Mark Dion, "Memory Box" (detail) (2016) in The Library for the Birds of New York and Other Marvels at Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York (photo by Elisa Wouk Almino for Hyperallergic)

Mark Dion, “Memory Box” (detail) (2016) in The Library for the Birds of New York and Other Marvels at Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York (photo by Elisa Wouk Almino for Hyperallergic)

When I was 12

my dad told the psychiatrist I suffer
night terrors because I’m evading generations            of trauma
the heritage of Middle Passage was dismissed by science
the psychiatrist dismissed dad’s evidence
nodding mmhmmm     I was prescribed
a bottle of Paxil

and I swallowed my Paxil
daily yet I suffered
nightly      the psychiatrist prescribed
more doses to stop trauma
from animating my body while I slept         he stressed evidence
recorded in elite journals of medicine and science

and years later, ancestral trauma was recreated in a science
lab       I flushed my Paxil
after reading the evidence:
Men in white coats electrocuted mice until the animals suffered
convulsions at the scent of cherry blossoms       this scent traumatized
offspring who never experienced electric current       Men in white coats prescribe

trauma to bury trauma they’ll excavate later        my psychiatrist prescribed
Paxil because he didn’t know why a 12-year-old science
geek escaped her bed and screamed bloody murder in her sleep        The trauma
must stem from chemical imbalance      he said     Paxil
stimulates neurotransmitters       but he didn’t know my suffering
is a transmission from the belly of Desire crossing the Atlantic        There’s evidence

my ancestral bodies survived and did not survive this ship     evidence
human cargo was prescribed
bondage and suffering
because states need building        scientists
endorsed these prescriptions with eugenic theories      my Paxil
is evidence of trauma

inflicted by these white coats who are paid per trauma
They gather evidence
for cures by handing out placebos      The Paxil
is a placebo     I screamed       my psychiatrist prescribed
higher doses and I became his science
experiment      White coats dissected my suffering

in labs resembling bedrooms        they prescribed
more Klonopin, more scans, more mmhmmm, more science
still screaming:                                                                                   I suffer

*   *   *

Candace Williams is a Brooklyn Poets Fellow and her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Sixth Finch, Bennington Review, Lambda Literary Review, Copper Nickel, and Redivider, among other places. She earned her MA in Elementary Education from Stanford University and has received scholarships from Cave Canem. You can find her walking her pit bull down Nostrand Ave, watching too many episodes of Murder, She Wrote before bed, and subtweeting the white supremacist capitalist patriarchy (@teacherc).

Readers are encouraged to submit 3–5 poems as a PDF to Wendy Xu for consideration at

Wendy Xu

Wendy Xu is the author of the poetry collections Phrasis (Fence, 2017), winner of the 2016 Ottoline Prize, and You Are Not Dead (Cleveland State University Poetry Center, 2013). The recipient...