when the only way is up

abstract climber

credit – zsuzsannakollo

In general, the thought of entering prison is a total downer. It is not the place of rehabilitation or encouragement that could actually ameliorate deep-seated addictions. Addictions to substances, to physical and mental abuse, to the constant need for reassurance of worth. Or relief from mental illnesses that distort an already complicated life, requiring constant translation and adjustment to simply find ground on which to stand at any given moment.

No, prison is more often a place of despair. A place of darkness. A place of hopelessness while counting days that mock like a broken minute hand.

And yet, from these depths of darkness, a small band of women writing together lift their collective spirits through words, discovering shared need, offering recognition and solace.

Last week’s group was no exception. Our simple prompt was to stare down negative messages from our past in order to diminish their power over us. The wide-ranging results called for individual lines to be woven into a whole that speaks to the group experience of determination to overcome, to be better, to change. This is what comes of being in the depths, when the only way is up.


Here I am again – lessons unlearned,
chances broken. How can it be?
My head is somewhere else
alone and tending the stove,
a small child perched atop a dark well
never to feel more empty.

The isolation starts as soon as I hear the cold clink;
negative images and events creep in.
Sometimes these things stick to me,
a shattering and jarring of identities
torn between bitterness and hope.

The most negative are what I say to myself –
I wish you were never born,
no-good mother, unfound, heart-broken –
believing that lies are truth.

Sometimes I just want to run
from the dark place that smells of old secrets,
flee my past before the chambers of my mind collapse in
through the open door that speaks of flight.

This isn’t where I want to be. I must find help.
I’m going to try because I don’t like where I am
feeling lost, scared, all alone.
The task I cannot refuse is to live,
fleeing everything that is comfortable.

I stir three times, thirsty to fly away,
taste the exotic, find worth, self-love.
I must have hope to live
to feel once again without fear.
I am a seeker of truth
grounded in words that lift and carry me,
lure me lovingly into now.


2 thoughts on “when the only way is up

    • sarahwbartlett says:

      Thanks for stopping by – and yes, these ‘found’ poems can be mighty powerful. That’s why I love doing them. And sharing them each week with the women . . . you should see their faces when they recognize their own lines within the whole! And Happy New Year to you, as well 🙂


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