pinky is retarded
going on for fifty five
he’s short and stumpy
and rounded
in a strange shape
that brings to mind
a stunted tree

he often wears pink shorts
when he comes
down the hill
with the rest
of the troop
each week
scrubbed and shining clean

he looks his age
but seems to have
no presence or gravity
to go with it
or at least
it’s a wizened look
that’s hard to work out
dull and quiet
but curious
at the same time

until the locals
tease him
about his pants
or his teddy bear
or some other thing
to get him going
for a little sport
or as a demonstration
for visitors

© Frank Prem, 2000


card collector

Psychiatry 1: The Early Years – Poem 10 

there are many ways
to collect a set of cards
medals of war
types of poultry
or flags from countries
all around the world

it can be as slow
as eating vita brits
as much as I can hold
each day
that’ll get me two cards
every couple of weeks
with good health and strength
as a by-the-way

it can be faster
when my mum’s right there
to open the packets
for breakfast on the ward
six cards in a single day
makes the smile of a hot collector

but a better way
that has to be the best of all
is to talk to old eugene
the man who has control
of the most cards
in the whole wide world

when I ride up
to the hospital store
and ask him
he waves me right inside
points me to the ladder
and I can open packets
till five o’clock

two hundred cards
in my pocket
and I’m the best
that there ever was


© Frank Prem, 2016

Psychiatry 2:  Student Daze – Introduction

Notes on: card collector

a hundred dollars every week

Psychiatry 1: The Early Years – Poem 9 

long days of work
on aching legs
run right off her feet
home at last
to yet another round
of wash-and-clean

never a spare smile
to lighten
a femininely handsome face
and no moment
for a breath of peace

always something
one more something
still to do

day after day
long into the evening
no change
to the way it is
except a teardrop
that forms in her eye
when the little boy
with a small voice asks

when I grow up
if I can earn
a hundred dollars
every week
do you think my wife
can stay at home
and not have to work
each day

© Frank Prem, 2016

Next: card collector

spreading magic in the bread room

Psychiatry 1: The Early Years – Poem 8 

dad is in the bread room today

out of all the places I’ve been to
the bread room
is the best

he pops me up on top
of a couple of huge boxes of butter

more butter
than anywhere else in the world

then he loads up the machine

a sandwich-loaf block of white bread
is placed for slicing
and some softened butter
is set for spreading

the machine starts up
and as the bread gets sliced …

… it comes out buttered

oh boy
no hands


© Frank Prem, 2016

a hundred dollars every week

Notes on: spreading magic in the bread room

sunday lunch with the ladies

Psychiatry 1: The Early Years – Poem 7 

hello dear
how are you
don’t you look lovely

I’m not sure if I look lovely
but they sound strange
like little girls boxed up inside
old ladies

it’s sunday
and I’ve jumped on my bike
and gasped my way
up to where mum’s working
in one of the female wards

they always seem to be busy
up here
scrubbing something
or folding something
but they’re all over me
when I visit

almost patting me

mum is really pleased
when I ride up
but sort of hurries me away
out of the main room
like she’s not sure it’s good thing
for me to be here

in one of the empty rooms
I perch on a neat bed
feet swinging

while mum ducks out for a second
then comes back
with a plate of roast chicken
left over from lunch

and pink junket
for a special sunday dessert

© Frank Prem, 2016

Next: spreading magic in the bread room

Notes on: sunday lunch with the ladies

conditions of employment

Psychiatry 1: The Early Years – Poem 6 

conditions of employment
say a man can’t make extra arrangements
with any other employers

it has to be
one day rostered on
one day rostered off
in the heat
of the main kitchen
and that’s all

but at the end of a summer
when the weeks of hot sun
have done their work
and the crops
have reached a ripening
when pollen and storm warnings
are filling the air
there’s a farmer in porepunkah
with thirty acres of grass
to cut for hay
and to carry into storage
before the rain spoils it

and in the stanley hills
there are orchards
with their own brief seasons
of apples and pears
and sweet black cherries
to be picked and graded
and packed into cool stores

and the plumber
in town
needs an able assistant
for digging ditches
erecting spouting
and doing general handiwork

there’s a house to pay off
a refrigerator to buy
and the kids are wearing mud
into the neighbours carpets
because there is
no television at home

conditions of employment
don’t understand
the conditions of living
that a man with a family
has to meet

© Frank Prem, 2016

Next: sunday lunch with the ladies

Notes on: conditions of employment

the smell of stockings

Psychiatry 1: The Early Years – Poem 5 

there is a particular odour
that attaches itself to feet
when the shoes are removed
at the end of a thirteen-hour day
that begins
with the tepid sloshing waters
of showers and baths
for forty-five incontinents

the leather of the shoes
captures moisture
and holds it
in a tight-fitting soup
that surrounds feet and winter hose
as the day goes on
with cleaning and washing floors
in the clammy warmth
of a steam-heated ward

my mother wants only
to take her shoes off
to rest swollen
and painful feet

I want
to leave the room

© Frank Prem, 2016

Next: conditions of employment

Notes on: the smell of stockings


first breakfast

Psychiatry 1: The Early Years – Poem 4 

for ninety minutes
after coffee
raise them up
out of wet and dirty bedding
then take an allocation
to supervise and assist in the showers
or strip and remake the beds
until breakfast time
for workers and for patients
half staff on first meal-break
half on second

catch a lift
down the hill to home
thirty minutes
to get the kids up
into the shower
tidy their rooms
and some cereal before school

the hoot of a car horn
tells that it’s time to go back
to clean the ward
until first lunch

© Frank Prem, 2016

Next: the smell of stockings

Notes on: first breakfast

taxi shuttle

Psychiatry 1: The Early Years – Poem 3

every morning
at ten minutes to seven
blue uniforms
starched and stiff
cluster in the spilling light
at the front
of the post office

breath misting
in the pre-dawn cold
of a winter day

four at a time
in the taxi shuttle
up the hill
for the start
of another shift
in the back wards

© Frank Prem, 2016

Next: first breakfast

Notes on: taxi shuttle

a ha-ha above town

Psychiatry 1: The Early Years – Poem 2



Mayday Hills Ha Ha (1)

there is always a hill
in a mental asylum town

the ha-ha wall
and the poor fools it protects
and embraces within fine examples
of long-outdated architecture
perches concealed
from the gaze
of the good citizens
resident down below

for unlike the near-normal presence
of convicted criminals
in the prison near the centre
of the township
insanity is unsightly
frightening in the nakedness it reveals
and there is just a possibility
of contagion

atop the hill and behind the wall
and out of averted sight it lies
camouflaged by green acres
of gardens carefully tended
and flourishing farmland
for the production
of vegetables milk and meat

hidden away despite the prosperity
that a thousand lost souls
living inside have ensured
for the past present and future
of the town’s folk
who depend on this location of insanity
to earn
or to steal
their daily bread and butter

and it is here
that a young child’s mother
will be shown how to be a ward assistant
and here that his father
will become a kitchen hand in the mess room
and learn to be a victorian public servant

it is here that the daily journey
to the inside of the ha-ha wall
above the town


Mayday Hills Ha Ha (2)

© Frank Prem, 2016

Next: taxi shuttle

Notes on: a ha ha above town