SPOTLIGHT: The (Epic Fail) Therapeutic Poems by Joe Dolson

The Therapist Said…

When I sat down across from him
he told me that he likes to think
about therapy as a party
where his patient can come in
and release everything inside of them
like silly-string spray and confetti

Patients can release everything
and step over the fun
multi-colored conversation
spread out on the floor
on their way out the door
leaving the mess
for him to clean up

I wondered if he was high
but was intrigued

I wanted that too

An Hour

My new therapist and I
spent an hour
trying to figure out
why I was there

I’m still not sure

He gave me homework
I have to figure out why
I scheduled and appointment

It was my wife
who scheduled
the appointment

Things are falling apart
at home and I know
that it’s my fault

Is that enough?

Is my homework complete?


My therapist wants
me to write
my past down in poems
It’s this week’s assignment

He says that poetry
will allow me to skip
through uncomfortable
memories like a flat rock








Poetry will make writing
everything down
less daunting

He said that poetry
will also allow me
to exercise
a certain amount
of control over
parts of my life
that I previously
had no control

No control


It was a warm spring day
and I was helping Mom
weed the garden
working in the
morning shadow
of our house
The sun had not
yet cleared the roof

I remember the dank
smell of earth and the
dew from leaves
christened my shins
as I brushed
by the foliage

Mom had a red bandana
tied over her head
and her long black hair
flowed out the back

You’re going to be famous, she said
I looked at her
I was only eight
I put my dirty finger to my chest
and my eyebrows raised
You are going to be
an important ambassador
to Russia one day

What? I asked Me?

God told me so, she said
He showed me in a dream
She dug her fingers into the earth
and rooted out a piece of crabgrass
and then moved on down the row
working from a graceful hunch

The Judas Kiss

The old farmhouse
we called home
glowed a soft yellow
The light fighting the gray
morning in the winter windows

Everybody’s routines collided
in the kitchen

Dad was leaving
on a business trip

My sisters and I
were heading to school

Mom was orchestrating it all

I poured homemade granola
into a thick blue-gray rustic bowl

Kiss and hug your dad goodbye, Mom said
to my sisters and me
So we did so obediently
but I thought it was strange
I hadn’t kissed and hugged
Dad goodbye in years

I was 13 after all

The News

I got off the diesel spewing bus
and walked up the driveway
with my sisters
Dibs on the Nintendo, I yelled
and sprinted ahead
I kicked off my shoes
and when I looked up
I saw Mom sitting at the kitchen table
with Aunt and Uncle from downstate
Her hands were together as if she were praying
Her chin rested on her thumbs
A crumpled piece of tissue dangled
from between her fingers
Sorrow sat in her damp eyes
and her face had the pink glow
of someone who had been crying

Aunt reached out
and put her hand
on my Mom’s shoulder
You can do this, she said.
My sisters froze behind me

What’s wrong? Sister One asked

Let’s all sit down in the living room and talk, Mom said

Everyone followed her
We filed into the formal seats
The low-winter sunlight
highlighted floating dust particles
The glass in the windowpane
had languorously settled
It was thickest at the bottom
I looked from eye to eye to eye
from Aunt
to Uncle
to Mom
looking for a clue
Uncle lifted his hand off his lap
a subtle wave
I waved back

So, Mom said as she clapped her thighs
We’re leaving your father
She settled back into the chair
as if she were a balloon deflating
She said…
We’re leaving tonight…
We’re leaving now…

What? I asked. Why?

I’ve done a lot of praying, she said,
and I don’t think it’s safe here

What do you mean? I asked.

I think your father has molested all of you, she said
The Lord showed me.
In a dream
and through scripture, she said.

Dad hasn’t touched me, I said.

That you know of, Mom countered

I’m pretty sure I’d remember something like that, I said

Oprah said that when talking about sexual abuse
you can only say one of two things for sure
You can say that you’ve been molested
or that you don’t remember if you’ve been molested
Our memories automatically repress those horrible events

I absorbed the information like a rock
I think I should stay behind, I said.
He’s going to be lonely

We’re all going.
It’s not safe for you and the girls here
and it was settled like that

She had packed our things
We drove for two hours
south to Rochester, Minnesota
where we checked into a motel
where we lived for the next month


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