In Mental Health Court (for Tatiana)

If you are competent
you are criminal,
if you cannot distinguish
an inkblot from a summons,
the doctors will pronounce
you are a psychotic.

If you lie,
you will be thrown to the lions,
if you tell the truth,
you will be thrown to the crocodiles.

We are all hoping for treatment
which means
we are all hoping
we are sick.

The sheriffs will transport you
at the expense of the state
there is a sister and a cousin
who volunteer
to feed, house and clothe you
against medical advice.

They ask
if you can be ready
as soon as they can find a bed.

There was an old man
with a silly smile and a gray wool beard
who only mouthed the words
in response to any question.
His prison pants were falling down,
weighted by the chains around his waist
to hold his arms at his sides
in shackles.
He did not seem a danger to anyone
or to himself.
He seemed he had surrendered
many years ago
to the authorities,
and the system,
and the brutal grind
of trying to make his weary way through the world.

The bailiff was not scary,
even in his bulletproof vest
beneath his perfect uniform.
He had lost his sarcasm in the paperwork,
lost with the voices of the detainees,
and the lost faces staring back at him
from the gallery,
like opposite families at a wedding,
across the aisle,
every working day,
and every night
as the bailiff dreamed.

The judge, the public defender and the DA,
the judicial assistant, and the stenographer
were seasoned friends.
They worked the daily conveyor belt
of justice,
separating sane from lunatic.

They check the calendar.
Come back in November for another hearing.

Stuart Stromin is a South African-American writer and filmmaker, living in Los Angeles. He was educated at Rhodes University, South Africa, the Alliance Francaise de Paris, and UCLA. His work has appeared in Sheila-na-gig online, River River, Alterating Current, The Chaffin Journal, The Garfield Lake Review, Blood Puddles, etc. Read other articles by Stuart.