets
unpaved and filled with hidden potholes….

so simple to toss out platitudes
so delicious to clutch the answers
parceling them out in 45 minute increments
to open the door and quickly close it
promising a better week
to let the next mind slide in as we sit
casually aside a still cluttered desk.


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Now, more than ever before, the mental health of Americans should be at the top of our myriad list of concerns. Yes, some are in exceptional mental shape but huge numbers of our people are mired in issues that are deeply buried by decades of being ignored… because of embarrassment, fear, ignorance and finance. We are in crisis.

Mental health, like physical health and education needs to be readily and freely available to all. Yet, it is withheld because it is too costly. The poor and under-educated need the support it affords as much or more than others.

We need to note that in the past two decades the fifty-minute hour has gone from $70 to $170. Note, too, that during that same twenty years, we have seen the escalation of behaviors that cause one individual to create large scenes of mass destruction and the slaughter of individuals anonymous to them. If we do not attend to the mental health of the masses, they will continue to demand to be noticed.


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Kathleen Bryce Niles-Overton is Editor Emerita of the Comstock Review. A retired teacher and administrator, she was the principal of an Alternative to Expulsion for Weapons Possession School in Syracuse, New York. Currently, she is the CEO of the Bryce Focus Group, a PR firm in that specializes in non-profit arts organizations.

The author of several chapbooks, including: Ashes From A Long Dead Fire (nominated for a Pulitzer Prize)…Parochial Habits…A Deed to Precious Property…Catechism of Regret… The Macbeth Papers…Liturgies of the Moon, she holds a BA & MA in English from the University of Albany; Ed.M. in Psychology from the University of Buffalo; and a CAS in Educational Administration from SUNY Oswego.

She is the final judge for the Jessie Bryce Niles Chapbook Competition. While the complexity of being both Irish and Caribbean should have been sufficient, she elected to marry and to have additional relationships with individuals from even more diverse ethnic and religious backgrounds. These poems reflect those unions.

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