Process: Poems

above: created in the women’s circle in the recovery center

In April of 2016 I took my first job out of counseling school. I had studied Expressive Arts Therapy, and I dreamed of offering space for people to express themselves through art, and music, and movement, and poetry.

The job I was offered was providing substance use disorder assessments for food stamp applicants.

No one wants to be in my office. It’s an indignity. The people who keep their appointments to see me are incredibly resolved. Many of my clients are homeless, most are transitioning from incarceration, and nearly all are angry. The assessment is a dull instrument, and often it feels that I am wielding it against them.

For the first few weeks, I went home too numb to cry.

Then a client came into my office and pushed the assessment aside, locked eyes with me, and proceeded to tell me why I was part of the problem.

She was right. I changed then, and instead of wielding my assessments like weapons I carried them lightly, setting them aside anytime there was a story that needed to be told.

There is always a story that needs to be told. One day a man walked into my office muttering to himself, shaking, eyes rolling. The minute he sat down it all fell away.

“No one messes with crazy,” he told me, in explanation.

Sometimes my clients’ stories are so heavy and heartbreaking that they cling to me like cobwebs, trailing after me when I walk home, too close to brush away. They cocoon me in a gray film that seems to filter out happiness. Sometimes I cannot understand how my clients even stand up beneath all of that pain.

So now, after my clients tell me their stories and go back to their lives, I sit quietly where they sit.  I close my eyes and feel what it is like to be in that chair. I let myself feel whatever lingers—frustration, sadness, laughter, hurt—and then I read over the assessment, choosing ten words that seem to leap out. Sitting in my client’s chair, I write a poem that incorporates these ten words.

I will never know what it is like to see through my clients’ eyes. These are my poems, using borrowed words. All I am trying to do is honor the interaction, to make sense of why we two people sat in a room together for one hour of our lives.


created in the women’s circle in the recovery center – Lissa Carter

2 thoughts on “Process: Poems

  1. What a unique way to aknowledge and celebrate the beautiful humanity in each person crossing our path.

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