At nine, my brain short-circuited.
From a tangle of defective genes
And anxiety-inducing stresses
You emerged fully clothed in darkness and malice,
Fistfuls of my neurons clenched in each gloved hand.
A shimmering wraith of foggy ebony,
You carefully poured a flask of silvery doubt down my esophagus,
And insecurity roiled in my stomach, forcing the butterflies within into a panicked frenzy.
I started to argue with myself,
Your wicked manipulations tainting my beliefs.
My swim bag was unzipped two and twenty times each day
My fatigued eyes roaming over my belongings
Temporarily appeasing the terrible anxiety
As all was accounted for.
At eleven, I walked into a classroom on Diversity Day
The smile on my face the only roots of a carefree, drifting mind
For mental health education squatted on my tongue like
A croaking, slimy bullfrog.
Red limned my vision as cries
From the taekwondo classes a floor below
Seeped through the threadbare carpet.
A contorted wink.
Uncontrollable muscle flexes like so many undulating waves of
Billowing funeral shrouds.
Ragged prisoners staring out from beneath haggard eyelids,
Their haunted pupils flashing with thoughts chained to the bloody racing track
Of their mind.
Slaves, all slaves
As OCD shone on the screen in all its shadowy glory,
As I finally glimpsed a snapshot of the monster coiled around
Walking out of that classroom,
I talked with you for the first time,
You assured me that
We were brothers birthed from the same
At fourteen, you became my best friend
When I had built barriers of cold aloofness around myself
And my very definition of friend was
A person in which you have faith
that they will betray your trust.
It was you who crept through my veins
In the black of night
Who burrowed into my heart and wrapped your claws
Around my hope
And I screamed as they were wrenched from me
Terror and pain electrocuting me awake
Thus, at school
I have been a literal robot
My empty heart unable to partake in the revelry of life,
Swallowing only the silence you feed me.
I feel the humanity slipping from my skin with every hard
Scowl and cold, clipped
Word and stiff
Movement that graces my days.
The automaton beneath my skin is restless
And your hand is on the joystick.
A unique and nicely personal take on the struggles of OCD, with a balance of agony and story description. I really loved the personification of the force in the speaker’s head, who seems to be responsible for the speaker’s behavior.
Richard Zhu is a member of the class of 2022 at the Peddie School in Hightstown, New Jersey. He loves to write and is influenced by many modern poets, including spoken word poet Rudy Francisco. Many of his poems grapple with themes of mental health and his Chinese heritage.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR