Review: What I Learned at the War by Jeanetta Calhoun Mish

What I Learned at the War by Jeanetta Calhoun MishIn “Literacy Autobiography 1961-1992” Mish considers her personal experiences with the war on children, the war on the mentally ill, and the war on women. She begins by writing of her stepfather and how “Fear, too, has its own register/…This language I have tried to forget, so as not to/confuse an arm reaching out in comfort with one poised to/choke.” Proceeding chronologically, she discusses her own usage of language from childhood through womanhood. In the sixth part, “A Short Glossary of Useful Acronyms” the reader is presented with a list of seven acronyms from Mish’s mental illness history, including BAD (Bipolar Affective Disorder), PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), and BPD (Borderline Personality Disorder):

                                                   …Another diagnosis you get
when they think you’re lying about the abuse and the
violence….
                                                                         ….Cynicism and
suspicion of others’ motives, no matter how well-founded,
is pathological. Keep this in mind when seeking help.

The war on mental illness becomes a campaign of suppression and disbelief wherein the victim’s experience is dismissed as unreliable or fabricated; “S/he might say… [that] you are malingering or pleaing (sic.) for help.” The seventh and final section, “What I Learned at the War” speaks, like many of the poems in this collection, of domestic violence:

The price of your body is directly inverse to whatever is
valuable.
***
Kidney shots hurt worse than cracked ribs hurt worse than
black eyes hurt worse than clumps of hair pulled out hurt
worse than taking out a restraining order.
A restraining order is more dangerous than leaving town, even
if you have nowhere to go and have to sleep in a shelter in a
strange city. Sometimes he’ll mistake it for a hunting license.

 

Read the full review here.

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