Saturday Apr 13

BrownMollyMcCully Molly McCully Brown is the author of The Virginia State Colony For Epileptics and Feebleminded, which won the 2016 Lexi Rudnitsky First Book Prize and will be published in 2017 by Persea Books. Her poems and essays have appeared or are forthcoming in Image, TriQuarterly Online, The Kenyon Review, The Rumpus and elsewhere. Raised in rural Virginia, she holds degrees from Bard College at Simon’s Rock and Stanford University. Currently, she is a John and Renée Grisham Fellow at the University of Mississippi. 


Throughout the early and mid 1900s thousands of people with mental and physical  disabilities were forcibly committed to The Virginia State Colony for Epileptic and  Feebleminded, a government-run residential hospital. The Blindroom was the Colony’s term for solitary confinement.

I. Where You Are (ii)

There is a single chair, but often one leg is broken
There is a single window, but often it is covered in boards.
There is no power. It is a place to forget what power is:
that a light turns on and off with the flick of a switch,
that your hand can travel that far from your body.

Sometimes, you are in the blindroom alone.
Sometimes, someone follows you in,
puts his hands around your throat.

You can feel the swollen places
in your neck, between the valleys:
forefinger and thumb,

but the thing about the darkness is
it makes things disappear.

II. What There is to Give

Outside of here, my brother lost work
in the Chesapeake, and now
there is no money coming home.
Haven’t you heard the news?
There is no longer enough in the world.
Not enough oil or milk, money or bread
or labor for those of us with good bodies
and sound minds. Given that,
would you load what little you have
on a boat: stack it with carrots
and sardines and silver,
then push it, unmanned,
onto the river at night?
I didn’t think so.
Sometimes, when we’re bringing
in a girl, I catch her face before we shut
the door, and she looks almost lovely:
a useless barge lit up,
bearing away on the water.

III. New Knowledge for the Dark

It’s where they put you when
you run, or if they even sense
the want for fleeing in you.

In there, wherever
you came from is better.
Anywhere is better.

Hiding, freezing in your slip,
crouched in a dry creek bed,
before that, the back of a feed truck.

before that, your father’s small house
& swept floors & sometimes
butter & a drawn bath

It’s important to remember that once
you had a good life. Once you did not
know how to lie in a dark room,

your cheek pressed to the floor,
peering under the doorframe,
looking for the line of light.

Once you were not waiting
                                    to leave yourself, wanting
                                    your skeleton shaken to pieces

                                    so that, when it ’s over,
                                    the rest of you will have nothing
                                    at all to come back to.

In the blindroom,
there are bad days &
there are worse ones.

Once, they took me in &
there was a crack in the boards
covering the small window

I could see the shapes of my hands
in front of me, & I could put them
on the ground & think

about each finger & think
about the sky until
it happened.

Think about your body.
Think about infinity.
Think about God.

                                    It will happen.
                                    This is the only place
                                    you will thank him for it.

                                    Imagine, you have never been to the ocean
                                    but the ocean is in you,
                                    & sometimes, it roars.

Once, they put me in &
tied my hands behind my back
so tightly I could not feel them at all.

At first, an hour is a long time &
then an hour is not a long time at all.
It’s better when they leave you there

It’s better when you can’t hear
anyone’s boots at the door or feel
anyone hot & oversweet above you.

Two days later, when they let me go,
my fingers were heavy stones & blue
as the bottom of the sea.

IV. The Blind Room: An Execration

this is the beginning of the world

or         this is the world before                God made it

empty space    darkness over the deep                  no sense where the edges are

I promise         it is the worst place     you’ve ever been

that’s what I meant     the blindroom means   the world unmakes itself
in an instant    the door shuts       the sun vanishes     and with it
all the things the light makes     patterns in the dust     the dust at all
the shape of the chair         your own shadow

swallow   beetle   lightning bug   brother
all unravelled  all undone

at first     you will tell yourself stories     remember
that fall meant a bonfire          the ribcage of a buck lit up
with whatever limbs the storm brought down

old wood burns sweeter than green
the smoke stays on your skin for days               remember  
your mother combing it out of your hair on the porch                your father playing banjo
then        the way the late october thunderstorm rolled in and

drank away the stars

IV. The Blind Room: A Consecration

this is the beginning of the world

or         this is the world before                God made it
empty space    darkness over the deep       no sense where the edges are
eventually        it is the best place you have ever been

in the blindroom     the world unmakes itself
in an instant    the door shuts     the sun vanishes     and with it
all the things the light makes fishers in the dust     the dust at all
the shape of the chair         your own shadow

sparrow     possum     sheepmoth     brother
all unraveled   all undone

at first   you will tell yourself stories remember
you could ford a river     hold a log level
hit a long   high note     you closed your eyes to silence

after awhile     blessedly     you are the only creature     everything is without history
there was never anyone but you in this cold   lightless place
there was never any throat but yours         never any voice
but the one you’re humming with now               and that high   accompanying call
that must     thank God     be Gabriel

swallowing the final stars

VI. Away

When I go, it’s because they are tired of the shadow I make on the window,
the mound I make on the bed, the noise I make when they pull my dress down
over my head and it catches in my mouth and makes a gag.
It’s because I drooled when they dressed my sores this week,
or I shit myself sleeping. They don’t have enough bodies in the dormitory
to move me to the chair and back. Or they have too many and I’m in the way.

It will shock you, I’m sure, to know it’s never because I have tried to run anywhere.
Sometimes, I do raise my good arm above my head, and leave it there, and see if they notice.

            Running: I am lying in the blindness and I cannot see my body or the walls;
                        maybe I am tumbling forward like the doctor says the planet is tumbling forward.

            Flying: maybe I am tumbling forward like the doctor says the planet is tumbling forward;
                     maybe the dead weight of my left arm is a wing.
                   Faith: maybe the dead weight of my left arm is a wing.