Chloe Honum

On the Stairs Outside the Psychiatric Ward

I stand with the boy with the twisted body

while the smoke from his cigarette signs its slow signature.

He leans on his cane and the cane shakes.

It is late afternoon, almost dark.


We are day patients and soon will go home.

The boy says, I got into some trouble in Texas,

which is so far away it doesn’t seem to exist,

not with what’s going on now.


All around us autumn is throwing

gold and crimson leaves into the street

while starlings are holding tight on a telephone wire,

heads tucked in the cold. And the boy


and the Vietnam vet, who has just joined us,

and I are looking up with yearning, as though

we could solve that string of bird and sky arithmetic

and know the ages of our souls.



“On the Stairs Outside the Psychiatric Ward” first appeared in Harvard Review Online