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The 5150 Poems

The 5150 Poems

From Sandra McPherson's Introduction: 


One doctor thought the slide commenced with the death of my good father, Walt McPherson.  How can one be sure?  The able habits of writing went away; even the short “documents” that occasioned distant pages in a suede-bound notebook, a gift from artist Katherine Ace, nearly evaporated.  My home’s physical possessions abandoned me—they had been a library of researchable answers.  Prescriptions replaced each other: a decent doctor replaced by an indifferent one. At our first meeting I set eleven books on her desk as introduction.  “You wrote those,” she said contemptuously.  It hurt from there on down.  One afternoon, “We have a bed,” the stranger on the phone said.  I was in it, without choice, by evening.


When I was in hospital I was given a lined blank book and a stubby pencil for a golf course.  I wrote down nothing but the schedule to stand in lines required for pills and blood pressure.  I had just lost a museum’s worth of art, and decades of loved books.  I didn’t exist anymore—I was no one who could describe her life—what life?  Write down phone numbers.  Not very colorful. Before the hospital I’d only been able to jot down a few words—not poems really, not explorations.


This is my only book that came out as a whole “story.” I’m hoping it has value for readers whose life is in one similar stage or another of it.  It surprised my doctors so I hope it will serve as a case study.  It isn’t Plath, Sexton, or Lowell.  Its voice or style is not what I’d call confessional.  Those poets are who they were, and this volume is a self, lost until found.  A soul separated but succeeding in a sort of “splashdown” back into its home sea on earth, a mind and body known by my name.


Shortly before I was released a Sutter psychiatrist said I was the only patient ever to get 100% on some lengthy questionnaire.  I don’t remember what they asked me, but I presume the answers—“answers plus-size”—are represented somewhere in the varieties of poetics in this text or revelation, this womanly schoolbook.


From The 5150 Poems:


Five Leaves Left



Clear sky over loose birches

head pillowed

in the middle

of Bach

a severe




concerto #6

get out of the water

if you hear thunder


lightning can strike

fifteen miles away

Placer County

El Dorado

Murray Perahia


Academy of St. Martin

in the Fields

get out of the lake

and go inside

a car or cabin


where there’s 

a radio

for Bach to continue

without warning



O I like being

struck by



I like being.




My roommate,

Sutter Psych,

whose complete sentence

in answer to why

was I attempted,


is the brightest light

assigned to me,

not the one who cursed

fondled purrers and petted yippers,

the one who propped the wide door open


all night to the screams,

nor the one who slept

off every day

through spikes

of weary, violent hair.


I would give them names—


but I was unable to write

by hand or memory:

that’s why I was in.


This attempting roommate—

the one attempting most

to live.  

Cut unnecessary words,

we thought together, not our wrist.




Joanne!  Washing your hair

twice daily,

brushing out its jet facets,

luscious as a suicide coke

(with strains of chocolate, cherry syrup,


and Yoshitoshi’s bijin-ga:

“I want to offer you sake,” “I want to be served”),

beverage that sustained us 

girls in summer.

You were


the ward’s best inpatient at volleyball,

athletic in embrace 

of your lover

nightly visiting. How you clasped,

released, contorted, em-


broidered yourselves upon each 

other’s length.  Less like

a medieval love knot

than two lotuses’ soaked roots,

waterlilies, so that, impassioned,


you don’t hear staff call

Code Lavender.

Stop it.  Everyone’s too interested!

Such beauty, roomie,

on that ugly orange vinyl couch.




Two years, one room       

away from where 

they found me “oversleeping” on the shower floor.

Through drought

there’s clement music


they’re radioing, 


from badly deteriorated parts.

A motet?  Chorus, but not, as they’d ask us daily, “hearing voices.”

And some hopped up D. Scarlatti,


pair of sonatas; reconstructed

Handel Hornpipe;

an Agnus Dei.

As I remember lady on lady,

Brumel Earthquake Missa,


one’s own mass

an equally singular

justification to go on breathing,

something in oneself



a convent choir of a hundred

thirteenth century nuns 

swinging, jazzed.

While my mind was out of the room

the leafy wands


kept swinging,

all along them little lives 

—moths, finches—

more than clinging,

singing No, ECT.  Yes, Birches.




Bach again, and triple

violin concerto,

and how can this occur all over?

Urgent machine voice,

an interception


because the fire-scorched earth

no longer holds,

Amador, Calaveras, San Joaquin, Stanislaus,

doppler radar flash flooding,

Grizzly Flat, Volcano,


move away from recently burned areas, 

Oktoberfest radio mudslide

warning in the middle of 

these strange duets of J. S. and the State

awaken me, 


electrical, shocking.  As

when we told each other

last names—

are you Professor?

Joanne said.


My friends love you!

Then I knew

I was crazy.

From our hard twin beds,

her Norco plus my Norco


only cancelled any instinct

we might have had to die; better to 

live and leave “checked out”

by getting out

of Sutter Psych.


Keep up the interruption,

delivery by lightning:

. . . debris flow,

move to higher ground now,

act quickly to protect your life.


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