Poetry by Mikael Josephsen


Svendborg, Christmas, 2014, Psychiatric Ward, P3.

I’m thinking about how you are doing
no, I’m thinking about how I am doing
without you.
I am fine, thanks.
The nurses are generous with the needle
and I have been given a pair of long
winter has, after all, arrived and it is cold in the smoker’s room
where I am building a gallows out of cigarette stubs
from which you will hang
which I naturally won’t tell the chief of staff
or I’ll be put into the straightjacket,
and risk getting electrical currents shot through my body
and salivating in the cookies
which may be messages from intelligent forms of life on other planets
if I must say something
then it is
that the days are


It smells of hash in the ward today
the psychotics are smoking

other than that it is peaceful here

Astrid got electrical currents shot through her body
yesterday so her screams no longer fill the halls
Lonni is on duty
along with Sussi so some Benzos might
fall off along the

I lie in bed ringing the bell
as if I was in a hotel.

Yesterday Solveig jabbed her hand with a fork
usually she eats using plasticware
but she stole it
from the chief physician’s office.

My blood tests are still fucked
cancer cancer cancer
always cancer
and the constant paralysis in my arm
I miss writing.

The lady now comes to place electrodes
on my feet and chest
those are the jewels of the mental patient.

There is juice in the plastic cup on the night table.


I have lice and my son
has come to shave off my hair

I stand, bald, in hospital clothes
but am wearing a plastic bracelet that has my
CRS number on it
They have taken my telephone

My son leaves shortly after
I have been given the injection.

I turn inwards,
lying in a fetal position,
denying my own birth.


My sister is in Ward 1
She has gotten electrical currents shot through her
because she set fire to the ward
we are not allowed to visit one another

the cartoon characters are after her
they step out of the magazine

I myself am practically normal
I may have a little problem with the bottle
but I can recite my name when
the blood test lady asks me to.

Our childhood is what caused it all
Glen has been transported to the violent ward
he attacked one of Ulla’s visitors.

I am now going to take an after-dinner nap
that is the best thing about being here
the clean white bed sheets
against the dirty dreams.


Someone is walking up and
down the hallway
I toss and turn
switch on the light

Someone else is coughing next door
there is the creak of a bed
I drink to calm
my nervous system

I drink so that the sounds
won’t be sharp razor blades
I drink to make your face disappear
no, to make everything disappear

But tonight I miss you like
ears stuffed with cotton wool

I try to masturbate
force my thoughts
Hell, I’m just trying to survive
the patient
stops by my door
wanders on

Outside a red light bleeds the darkness up
I imagine a wrist
an open pulse


I ring the bell again and say
that there are rats at the foot of the bed, their teeth are orange
from the infection

Again, a thermometer up the ass
a doctor comes and shines a light into my eyes,
the flashlight is as small as a ballpoint pen
dilated pupils
200 milligrams phenobarbital, she says

I immediately pull my underpants down and
turn my ass out to the room
irritated over how much time it takes to
draw fluid from the needle.

Finally a finger that chafes the cheek, the shot
that tightens and loosens, it is like sobbing
after a long-term wound, it is like finding God
in emptiness.

Like when the police picked up my father
and locked him away.


I can’t get it out of my head
that there are small receptacles filled
with alcohol hanging in the bathrooms
that she has left me
I don’t know anybody
you don’t know anybody here
the schizophrenics receive visits
that’s the way it is
and we sit with our plastic forks and eat
in a room
that sometimes disappears
one of the young girls has grown a mustache
and her voice has grown dark because of the medicine
just like my grandmother
on the walls there are pictures painted by former madmen
the one above the sink depicts
a preposterous eye
I guzzle an egg sandwich
the door is locked
there is a fence around the building
a plane in the sky
if you bend over a little and turn your head to the side
you can see a trolly with thermo jugs
and plastic cups
today they’re serving herring


I will not take a bath before I get an injection
if you get more injections your heart will stop beating
then make it stop beating
get into the bath, you don’t smell good
it’s the cancer
you don’t have cancer
then look at my blood tests and the blood in my urine
it all looks much better than yesterday, let’s get you into the bath
if I get an injection
we’ll see about that after you’ve taken a bath
look at my toe, do you think it’s cancer?
No, you hit it by accident
it’s all blue
that’s what happens
but the bruise has been there long
I’m putting some clean clothes here and there are towels in the bathroom
and I’ll be getting an injection then
we’ll see
you just promised an injection if I took a bath
no I didn’t
yes, you did, I’m going to make a complaint you can’t make a promise and then not keep it I have cancer
You don’t have cancer
Then look at the tests, then look at the tests
I think you’ll feel better after a bath
I think I’ll feel better after an injection.


I piss in the urinal
in the window to the world
and I apologize a little
for the size

You should have seen it when I was young
I say to the young student nurse
Now you’re boasting

I miss the mark

let’s hope there’s no blood or sugar in it today
she takes the urinal in her rubber-gloved
hand and leaves

I stand in wet pants remembering
the whips of wet towels
the girls giggling

with Frandsen it’s even worse
it’s whispered that he likes children
and sliced it off
he doesn’t even come out for meals

I want to do it personally
Hanne says

I feel for mine in my pants
it’s still there

screwing the student nurse
feel something
do something else besides
standing in wet pants
satisfied with not being


As a boy my cups would stand on the shelf
like my father’s

Here I have a bottle of urine standing there

I think of it every time
I pass the table tennis table
the two bats, the net and
the ball no one can find

I always fondle the green,
smooth surface with my finger,
straighten the net

walk to the podium in my club t-shirt,
the spectator’s standing ovation

my father at the finish line, following in the footsteps of death,
past the turn off at Tuborg, up toward the judge’s stand
while the horse foams at the bridle
I should have been a winner
second best is the biggest loser

the only thing I’m really good at is
bewailing my way to the next injection

I can shiver and sweat, have a fever
I don’t want to wean off it
I will go on to the bitter end
in this strong field of losers.


I woke up from an excavator
standing in the ward
my hands were smeared with blood
later on Lonni said that was silly
as she kept a straight face, shut
her eyes across time

just as my grandmother used to do
when the doctor had
given her an injection

I cannot say for sure what it is like
I am not entirely myself
It’s as though I’ve been torn

as the dosage of medicine continually goes up
It won’t be long before the first snowdrop
shows up by the hospital wall
is what Lonni says
who has been keeping an eye on it

I don’t have the words for it all today
I can’t say it
it is gone.


you have no idea how much you scare me
I’m so afraid you might die
I can’t sleep at night anymore
mother can’t sleep either
won’t you please stop
drinking when you are released
I won’t come and get more schnapps anymore
I won’t come at all
I don’t have a father
you won’t have a son if you do it
do you prefer the bottle to me.


It is just that
I say to the nurse
my eyes like knives
my tongue like a lash,
if I don’t get that needle right now
I’ll kick the medicine cabinet
and what do you think will happen then
her smile is a winner’s
and I know
I have lost
I am no one here
diagnosed as psychotic,
and wouldn’t mind seeing
this hospital go up in flames
I go back to the ward
crawl into bed
choke the pillow like a teddy bear
it is two hours before the next injection
I go out to the bathroom and tear down
the alcohol dispenser
and drink and
go into the next toilet,
not until the third
do I meet two nurses
Bjørn and Otto
What do you think you’re doing
they say
It’s because they won’t give me an injection
I say, throwing up on Bjørn
Otto gets a splash on his shoe
You’re damn well not drinking
what we disinfect our hands in?
Are you mad?
Then get the injection,
get it, damn it.


Ward: PSY P3 Unit (Svendborg)
Hospital: Psychiatric Services Region Southern Denmark

Up at around 1 am, asking where he is, whether the juice is standing on the shelf in his room and other delirious questions. He also thinks he has been on a camping trip.

You were on a real trip there
Lonni says as she velcroes my arm
until it starts throbbing

Sweden Sweden Sweden
my paradise in the woods
I had forgotten
Oh, life.

I turn my ass to her and receive the thermometer
It cuts me off for a moment
but I take it like a whore

Green woods flicker before my eyes
a dive in the lake
Helga Johansson in the shade with snuff
you were all dazed,
claiming you were going to a concert
with Ulf Lundel
as though that’s a name everyone should know

It is God I say when the thermometer
is pulled out
the pain again but

One line remains stuck:
If this is winter spring must be on its way
If this is winter spring must be
on its way.


Everyone is tiptoeing
through the ward this morning,
there are faint whispers

last night I dreamed
that I spurted on a child
in a street
in an alley
in Nazi Denmark

It wasn’t my dream
but it was dreamed in my mind
and they know it

Everyone knows it
the train that ticks past
the night table’s wheels across the linoleum
and the bed clothes

that deep down I am a pedophile like Frandsen
and even though I open my mouth
and try to say
that it is the new medicine
no words co-
me out.

I now know what will happen
for the rest of my life
I’m preparing myself
developing eyes in the back of my head

photographs of me everywhere
in the ward
which is a city
of addicts.


I have been given permission to
go to the kiosk with Lonni today

We take the elevator down
together with an orderly and an empty bed
I’m going to get a Coca-Cola Light and pack of Cecil

Lonni says she’s Googled me
and told the other nurses
who I am
and some of them have bought my books
and some are sorry
that they didn’t know
because it would have been different then,
she says.

There are many customers at the kiosk
and while Lonni is talking with another nurse
I grab a bottle of wine
put it in my pants

Hold on there,
what do you think you’re doing
the kiosk lady has caught sight of me
and I must return the wine
but they don’t call the police

He’s an author, Lonni says
which makes it more understandable

It can’t be easy to always have to think up things
as the elevator goes back up
and I step into the ward like
a star.


I’m not visiting you
because you acted that way at my confirmation
and now you only call when you want me to get you some schnapps
I hope you have a merry Christmas
I’m living with a good friend,
you know, the girl who stopped smoking pot.


I imagine that you’re decorating the place for Christmas now
did you also put fairy lights
on the little tree
by the gable
how time flies
I’m not angry anymore by the way
the new medicine mixes well with the old one
even though I am tired
but no longer young anymore
the doctor says
I was wondering whether I could get some money from the house
I owe someone here a little cash
his eyes look pretty sick
it is not easy here
the whole thing
but it will work out
tonight there are hymns
with piano accompaniment
it is also important to remember the good things
do you think you could
get me a gun
I hope there are no mice
in the house
I know how you hate mice.


Patient 1: We have the same surname.
Patient 2: Yes, it’s strange.
P1: Perhaps they’ve switched our medicine.
P2: What makes you think that?
P1: There could be many reasons.
P2: I’m sure they have it under control.
P1: Exactly, they know what they’re doing.
P2: I just don’t see why.
P1: Yes, well, there you are, they know what they’re doing.
P2: I see what you mean.
P1: Yes, it’s cunning, but if we switch medicines, then they’re back where they started.
P2: Unless they’ve already taken that into consideration.
P1: It would be like them to be that cunning.
P2: Then there’s nothing we can do.
P1: You see what I mean, then.
P2: Yes, we are trapped.
P1: It’s gotten colder.
P3: Do you have a light?
P1: I never lend my lighter to anyone.
P2: Here you go.
P3: Thank you.
P1: They can make microphones and cameras so small that they can put them in the pills.
P2: So small.
P1: Can’t you see it? Can’t you see why they switched them?
P2: You may be onto something.
P1: No, they’re the ones who are onto something, now they can see us from inside and by switching our medicine, they can hide behind it.
P2: It’s a downright disgrace.
P3: It’s gotten colder.
P2: Yes.
P1: Are you one of them?
P3: One of who?
P1: You see? We don’t stand a chance.


Mikael Josephsen

Mikael Josephsen gained recognition in the Danish literary market with his poetry collection BREAK  (KNÆK, Gyldendal, 2016), in which he describes life in the various psychiatric wards he has inhabited. The collection received favorable reviews in several Danish newspapers. He has since published a collection entitled Jeg er farmor (“I Am Grandmother”), which has also received favorable reviews.

Nina Sokol

Nina Sokol is a poet and translator of Danish plays and poems. She was a poet-in-residence at the Vermont Studio Center in 2011. She has received several grants from the Danish Arts Council to translate plays,  and has translated various novels. An excerpt from her translation of Birte Kont's “A Place Nowhere” will be published by the online journal JewishFiction.Net later in 2019. Her poems have appeared in U.S. journals including Miller's Pond and Hiram Poetry Review, and a collection of her poetry, Escape & Other Poems, was published by Lapwing Publications (Belfast, 2015).

Copyright (c) Mikael Josephsen, 2016. English translation copyright (c) Nina Sokol, 2019.