In a Daffy Belly
© Anthony Brenton: portrait of the writer
About the author:
Anthony Brenton is a poet and novelist living in Newfoundland & Labrador, duck-footed and hunched over his work, housed lovely with his wife and two children. As someone battling with mental illness since early childhood and on heavy medication for the majority of his life, I have proposed Anthony to write an article revolving around mental illness, writing, and poverty for my May issue, as the month of May is dedicated to spreading mental health awareness. I kindly thank him for generously accepting my offer.
Anthony has written articles for CBC, local papers and recently an anthology on the subject of mental illness. A wild story of medication, hospitalizations, ECT, poverty and writing. He has published so far Near Death, Maccles/The Honk of Goose/an of rearing a youngster/The Mechanical Egg Bughouse/Daybreak, Saint City/Lowlands Gulp. Anthony is currently writing three books of poems: A Coughing Fit of Psalms/A Skeleton's Clack/For The Blinding Lights I Sniffed Upon.
© Anthony Brenton: In a Daffy Belly
These lines are drawn by the correlatives of hallucination, depression, instability ... electroconvulsive treatments, injections, tens of thousands of capsules and pills, a circus of derangement by intoxicants.
On a craggy island I laze about with a distended stomach, on sick leave from my duties in the kitchen. I write poems and novels here. They are invariably saturated and driven by mental sickness, from my time spent in the dregs, poverty stricken and mad. Written from psychosis visions, intrusive and obsessive thinking, through the fractured intake of a faltering. These lines are drawn by the correlatives of hallucination, depression, instability ... electroconvulsive treatments, injections, tens of thousands of capsules and pills, a circus of derangement by
By my absent mind, my legs raged with soars, gummy and maddeningly itchy. Uncut fingernail scrapped at it in mouth-watering bliss, peeling away scurf. Heels cloven and bleeding, dried to wood, gimping my walk. I wore woolen socks over them in army boots. My stomach churned with gut rot while rashes stung at my folds.
So preoccupied by the straightening of my mind, I had let the body waste.
And as pharmaceutical companies held backdoor meetings in cloak and dagger outfits within my clawed and bruised forehead, I obsessively
searched out calmatives.
What a spun tangle I was. Having become tedium, I realized that a fine cure was a total cessation of psychiatric Rx. A brutalizing process that took a year to unfold. Five medications I chipped from the folds of my brain. And against the fists of April, on the day of Christ’s final supper, I awoke with my blood clear of medication for the first time in twenty years. A thin background of cheap animation-loop sequences overtook me straight away: earwigs, centipedes, hobbling Andrews, thick beetles, mosquitoes and silverfish, all spinning in a loop, squiggling upwards then rewinding jagged. A walking cartoon, incapacitated by way of cessation. A parody of bones drowned in aggressive tiredness, dancing with a wild lady.
Anthony Brenton: Faces in faces in faces in faces in faces. @your_uncle_tone, @stivbriggs
Standing saturated in frayed nerve endings, I grit my teeth against the tides of human understanding rushing upon me. I waterlogged and bloated myself with it. Weeping and defecating out the impurities, absorbing the rest to soften up my withered strings.
The tangle of the preceding years lay within the word as dainty recollections now.
I had typed a book of it out in a planked bedroom, top story of a detached house in St. John’s city. It sweltered hot in summers, froze cold all winter. I dressed in woolen socks and full body long john’s, patterned sweaters, shirts and hats, or wretched in nakedness. There was little insulation but for scraps and old flyers advertising long ago stores. Deals from the nineteen seventies. The kitchen counters long moldered, gummy with scum, flocked on intergenerational plates and mugs. Life in the room swelled in inventive piles of chunk mold and still liquids, murky with earwigs and the butts of cigarettes and joints.
© Anthony Brenton, source: @your_uncle_tone
I made my way to Memorial University of Newfoundland-Labrador. I got in by raving at admissions officers and heads of facility on writers and writing for days on end. My credentials were so poor as to disqualify me for studentship. And so, I showed them something different than points to learn. With wet ink on student loans, I skipped to the grocery store and trudged home. Ah, steaks and gravies, assorted vegetables, fruits, mushrooms, swollen breads and fake cheeses, Eversweet margarine, sour chocolates and tins of non-perishables, sandwich meats, frozen potatoes, bags of rice. I stank of spices! The moldering refrigerator clanged with the dancing of beer. My tumbler clicked with whiskey'd ice. John A. Bonsack coughed through his skeletal grin as I smoked tailored cigarettes. Struck matches bent to my sunken cheek again and again, forever marring the stink of the house.
I wrote in that hunger and reckoned it in its absence.
The Brothers Grimm perched like vultures in the stucco, laughing into their plume quills as I smoked and belched beery into my fists. The cupboard stock dwindled, abundance grew sour and went to seed from no planning [pinch-fingered and tossed into the foul garbage], thinned to minimalism, then absence. I found myself hungry, my yeasty belly grumbling for a frying pan of potted meat. My pan without oil, without vegetable, the spice drawer long plundered for foolishness...fried mechanically-separated meat, jellied in fat.
When abruptly, one man moved out, he left behind him a burlap bag of rice and a paper box of tea! So with a pot wiped out and a faucet leaking, I open the woven bag to see its swarm of earwigs panicked or dead or larval, eggs of pearl, eggs cream, eggs brown. And I sorted grain from wings, pincers, eggs and nymphs, cooking it by boiling. O, It tasted wonderful to me. A very welcome meal.
Cup after cup followed my daily rice. Tides of black tea to fool the stomach. Mugs cooled upon my desk. I wrote in that hunger and reckoned it in its absence.
Twice a month I walked to and from the Waterford Asylum, an hour and a half each way. Woolen socks, army boots, woolen pants, dirty and splattered shirts or sweaters. In the winters I peered at the sun through the thinness of my coat. Into the maw of a psychiatric hospital I slunk, warped with schizophrenia and vaudeville manic. The soars that covered my legs and wrapped my folds smelt of vinegars. I duck-footed through the caged archway, into a caged stairwell and down a hall to meet with a bender of minds. An angel blinking at me from her pillar, not high and ostentatious, but specified and fitted for her diagnostics.
The thought of going to a food bank never occurred to me. The thought of asking for a meal was yodeling ridiculousness...begging, panhandling, old hat twisted in my hand, cringing for alms. I’d be reeling under the weight of tins, had I asked. Admitting total failure and incompetence was not an option. Mortification was better. Mooching drink and drug I may, but food! I weakened and weakened finding sooth in mighty O’Keefe’s malt liquor.
She watched me dance and let me sing my song, until I was brought to a room with a bed and a desk, a locker without a lock, and a bathroom for myself and the six madmen I bunked with.
From my hospital bed, pills rolled about like fixed dice. A harsh and mind warping curative, I found, disoriented and absurd. Thus in the dream of Rx I raved. Of course, I left those confines of acute care behind a dozen times and back towards the harbour I walked. My hunger pulled me along, but reality was skewed. The thought of going to a food bank never occurred to me. The thought of asking for a meal was yodeling ridiculousness...begging, panhandling, old hat twisted in my hand, cringing for alms. I’d be reeling under the weight of tins, had I asked. Admitting total failure and incompetence was not an option. Mortification was better. Mooching drink and drug I may, but food! I weakened and weakened finding sooth in mighty O’Keefe’s malt liquor.
At the time, ten dollars could make me feel very fine. Under six strong O’Keefe’s. Adversely, with that same hand of looned coins, I could creep into a grocery store and come out with something very frail. Pathetic rations or divine inspiration, choose! So my mind folly’d into proper poetry. Unwound to swell my soul uncontrollable! A bag of rice, bottles of pills, and cups of tea. Literal malnourishment. Dehydration by caffeine and alcohols. Period photographs show a very thin man, with a lot of affect. Of extremes. Despondent and destroyed. Without attempt at correct postures or hygiene. Sick with bafflement, obliviousness, completely overwhelmed by the environment, repulsed by visions, nauseated, and haunted even whilst belly laughing. Splinters and waves heaved my reckoning. Wove and untangled and knotted and knit and fallen into a limped pile.
Very abruptly I withdrew from university. I had seated, wide-eyed as Professor/Reverend/ Dr. drew charts and pontificated, meandering wildly on the exact falter of my person. How aptly they lectured! Learned and bedeviled by me. A career built on preaching my farce. I sat flexing against it, as entire sciences and schools of thought were invented to ensnare my snooty vanity. The man who chisels himself from marble shall be saturated and eroded to dust quick. I published my notes on this, then back to the bughouse and electroconvulsive wiring.
Old apple-puppets skulking about, their grins painted on by Rx bristle. Heaved and hoisted my belly of coffee sputum, spat yelling out through teary teeth. The inspiration of St. Matthew was there. That man from Caravaggio's painting was there!
They fed me good and brimmed me with medications and electrical shocks, calmatives, and balms. Soups and meats and breads. Had me drink juice. Monitored my vitals. They'd turn their back to a sneaked cigarette here and there. I had me a ghastly and saintly, impactful time.
Despite my Drs and nurses, the angles, and the candy cart of trolleyed medication, I would want to leave. In my paranoia and in my fear, I left the asylum behind, teetering from here, from there, shat back into the rubble as the foul residue of the asylum's digestion.
I desperately needed a shelter to sink into lonely scrawling.
Because of the hospital program that I was enrolled in, a coprophagic chickeny angel took me from house to house that welfare would pay for. Lodging me up, but good.
Into a derelict I moved my junk. Vermacile! Fleas and bedbugs lived off of me. Mold stole my breath. Shrews robbed my crumbs. In a sweltering room I crouched. Not a straight piece of board in the building. And I wanted it! I seen a strong sight; a chair, a card table with an Underwood perched there. Reams of paper bent by the damp. How many nights to grunt out on that mattress left behind? Rubble of books against the wall. I heard the thrashing of keys and the huffing ecstasy of creation through the walls. I heard the scrape of a wooden match down its strip of flint to ignite my cigarette butts. The abrupt hiss of uncapped Old Stock...and it was fine. I desperately needed a shelter to sink into lonely scrawling.
And there was a kitchen, two bathrooms, a shower, coin operated washer and dryer, and three floors. The filthy bathroom wore mistakes and heedlessness until they marbled and dried into adornment. Icy water shot straight to the ceiling tiles. Warm water down. This kitchen harboured thieves at my food. Decomposition ravaged theirs by foul and foust. I took to eating from cans with a spoon in my archives. And with that belly I was fine enough. But like an old sailor I was nervous of scurvy.
On ground level, William Burroughs lived in his alternate timeline, where Joan Vollmer aged into a doughy, cackling, toothless beauty. Bill would pinch palm-fulls of loose tobacco for me when I was short. I washed my rags in the sink, hanging them aside to dry. The bathroom sat aside my room [the symphonies I endured].
Through my paper walls an enthusiastic masturbator walked with pizza and tins of Pepsi. Up above I heard the rustling of cocaine habits. Subject was distraught.
And a lovely red kindergarten teacher. Bounding belly and ponytail. She froze many bags of white wine, and in those mornings where we met amongst the fetid spoons and dish towels, I watched as she filled her rainbowed thermos with rotgut and added it to her lunch bag.
Off then smiling to the Elementary school, nose shining.
My room was small, mostly a bed, and I speculated through churning nights on the shenanigans played out upon that mattress, the litany of hardcore dirtbags who slept ahead of me. Them that spilled those dark and large stains. Those who lost so much blood. The tangled remnants of many a beery night. Every excretion fucked into the terrible bed. Teeming with pellets of waste, photographs and clothes gnawed apart for nesting amongst the springs. Though not all of them escaped my wrath, and I had myself a time.
I wrote another novel there on the sculpture of madness, and found a girl with wings strung to her back, who had hips up to where I am missing a rib. Blonde turgid hair woven strung and stitched and knitted and knotted and shining and brilliant by Florence Psychosis. Bestill my arrhythmic heart. Love! I ended up shouting it from the madhouse windows. I’d paint her. I wrote from her...even the most horrible hag I painted beautifully after she saturated my vision. I used her there, I saw her in creation ... exaggerating and renting them out of shape, into big plays of craziness, so subtle only someone paying attention would see.
I was saved from hunger. When I moved in with my wife, oh the cupboards were sparse, lacking and skinny, but I starved no more, wasted no more. I starved not for food, nor warmth, nor love from that point on, happily endurable.
I watched memories of myself possessed by horror, blunted, under a sleeping spell, without empathy, brewing, drug-seeking. Poverty was inevitable for a person like that. Left alone, delirious, dismissed as eccentric, a drinker. I whirled in terrorized delusion.
I stepped out wasted and stunted and underweight, reeling with abdominal melancholia, apostasy, poetry proper and plagues of the mind, into the blunted and focused world of long-term antipsychotics. Twenty years on that rickety, sputum-spackled wagon. Riding that sleepy cart. I had been prescribed a reality. Given a rattling bottle of thought from the listless downreach of the pharmacist.
My head has cleared to some insight now. I watched memories of myself possessed by horror, blunted, under a sleeping spell, without empathy, brewing, drug-seeking. Poverty was inevitable for a person like that. Left alone, delirious, dismissed as eccentric, a drinker. I whirled in terrorized delusion.I cringed under the barrage of demons and insects. Frantically grubbing for calm.
Nothing could come of that but institutionalization, welfare, hunger and uncertain housing. With a broken reasoning and a periodic loss of reality entirely, I sunk to squalor by derangement, that much is clear.
Anthony Brenton May, 31st, ‘23
© Anthony Brenton, spoken word at Elaine's Books. Source: @your_uncle_tone
More information about Anthony Brenton's work:
Articles for CBC news: https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/newfoundland-labrador/author/anthony-brenton-1.5471695