by Gillian Swain

After photos of Ward 14 Calan Park Asylum, taken by Geoff Forrester, 2020

I think I see them sometimes
people I knew there 
if I manage to recognise faces
they’re gone
too late
like the way things happen

memory blisters

it was cold in that room
the walls

the bed didn’t make sense
I was supposed to feel safe 
was meant to want 
to sink in
to the mattress

it was hard
the sheets too straight
as tight across me
as the straps

smelt of ammonia

the needle stung as wasps would 
only meaner

sleep and drown
I’m under it
a glass blanket 

they say your body flicks

they think you don’t see yourself
sinew shriek 
synapse Niagara
the lines arc then splay
to nothing

they hope landing 
makes a neater map

is a lie

they turn down the dials
the drip has something floatier 

I ache

like peeling paint

Snap was my response to seeing a collection of photos of the old Callan Park Hospital for the Insane, Rozelle, NSW. The fifty-plus pictures were taken by Geoff Forrester, a chilling and graphic pictorial essay of the now derelict asylum buildings with a sad and disturbing history. I make no claim to understand anything of the experiences patients must have had there, the pictures caused a visceral response. A few of the pictures are here.

Gillian Swain spent her childhood exploring the waterfront of Lake Macquarie, mainly around Warners Bay and Speers Point.

Gillian has a poetry collection “My Skin its own Sky” (Flying Islands Press 2019) and shared first place with Magdalena Ball in the MacLean’s Booksellers Award (Grieve Project 2019). She was the curator of all things poetry for the Indie Writers Festival ‘IF Maitland’ in February 2020.

Gillian lives in East Maitland with her husband and their four children, two dogs, and a few fish in the pond out the back.

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