j.lewis is an internationally published poet, musician, psych nurse practitioner, and Editor of Verse-Virtual, an online journal and community. When he is not otherwise occupied, he is often on a kayak, exploring and photographing the waterways near his home in California. He is the author of four full length collections and several chapbooks. https://www.jlewisweb.com/books.asp

stick men

don't have shoulders, don't have hearts
or sleeves to wear them on either
don't have to worry about dress codes
or workouts for six-pack abs

don't have hair to style
or emotions to hide from scrutiny
don't have shoes to lace or tie
or teeth or smiles or frowns

don't have anything to prove
or anyone to prove things to
don't have arguments with friends
or jealousy or discontent

do have wives and children
i've seen them on car windows
do have stick pets too
who never need cleaning up after

don't have complicated lives to lead
or work, or debt, or age, or death
don't have much, yet represent
the simple complexity of 
everything we are

mr. crow does tai chi

crow stands quiet, tall 
on freshly mowed grass
whispers to himself 
"taolu - solo hand and weapons"
slowly deliberately raises one wing
holds, stiffens, spreads pinion feathers
brings the wing down in an arc
the smooth arc of a battle axe
until the feather tips touch grass

he holds this position to the count of ten
folds the wing down carefully
then repeats the movements 
with the opposite wing
always controlled, deliberate

after three repetitions, he shifts
"neigong, qigong - breathe, meditate"
head turning slowly side to side
observing carefully, pondering
each blade of grass, each breath
and the whisper of wind in the trees

meditation over, he caws
hops to the fence. lifts both wings
keeping them carefully bent
then extends them forward
"tuishou - push hands"
slowly but with power
push, push, push until 
they brush the fence
relax and repeat, 
relax and repeat

a faint noise behind him
alerts him to a curious cat
he spins to face the enemy
fully alert and prepared
"sanshou - striking technique"
he hits hard with wings and beak
his caws harsh, strident

cat flees in total fear
bird flies to fence top
smiling slyly to himself
one must never interrupt 
mr. crow's tai chi

When the Flavor Goes

If the DSM-V is just a fairy tale to you
or a labyrinthine mystery of symptoms
and you've never been endlessly sad
or anxious to the point of screaming
with nothing to be worried about, but still...

If you have been spared the agony of obsession
or the oppression of every waking moment fighting
just to dress and step out of your home
to a job that fills you with dread of mistakes
never made, but waiting behind every door

If SSRI and SNRI and Anxiolytics are words
that you'll need a dictionary or Google for
and stress-eating or hair-pulling are quirks
for other people, "crazy people"

Then think back to childhood when you knew
that any time you cried, you could rely on
those shiny little drops to taste like salt
and ask yourself this - just for compassion's sake
what would you do if mental illness crushed you
so hard that even tears lost their flavor?

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