Tag Archives: psychological

The Matrix


You know that bit

in The Matrix

where Neo wakes up

on a bunk bed,

head shaved,

cheeks like rice paper?


Remember how his fingers

scan the back of his skull

like a child reading Braille

and stop

when they find the hole?


That’s when he knows

for certain

he’s no longer dreaming.


I keep on feeling

the back of my head

but so far,



© Helen Lewis, 2006



A teenage girl walks

the November woods at dusk,

leaves no trail of breath.

                                                                        After three hundred

                                                                        years I still look like the child

                                                                        I was modelled on.

Low shafts of sunlight

cut between branches; the girl

stops in a clearing.

                                                                        I’ve known everything

she’d have known and more; lived her

 life four times over.

The girl bends down, scrapes

back leaves to reveal bare earth;

a lone blackbird sings.

I’ve never known the

grip of pain before, and now

I can’t escape it.

The girl claws at the

soil with her fingers; the trees

breathe in unison.

Before yesterday

I’d never harmed another

sentient being.

The earth will not yield;

the girl drops to her knees, mud-

caked hands to her face. 

I am made of earthstuff –

ores torn from the planet’s womb

by those who made me.

The girl lies down, scoops

a blaze of leaves across her

legs, belly and chest.

Ice-hot pain that comes

from everywhere and nowhere

is calling me home.

Now the final leaf

is placed; one uncovered eye

flares, and then grows dark.


(C) Helen Lewis 2011


I’m sitting on a single bed

with pounding heart and aching head.

My memory’s stuck – it won’t rewind.

I haven’t lost my mind.


The décor’s apple-green and chrome.

Wherever I am, it isn’t home.

They say I’m free but I feel confined.

I haven’t lost my mind.


The pills they make me take are brown.

The nurses have to hold me down,

but first they close the roller blind.

I haven’t lost my mind.


The girl next door to me is nuts –

her arms a mess of razor cuts.

I don’t belong here, with her kind.

I haven’t lost my mind.


And all the other women here

are tainted with the smell of fear

and search for things they cannot find.

I haven’t lost my mind.


Respect’s a quality they lack.

They whisper things behind my back.

The words they say are so unkind.

I haven’t lost my mind.


The doctor says when he is through

I’ll see the world like others do –

I’m not sure I’m that way inclined.

I haven’t lost my mind.


The things he says are just not right –

that black’s not black and white’s not white,

and every cloud is silver-lined.

I haven’t lost my mind.


The doctor smiles but I do not.

He wants to know what I forgot.

He makes my tangled thoughts unwind.

I haven’t lost my mind.


The doctor says I’m almost there;

I’ll start to heal if I can bear

to drop the mask I hide behind.

I haven’t lost my mind.


Oh God, did I do something wrong?

I can’t forget for nine months long

my blood and hers were intertwined.

I haven’t lost my mind.


For eighteen hours on the trot

she cried and cried and wouldn’t stop.

A swirling redness made me blind.

Perhaps I’ve lost my mind.


For hers was such a little life

it only took a pocket knife

to cut away the ties that bind.

I think I’ve lost my mind.


(c) Helen Lewis 2006


Bad dream baby

It's a Girl - Bad Dream Baby By Edite Haberman

It’s a Girl – Bad Dream Baby
By Edite Haberman

My bad dream baby is a daughter.

My belly waxes like the time-lapse Moon,

The husk of my womb breaks open.

Other times she falls like midnight snow;

I wake to the sound of her breathing.


The stage is always dressed the same.

I’m locked in a seventies motel room

With bricked-up windows.

Above the candlewick bedspread

A bare bulb swings like a noose.


Her crying splits me open.

I look for her in the drawer divan,

Check the bedside table and the mini bar.

In the mock-rococo wardrobe a blue-skinned Kali

Juggles formula and baby wipes.


She came to me again last night,

Brown curls on dimpled cheeks,

Pudgy hands outstretched, calling ‘Mummy’.

I took a pen from the pocket of my white coat

And made a tick on my clipboard.


I am tired of carrying the weight

Of what I have to tell her.


Breaking the news of death is performance art.

Young medics rehearse in front of the mirror.

How do I tell this stranger

As close as a heartbeat

That she will never be born?


© Helen Lewis, 2009

Dead man falling

Angelo’s going to die.

Of course, we’re all going to die some day; it’s just a matter of when and where. And how. For Angelo, the when, where and how have already been decided. As for when, he’s going to die today. Let me fill you in about the where and the how. It’s a story I’m uniquely qualified to tell.

I met Angelo when I was fourteen. I was a weedy kid with terrible acne – a magnet for bullies. One day I was lying on the ground in the foetal position while a lumbering troll from Year 11 kicked me repeatedly in the ribs, when suddenly the onslaught stopped and my assailant started making a choking noise. I looked up to see a muscular, dark-haired boy standing over me. He was lifting the bully up by his school tie so that his toes were scraping the ground.

‘If you beat him up again, I’ll kill you,’ he said. From the look in the bully’s eyes, I’d say he believed him. The stranger let go of the bully’s tie, and the bully ran off in the direction of the science block, without looking back.

The dark-haired boy helped me to my feet. ‘Are you okay?’

‘I think so…thanks…’

‘Don’t mention it,’ he said, handing me a business card.

Printed in white gothic lettering on a black background were the words ‘Angelo Morris’. I turned the card over. There were no contact details.

‘What -?’ I began, looking up, but Angelo had gone.

After that I often saw Angelo around school, and we’d nod to each other when we passed in the corridor, but we didn’t hang out together. I never mentioned the incident to anyone, but word must have got around somehow, because bullies never bothered me after that.

I bumped into Angelo again about six months ago. I was sitting in the lobby of City Computer Services, waiting to be called in for a job interview when Angelo walked in, wearing a white suit, black shirt and white tie.

‘Hi,’ he said, ‘long time no see. How’s life treating you?’

I mumbled something non-committal. The chair next to me was free and Angelo sat down in it.

‘Here for an interview?’ he asked. I nodded.

‘Snap. What time’s your appointment?’

‘Three thirty.’

‘Really? Mine’s at three. I’ll put in a good word for you.’ He winked.

About a week later I opened my front door one evening to take delivery of a large quattro stagioni with extra olives, to find Angelo standing on the doorstep, dressed in an Eezee Peezee Pizza uniform and carrying a pizza box.

‘Congratulations on getting the job,’ he said.

‘Thanks,’ I said, ‘but how -?’

‘Do you mind if I come in?’ asked Angelo, walking into my flat.

And he’s been here ever since. On the plus side, he always pays his rent on time, and the extra money comes in handy. It’s also good to have someone to talk to, and someone to look after the flat when I go away, although one weekend not long after Angelo arrived I went to visit my parents, and I got back to find that Angelo had decorated the entire flat while I was gone. He’d painted the off-white walls in vivid colours: lime green in the living room, fire engine red in the kitchen, fluorescent yellow in the hall, bright turquoise in the bathroom and flaming orange in the bedrooms.

‘But the terms of my tenancy agreement!’ I spluttered.

‘Relax,’ said Angelo, putting his hand on my shoulder.

On evenings when he’s not working Angelo brings people round to the flat and they hang out talking, laughing, drinking and smoking until the early hours of the morning.

It was during one of these impromptu parties that I first met Caitlin. I was making myself a cup of cocoa in the kitchen when she came in, rushed over to the sink, and started dabbing at her chest with the dishcloth. She was trying to get red wine out of her white blouse. When I told her it needed washing straight away, she whipped her blouse off and put it in the washing machine. Offering to lend her one of my shirts, I went to get one from my wardrobe, and she followed me into my bedroom. One thing led to another, and we ended up having sex.

The next morning Angelo noticed there was something different about me. ‘Bloody hell, you shagged somebody last night, didn’t you?’ He thumped me on the back.

After that Caitlin began coming round on a regular basis, and we’d often spend the night together. One evening Caitlin told me she liked to make love in the open air. I explained that when you live in a twelfth floor flat, the only open air is on the balcony. She said that would have to do. As we were lying naked on the balcony after a hot and sweaty bout of sex that must have got all the binoculars in the neighbourhood twitching, I asked,

‘Are we an item?’

She lifted her head from my shoulder and stroked my chest. ‘I think so, Babe.’

About a week later I took Angelo out for a drink and broached the subject of Caitlin moving in.

‘I’m not keen on the idea,’ he said.

‘Why not?’

‘I don’t like her.’

‘But she’s one of your friends!’

‘I know, but she’s not good enough for you.’

‘You’re not making sense, Angelo.’ I tried again. ‘Do you think I’m asking you to move out? Well, you needn’t worry about that. I want you to stay. Really.’

So Caitlin moved in. And Angelo stayed, but I didn’t see as much of him any more. Sometimes, when Caitlin was out at work, he’d poke his head round my door and we’d hang out together for a while, but when Caitlin was around he kept a low profile.

And that was how things continued for several months. Until today.

I had to stay late at work tonight, and when I got home the flat was in darkness. The doors to the balcony were open and the long net curtains were swaying in the breeze. I pushed one curtain aside and saw Angelo and Caitlin going at it like a couple of rabbits.

I’ve heard people refer to rage as a ‘red mist’ before, but I always thought it was just a poetic description. I didn’t realise that when people talk about ‘seeing red’ they’re describing something that actually happens. Until it happened to me. Suddenly, I was in the middle of a thick, red fog – everything was tinged the colour of blood.

‘Caitlin!’ I yelled.

Angelo got up and covered up his genitals with his hands. ‘I know what you’re thinking, but it’s not what it looks like.’

‘Then what the fuck is it?’

‘It’s all right, Babe,’ said Caitlin, who had also got up. She reached out and touched my arm.

‘Don’t touch me!’ I shouted, shaking her off.

Caitlin gathered up her clothes, which were scattered all over the balcony, and stormed back into the house. She delivered a parting shot over her shoulder as she left: ‘You’re crazy!’

I advanced on Angelo, and he backed away, his hands still covering his genitals.

‘Don’t be angry,’ he said, ‘it really isn’t what it looks like.’

‘Oh really?’ I said. ‘Don’t tell me – you were helping her look for her earring. No, wait… you were out here watering the tomatoes. Or were you stargazing? Go on, I’d love to hear your explanation of what you were really doing. I’ll bet it’s fascinating.’

‘It’s not so much fascinating as… well…complicated. And possibly a little hard to believe.’

‘I’ll bet. You know, I used to think you were so brave, so tough. But that was all a show. You’re just a little weasel, aren’t you?’ I advanced on Angelo even further.

‘What are you doing?’ Angelo said, backing up against the balcony railing. For the first time I saw fear in his eyes.

‘I’m going to kill you,’ I said.

All trace of fear left his face. ‘No you’re not,’ he said. ‘Killing me would easily be the most stupid thing you’ve ever done. And you’ve done some stupid things in your time. Like that time you superglued your finger up your nose when you were eleven.’

‘How do you know about that?’

‘Isn’t it obvious?’ he said. ‘Maybe it isn’t, when you’re as stupid as you are.’

And so I pushed him.

And this is how I know Angelo is going to die. Very, very soon.

I know I pushed him. I know it. So why is it me who’s falling through the air, arms and legs flailing, staring at the pavement as it rushes up towards me from below?

© Helen Lewis 2012

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