In the Crisis Room

Apparently, every five years or so, I write a poem. The last one was about visiting Las Vegas for the first time.

Below is a new one, based on my internship answering suicide and crisis hotlines at a behavioral health agency. I wrote it for a class assignment in which we were asked to reflect on our internship experience.

When Logic performed his song about suicide at the Grammy Awards last June, my supervisors staffed up in the crisis room because they knew call volume would spike. That’s not because people suddenly got more desperate. It’s because they took the song’s message to heart: You are not alone.

If you or someone you know is in distress, there are people waiting to talk to you right now at 150 call centers across the U.S. that answer the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255.

Here’s my poem about what it feels like to work the hotlines.

In the Crisis Room

My phone bleats like a lamb
needing feeding.

Around me my coworkers chatter, snack,
compare shades of nail polish
and then their phones ring
and they are asking:

“Any thoughts of suicide today?”

I am a calm center in the storm of noise.
I am the eye of the hurricane.
I am the hostage negotiator, the expert, the genius.
I am the idiot, the stupid bitch who can’t help,
who couldn’t talk her way out
of a paper bag.

My phone trills like a mockingbird.

Will it be a kid in tears?
An aging warrior, taking off his armor
long enough to dial?

I show my colleague how to conference call.

I ask a caller how he’s kept going, feeling this way
feeling worthless, alone
feeling like nothing
for months, for decades.

I document. I triage. I call the police.

I wait for the phone to ring.

It rings. No angel gets its wings.

But a human voice is trapped on the other end,
like a firefly in a jar.

I pick up the phone: “I’m happy to talk with you.
Are you having thoughts of suicide?”

“No, HELL no.”
“I don’t—I mean, not really.”
“Doesn’t everyone?”
“Like I’m stupid enough to answer THAT question.”
“Gonna call the cops on me?”
“Yes, I’ve thought about it.”
“No, but I’m scared about my friend…”

My phone keeps ringing. I keep answering.

Keep helping. Keep floundering. Keep listening. Keep validating.

My phone keeps ringing. I keep answering.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255


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