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Herakles – Atlas

Herakles

Paula Harris

Herakles phones the depression helpline at 1am, exhausted from crying and the inside of his head

it is easier to fold a fitted sheet than to get help from the depression helpline
easier to fold a fitted sheet with a partner who doesn’t listen to instructions
easier to fold a fitted sheet with one hand
easier to fold a fitted sheet made of damp tissue
easier to fold a fitted sheet while balancing one-legged on the end of a crocodile’s snout
easier to arrange finance and buy a fitted sheet factory and deal with the folding en masse of
   fitted sheets than to get help from the depression helpline

 

they tell him to take up a hobby
to have a cup of tea
to get some sleep

 

he folds into himself, holding the corner of a sheet in one hand
folds into himself and balances one-legged on the end of a crocodile’s snout

Herakles gets admitted to the psych ward and his mother asks if he has clean underwear

He doesn’t.

 

Getting admitted to the psych ward wasn’t part of today’s plans.
He had intended to kill the Hydra as it was marked in his diary,
right after his psychiatrist appointment,
so he only had sufficient underwear for the day.

 

He had intended to wash his smalls this evening
or maybe over the weekend if he was too tired tonight.

 

Now he’s in a cell on the psych ward
with only the underwear and clothing he’s wearing,
a notebook, a pen and a tube of lip balm
(as his lips are prone to dryness).

 

His mother asks if she should break into his house
in order to get his underwear,
she tuts when he advises that there is no clean underwear,
continues to talk about the need for clean underwear
while he howls I’m in the psych ward, I’m in the psych ward
I’m in the psych ward

 

Hera arrives at visiting hours bearing a shopping bag from Farmers,
she smirks as he opens it to find Superman underwear.

Herakles contemplates Sarah Connor as a potential idol

Sadly movies are full of make-believe
so Herakles’ cell doesn’t have a metal bed
that he can turn on its end to do pull-ups

 

His bed is a mattress
which rests on a vinyl-upholstered plinth

 

The best he could do with this
is take the mattress off and do jump squats
using the plinth
but his knees don’t cope with the impact anymore

 

He leans his back against a wall
and does a squat-hold
but his strength and weight make the wall crack
plaster dusting his feet as it falls

 

He tries to do press-ups against the green vinyl floor
but his hands slip against the floor left damp from tears
which must be his, but he doesn’t remember crying

 

Herakles curls up on his mattress

 

Herakles contemplates the innate value of human life, and decides he’d rather have quiet

The woman in the neighbouring cell
spends all night snoring
(enough to wake the heavens)
and all day screaming
(enough to disturb hell)

 

Herakles keeps waiting for her
to be taken to the place
for worse people, until he realises
that that’s the place they’re in

 

He closes his eyes and asks Zeus
that the woman will die;
this place has taught him the value of life is low
but quiet is necessary in measured doses.

Author’s note: These poems are part of a larger series of poems. The series make up a chapbook – Sectioning Herakles – which was primarily written while I was briefly sectioned and put in the psych ward in October 2017 (due to severe depression/chronic suicidality).

Paula Harris lives in Palmerston North, where she writes poems and sleeps in a lot, because that’s what depression makes you do. She won the 2018 Janet B. McCabe Poetry Prize and the 2017 Lilian Ida Smith Award, and was a writing resident at Vermont Studio Center in October 2018. Her poetry has been published in various journals, including Berfrois, Queen Mob’s Teahouse, Poetry NZ Yearbook, Snorkel, The Spinoff and Landfall. She is extremely fond of dark chocolate, shoes and hoarding fabric. She tweets randomly at @paulaoffkilter.