Issue 21: Dawn Watson

The Run

I  The Psychiatric Facility

The trees that line the gravel path are old, planted

at random: a patch of pines propping a row

of ambulances; a shambling oak, arms stretched

around a wire-fenced field; strange willows, waiting

for the wind, in frayed, white casings. Unhemmed

nettles soften the edges of the walk to the hard,

red-tack unit, weather-pressed bracken tight

like the quick of a nail. Dense, hickory overhang

now and then brooks pin-sharp sunlight to spear

loose stones. On the horizon, tall electrical pylons

stand braced like cowboys with six arms, ready

to draw. Instead of guns their hands grip cables

stretched long as highways, guiding them over

fields and away.

II  Joan

She twists the earphones cord around her fingers, grips her phone.

She promised herself she would run for an hour. Joan squints

at the sky. It teeters a wide, valiant blue but the air feels sprung

with rain. The sun is unusually high for seven o’clock in the

evening this late in September. The leaves creak back and forth,

barely attached to whipped bark. She leans against her car, pulls

her knee sideways in a stretch. The trees seem faintly courteous

as she walks a warm-up, back straight, stiff as she stops to touch

her toes, then stands to hoik her shoulders back. As a teenager,

she pinched a disc in her spine, dragging a wardrobe up four flights

of stairs. She had believed life could be bent by force of will.

If you pushed hard enough, you could push anything. In time,

it became tiring to convince others of invisible forces, possibilities

littering the day like balls of elastic, one stray kick and they bound

away in jagged, unpredictable lines. Invisible forces like the

unbidden pang for the stranger in a cafe when you stand to leave:

we have faced this space together.

III  The Butterfly

She takes off, and her red Nikes scuff the uneven path

as she side-steps potholes, side-swipes bushes and steps in potholes,

she recalls the little boy she saw in the park yesterday, on her way home.

He had stood with small feet jammed apart like a pylon in small Chuck

Taylors, arms rigid above his head, fists clenched with sudden

excitement, overjoyed at the serendipitous crossover of his favourite

insect and his favourite colour: Blue! Butterfly! Blue! Butterfly!

IV   the horses

in the paddock

set in the grounds

on the outer rim

of the institute

always felt surprising

fixed behind

its barbed-wire fence

the pale grass

was matted and soft

it was strewn

with windfall apples

with the good side down

white mould

on black leaves

the very existence

of the horses

is unsettling

as though their long necks

are at special risk

of being broken

should patients

in the criminal care unit

break out

there are five horses

in tied-on jackets


around the paddock

they turn to watch her

with flicking tails

towards the back

a thick brown mare

with a low bend

to her spine

paces restlessly

her whinny fades

then expands

to a squeal

before erupting

in an anxious splutter

she charges at a row

of scarred fence posts

in the cooling air

a faded old grey

is frozen mid-chew

still as a rock

V  The Grain Store

At the back of the red tower she dodges loose bricks

at the edge of the stream, fallen from window

frames, crumbling some silent morning, thudding

unseen onto the thin deer trail, into the shallow


             The broken, mossy bricks dam the trickle

running beneath carcasses of blackened bracken.

They trap leaves, twigs and anything light enough

to float.

                Joan floats over dints and dings, ducks

overhanging gorse, coconut blossoms, sharded brass

in the blotchy forest light. The brambles snatch

her short, blonde hair. They snag her shoulder. Her

nerves send pain to the brain, tattle-tales of blood

blooming beneath her cotton t-shirt.

                                                                          You see!

You’re alive as these trees. You’re real as nature,

as solid as stones. You’re part of things.

VI  Carol

Going back to June,

they were picking blackberries in the lane

behind her house,

there was Carol with her stoop,

grinding her jaw and stopped,

staring at the ground. Her loot

sat in a basket at her feet and the sun slipped

behind a cloud

as she tented her long, stained

fingers to ask Joan,

Will you marry me.


I love you.

You don’t.

I love you!

You can’t even look at me.

I love you.


Joan laughed.

She batted at a fly

and stood in silence

like a flicked-off light bulb,

sodium blaze sucked

into the tangled, white filament,

to a dark glow.

The vertical trees cast a queer,

slant shade across the faded grass.

Pale willows stretched out

of the warm earth as though circling,

quivering in the blue light.

Joan dropped her berries and turned

to walk to the car. Carol sat

on the ground with her head in her hands.

VII   The Forest

The trail appears on her right, layered with chipped bark. It winds behind a long-abandoned treatment ward. Through a gap

between thin, dry pines, she spies the over-large, cracked windows of the ground floor corridor. She stops. Oxygen masks hang off a gurney, stopped

at an angle like it had rolled to a halt moments before. The wonky wheels wondered where their patient was. The sign on the wall

above the waterproof blue mattress read: WARNING. The red writing beneath is too small to read. She feels a tug in her chest

wall; the panic anticipation of heart failure, general anxiety. Her CBT therapist had told her to pick up a stone and carry it for the length of time she let herself think

about Carol. Focus on her panic triggers for a time, then let them go. Joan bent down under a Redwood, too big and noble for this place. She scooped

a shard of grey flint. It made a small slice in her thumb as she pinched it tightly, enough to feel solid in her grip. Do you feel guilt

at Carol’s death? As if it could have been Joan’s fault. As if it could have been anyone’s fault. It had taken her a while to reply. She told him they had met here

in the adolescent mental health unit. They had spent three years together with a no belts rule. The music in her headphones

changed. Joan ran. Country songs made the everyday spectacular, and celluloid. That’s one hell-raisin’ town way up in South-Eastern Kansas. Got a

biker bar next to a lingerie store. She had pinched her ear and replied: I feel no guilt. He had nodded, tapped his front tooth with his pen. Joan tripped

out of the forest then stopped, and turned around. She threw the stone hard into the trees, and waited for the clunk on bark. There was none.

VIII  The Tangled Man

There are two cars in the parking lot, psychiatrists working


She runs twice around the red brick building, then pauses to jog

on the spot

beside an old metal bin strapped to a lamppost. Behind the

reinforced glass door

the receptionist gives a thumbs-up to someone out of view. A

crow throws

a stiff ruck from the middle of the exercise lawn. Joan runs for

the tarmac hill

leading to the exit down by the train station. She squints at a


on the empty platform with no arms in his blurry, white shirt.

He is wearing

a straightjacket, and holding himself like he might unravel. Tug

in her chest.

Heart attack. She picks up a stone, then forces herself to keep


The light dips. The breeze halts. The sun is swallowed by

sudden cloud

vanishing heavy light lines that lanced the trees moments before.

The crow barks.

She runs past clumps of dock leaves, a rickety birdhouse, loose

wire fencing,

a solar-powered Hope Path, wide pecks of dirt, untrimmed

swathes of grass,

black windows, huddled ragweed, yellow trees and in the distance,

the sound of a train.

IX  America

She wishes she could cover the future

with the thick, ridged plastic of a library book,

stamped and official.

She would have liked to have grown up in America,

with its amber heat and reddish sun.

The crisp white baseball uniforms, boiled peanut stadiums,

the bodily, warm yellow dust bases.

The rattle of the pitcher’s fast ball as it dies

on the wire fencing.

She has the sense the country could, if it chose, enfold pain completely

in its breezy bays and twilight pines.

In its wide, golden canyons.

In its black bears and security bins.

In its haunted cabins on the lakes.

In its tall women with malt milkshakes.

In its peanut-flavoured everything.

In its lack of basic common sense.

In its two tanned fingers to grammar.

In the suburbs’ neat, narrow paths to everyone’s front door.

In its brushed cotton t-shirts and soft Levi jeans, novelty signage

and people with fringes, people colour-saturated and well-wrapped.

In its wholehearted embrace of Halloween, pumpkin torches, zombie brains

in the freezer, candy buckets and blood juice on porches.

X  Flowing, and Flown

She sprints hard,

running in a straight line,

unable to run harder. Her rhythm stalls,

her feet slap

painfully. She is aware of the heat

in her face, the jostling skin

above her jawline.

If the man tries to lunge

with a knife,

she can counter with momentum,

knock him backwards.

That’s one hell-raisin’ town way up in South-Eastern Kansas.

Or she can arc around him.

Got a biker bar next to a lingerie store.

The man’s arms appear,

dovetailed in a tangle.

As she runs towards the exit,

he raises his hand.

He is bald and clean-shaven. His jeans

are too long. His pockets are stuffed

with pages. He is wearing an oversized

white sweater. He moves his shoulder

towards his ear, tilting his head to meet

it. His heels seemed stacked

from the back. He is taller.

He looks at her. He drops his hands

to his sides. He smiles,

pale arms pressed down tight,

pressed straight down.

And then she has passed him.

Joan slows to a stop and turns around.

She pulls her earphones out

and curls forward, hands on her hips.

The train clatters over a pink-rust rail joint

and behind the clouds light bursts to get out

bursts to get out bursts to get out.

Dawn Watson is a PhD candidate at Queen’s University, Belfast, writing a prose poem novel and researching prose poetics. She completed a Masters in Poetry at the Seamus Heaney Centre in 2018, after winning the Ruth West Poetry Scholarship. Her debut poetry pamphlet is forthcoming with The Emma Press in 2019. She was selected as a 2018 Poetry Ireland Introductions Series poet, and won the 2018 Doolin Writers’ Poetry Award. Her writing has been published in journals including The Manchester Review, The Stinging Fly, The Moth and The Tangerine.

Copyright © 2018 by Dawn Watson, all rights reserved. This text may be used and shared in accordance with the fair-use provisions of Copyright law. Archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text on other terms, in any medium, requires the notification of the journal and consent of the author.