from long black shoelaces

Please be aware that this poem is on adult themes (suicide) and may be confronting.

This piece is taken from an unpublished collection drawing on my experiences working in the field of psychiatry, tentatively entitled ‘The New Asylum’, currently being developed into book format in collaboration with my wife Leanne Murphy.


I think they’re going to pull the plug soon

maybe tomorrow

she’s been in intensive care since Thursday
in the afternoon
when we found her
tried to bring her back to life

she started breathing by herself
for a while
but that’s all

today they said her brain has died
everything is being done
by machine
set to automatic

on Friday
we talked among ourselves
told what we thought had happened
what we saw

someone said it looked too late
before we’d even started

and the girl who cut her down
had already lived this once
this was a second one the same

why do they do that

I don’t know
nobody seems able to say
but this one used shoelaces
lost consciousness
then strangled

it seems a stupid empty way to go
and today
we’ve been remembering that suicide
is a fleeting thought
and our job
is to see folk through
to the other side
of nothing left
worth living for

a community-based colleague
said she was thinking of us
as she drove to a home visit

halfway around a bend
she saw a mother cow
licking a baby calf

around the next
a flock of cockatoos
the biggest she’s ever seen

and she thought of us
checking bedrooms and bathrooms
for people suspended
maybe dying
thought she was lucky in her work

I guess she is

I got a call from Intensive Care
family members want the possessions
the diary and phone numbers

I’ll carry it all across the campus
tomorrow morning

but the shoelaces
have gone

© Frank Prem, 2012

10 thoughts on “from long black shoelaces

  1. brutal – but honest and real – and from an interesting and affecting perspective

    sometimes I have to wonder …. how much the “scars” and “wounds” of others, in such distress, transfer to those who work, live and are with them, during the most difficult periods of their lives

    Liked by 1 person

    • HI WChild.

      Yes, it’s brutal all round. I replied to mistspell, that the health professional doesn’t get a choice, so it’s seriously necessary to toughen up. Sadly, a touch of callousness may come with that process. Cheers, Frank

      Liked by 1 person

      • Well I guess everyone processes and works through in their own ways …. and maybe sometimes it’s more “tough self-love”? But then, maybe the real issue lies in knowing when it all becomes too much and it’s time to step away. I’ve seen too many health care professionals become coldly indifferent and then somewhat heartless simply because they are burnt out. Definitely not an easy professional choice – a very tough job for those who are engaged.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. It is not a stupid empty way to go and that is hard to understand even to those that work with “them”. “They” do not do it to go anywhere, they are just stopping the pain when everything else fails.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Mistspell.

      Thanks for reading and taking time to comment.

      I see from your comment that you disagree with the POV of the poem. Fair enough.

      What I was trying to reflect in this piece was just one perspective, but there are many more.
      The health professional – psych nurse in this case – morally has no option but to try to prevent suicide – regardless of the person’s reasons and rationale. No choice, so the merit of why and what if and who don’t come into the equation.

      As to referring to folk as ‘they’, one person is an individual – a brother mother, sister, me, you. A string of people, one after another, and day after day, becomes ‘they’. Sad reality of inpatient unit life.

      I understand the argument, and it’s valid, but the poem is just one take on it.

      Thanks again for reading, I’ve been pondering your comment for an hour and a half now.



      Liked by 1 person

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