The Sunday Poem: Lisa Gill... Two Poems from Caput Nili

Living isn't for cowards!  And documenting a difficult life isn't for those without a sense of humor.  These two poems detail what happens when the poet has self-diagnosed an incredibly serious condition, Multiple Sclerosis, but can't get her doctors to test for it.  And even that wasn't the full extent of her physical and mental problems. 

Lisa Gill writes, "My medical chart is big, almost Proustian....Usually people diagnosed as bipolar don't qualify for Disability the first go round, but I did."  If you pick up her new book, whose full title is Caput Nili: How I Won the War and Lost My Taste for Oranges, you won't put it down.  It's hypnotic.  The following two pieces give you a taste.  Lisa Gill photo is by Wes Naman.


I threatened to hold up the MRI clinic.

My legs had been numb for five weeks.
I needed to know what was going on.
I needed to know what to do.

Self-preservation is instinct
so I left the mandarin oranges
and went to the mental hospital.

I told them I had a shotgun. I told them
I was going to hold up the MRI clinic.
I shot off my mouth and meant it.

They said, “But are you suicidal?”
As if
homicidal wasn’t enough.

Self-preservation is instinct.
I thought of the holdup going awry
I thought of not getting my MRI
and then I said, “Sure . . .
sure, I’m suicidal.”

I got locked up.
(Violence is institutionalized.)
I got locked up and drugged with antipsychotics.

All I wanted was a brain scan.
All I did was threaten
to hold up the MRI clinic with a shotgun.


You’d think
this is where I get to put something
besides a shotgun in my hands.
A lily.
A lightbulb.
A river.
A photograph of Freud.
My own MRIs.
Anything but a Brazilian 12-gauge sawed off at both ends.
But a Brazilian 12-gauge sawed off at both ends
is what I picked up
when I threatened to hold up the MRI clinic.
And the shotgun, as if organic, as if malleable,
—as if still in my hands—
winds around my self concept.
Self-preservation is instinct.
Sometimes it kicks in.
Sometimes it kicks in the door to self-knowledge.
So I am not so gentle
as I’d thought.
So I am not so non-

So I was not the predator
but I speak the language.
Violence is learned
and I’ve been schooled.
This is not the epiphany
I wanted.
I wanted the big one,
the one that wakes
you up,
that resurrects you
from memory,
the one that lets you
live as if nothing
ever happened.
Instead I got a gun.


--Lisa Gill



Poetry submissions are encouraged.  Email


Views: 290

Comment by Margaret Randall on May 1, 2011 at 8:09am
I've read these poems before, in the book's earlier incarnation, but they are forever new and powerful. So glad this new edition has appeared, bringing what is arguably one of Albuquerque's finest poetic voices to more and more readers. Gill's sawed off shot-gun is a metaphor for what all of us have though we may not realize it: the tool with which we speak our personal truths. But in these poems it is also more than a metaphor. Great way to start this first Sunday morning in May! Thank you.
Comment by cathyray on May 1, 2011 at 9:00am
oh yeah!! excellent
Comment by Amanda Sutton on May 1, 2011 at 10:01am
So admire Lisa's work and the courage it takes to get it out there.
Comment by Rich Boucher on May 2, 2011 at 2:13pm
Fantastic poems. I saw Lisa perform recently at 516 Arts and she did some of this work - blew me away.
Comment by Dee Cohen on May 3, 2011 at 4:25pm
Great poems. Guns and raw nerves and MRIs. A difficult life to get a peek into. But thank you for the original view and the skill to share it with us. Best, Dee
Comment by Merimee Moffitt on May 20, 2011 at 7:10pm
wow--I love the gutsy brilliant ballsy-ness of this truth in dealing with health and our bass ackwards medical system--kudos for this very healthy healing poem.  I love a kick ass poem and this one blasts the top of my head off!!  yea! rock on  makes me wanna read yr book--wow


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