woman-with-veil-1895 copy
How to Become Invisible
by Mary McCarthy

Lose your job, your mind, your husband
step over the lines, off the map,
into unmarked alleys

Talk too fast, too much, too loud,
or not at all

Balk at the strangeness
of ordinary things
spot the dark intent behind
their bland disguises

Walk too close to the edge
of every conversation
answer the words behind the words they say

Forget to smile, to wash, to comb your hair
wear your clothes carelessly

Count the rough stitches
where the patchwork world
threatens separation

Carry your ghosts with you
shuffling and mumbling
in a long procession
that follows you down the street

Where no one sees you now
you’ve lost your place
your face your reflection

And even your shadow
fades to nothing
in the unrelenting sun

IMAGE: Woman with Veil, pastel by Odilon Redon (1895).

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: This poem is a sort of Anti-How-To set of instructions, a guide to the kind of things that too often win you nothing but a place to sleep on the street, where you have become the kind of social refugee citizens successfully ignore. Unfortunately it can be all too easy to end up here, particularly for those with mental illness. This “invisible” affliction continues to carry the burden of a crippling stigma, that makes you as unacceptable as any leper or “untouchable”—worthy only of erasure. This poem comes of my own anger and despair in experiencing that stigma. It has appeared previously on Poetry Circle.

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Mary McCarthy is a retired Registered Nurse who has been a life-long writer and student of the arts. Her work has appeared in many journals and anthologies, most recently in The Plague Papers, edited by Robbi Nester, The Ekphrastic World, edited by Lorette Luzajic, and the most recent issue of Earth’s Daughters.