Joan Barasovska

Joan Barasovska

lives in Chapel Hill, NC. Joan is an academic therapist in private practice, working with children with learning disabilities and psychological challenges. She cohosts a poetry series at Flyleaf Books and serves on the Board of the North Carolina Poetry Society. Joan has poems published or forthcoming in Kakalak, San Pedro River Review, Flying South, Red Fez, and Main Street Rag. Birthing Age (Finishing Line Press) is her first book of poetry.

Happy twenty-first

to this lovely young woman
with her green cat’s eyes and her red, green, yellow
checked shirt with mother-of-pearl snap buttons.

She shouldn’t be that thin, a girl like this one,
brought up to take care of herself.
Her hair could be cleaner. Her skin is splotchy.

It’s a crowded room, but not a party room,
it’s an elevator going up to the fifth floor,
and her parents are there,
and a resident with keys,

and with each jolt of the car
the birthday girl flinches,
because she is on edge,
she’s celebrating by signing herself
into an adult locked ward,

this lovely young woman
pretending to be invisible,
who has dressed for the party
only to disappear.


naked and small, sewn back together, scar by scar.
     Dorianne Laux

The pros knew the ins and outs of razor blades and other sharps.
Short sleeves displayed their laddered stripes and stitchwork.
Nurses ran to rescue those who’d gone too far.
I climbed the ropes of Privileges, stopped carving up my skin
so I could graduate to Grounds, with its freedom to collect
shards of glass scattered on the generous lawns.
Each time I sprang a bloody leak I asked for help,
a doctor to sew my wounds, put the flesh back
where it started, wind the bandages other people wore.

Often I lay face-up on linoleum and banged my head.
Sometimes I punched my chest until I cried.
I found a tiny hole in a window screen
and worried it until loose wires cut my fingertips.
Secret hours spent in a trance of loathing.
I can’t remember why I had to do these things.
The first day I spared myself all ferocity evaporated.
For years I saw little scars on two fingertips.
The scars on my wrists remain, messy and confused.

I was only ever an amateur at suicide.
For most of a year I watched
the pros come and go and die.
I told my doctor on a rare good day,
Someday I’ll be glad I couldn’t kill myself.
How did I know this, lost as I was?
I knew it, as certain as blood
knew its way through my veins,
as sure as my skin knew to heal.

George’s Big Night

Crash! Whoosh! Yelling,
the alarm screaming, feet running, sloshing.
We startled awake in rooms off the glaring hallway
and stood in doorways barefoot, pajama cuffs rolled up.
Gigantic George stood naked in the waters,
crazy geysering off his drooping flesh.

He’d yanked the water fountain from the wall.
A pipe gushed glacial water past our rooms
and George bellowed, spouting sweat and spit,
shaking scary fists at a nurse no one liked.
He’d left his glasses on.

Under the noise we speculated:
Has he been cheeking his meds?
How can a man that fat and lazy be so strong?
That’s how mean we were.
We liked the spectacle.
Maintenance and Housekeeping raced in.

The big male techs who specialized
in flaming madness fought George to the floor
and dragged him to the locked and padded rooms
at the dead end of the hall,
a nest for wild times like these.
I’d been there twice.
It was a desire I knew well,
to smash the dam and flood
the awful hallway of my night.

Delancey Street Blues

You find your boyfriend’s works hidden in a desk drawer—
the burnt spoon, matchbook, syringes, tourniquet.
Somehow you didn’t notice he was always nodding off.
You’ve listened to his slurred stories.
You’ve drawn him in that state.

In the hospital he had looked like salvation.
His tragic limp, slow drawl, vampire-pale resemblance to Dylan.
Older than you. Sexy. He knew the ropes, he had connections.
You perked right up when he came courting, didn’t you, babe?
Your ticket out, your ticket punched. You didn’t wonder
what a man like that was doing with you, did you?
And why was he broke? He was a carpenter,
you were his sad-eyed lady, he got a disability check,
you rented a crummy studio apartment on Delancey
for the two of you. You started getting disability.

Your check pays the rent. Your food stamps
buy the groceries. It’s your furniture, dishes,
your everything. Your mattress on the floor.
You drag a cart each week to the laundromat.
You run so many errands for him!
Get books about Nazis at the library.
Get a special knife he wants. Get paregoric
when he finds another Yellow Pages doctor
who will write a scrip. Idiot girl,
can’t you figure out what that’s a fix for?
You get tired of shopping, cooking,
errands, cleaning, taking his orders.

He’s got a system. Every night, after the news, he gives
you a Quaalude to help you get to sleep. Very pleasant.
Good medicine for doubts. Good cover for shooting up.
He has an antique cane, gold-tipped.
One night you’re sitting on the bed arguing,
he hits you on the head with his precious cane.
You still don’t throw him out. You tell no one.

He teaches me so many things, he can be kind,
he’s had a hard life, we love each other, etc.
Coward, you’re afraid to be alone.

You find his works.
You slam the drawer.
Your mind clicks into place.

Out he goes, without arguing or begging.
On the stairs he turns and says,
Don’t ever let anybody take advantage of you again.
You got that, babe?

It Kept Happening

     I watch, and am as a sparrow alone upon the housetop.
     Psalm 102

I walked to work before dawn. I had the key.
Something had gone wrong with a boyfriend.
Doesn’t matter. I was supposed to be better.

I climbed the circular stairs past our office on the second floor,
then the one on the third floor, then opened a window
and climbed onto the roof. No one to stop me.

I stood at that ledge for so long, close enough to sway,
close enough to eye the narrow walkway to the church
where my broken skull would lie. The fall would take time.

What held me at the edge was a vision of my parents
staring at the mess of me. I hadn’t seen that when I wrote my note.
It had seemed cleaner. The sun rose. The staff started the day below.

How did this look from a few buildings away? Not good
to the two men yelling from a high apartment window
at International House. Was I okay? Did I need help?

To shut them up I climbed inside, slunk down the stairs
and to my desk where an ordinary Monday had begun.
The police showed up. I was neither dead nor safe.

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