The centipede (peace on Earth) by Jeremy Nathan Marks

In a basement classroom paid for
by the leftovers from a public budget
an instructor teaches refugees English

she says her first tongue is pidgin
and laughs like a mother bird
feeding her brood milk from a rag

her remarks make me think how
teaching is scuppering the boots
of a man who would kick a dog

he works two to three jobs and collects
bottles on his commutes detesting
this life among rats.

I admire the way the instructor’s verbs
fly despite the weight of abstruse
syntactic rules and silent letters
that would clip the wings of any poet

English purloins sounds
from its consonants and vowels
with the temperament of a syphilitic
king never considering how we might
one day abandon it for French Cree

or Mandarin.

Which is why when a centipede
crosses the floor and she crushes it
without a second thought I mourn
its purple blood like bread and wine
spilled on this dingy floor

for the rest of the day, I swear I will
hold my hand up high under the dull
sky to keep the gnats away from
my face in an effort to not swat them

because I am now certain the Lord lives
as an ellipsis in the eyes of tiny insects
infinite tentacular visions
which is why if we learn to speak like bugs
there will be peace on Earth.


I work with immigrants and refugees, and I am always struck by the kernel of hope that is present in my conversations with them. There is hope despite the terrible hardships they have endured. I, too, am an immigrant (an American in Canada) and I have learned to see myself among the people I serve. I no longer hold myself apart based on the supposed exceptionalism of my first nationality, and for that I am deeply grateful. I am healthier for it.



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Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.


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