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ode to the luna moth & my psychiatrist, who warns me lithium will shorten my lifespan

by Anthony Thomas Lombardi

i am foolish about so much—a half-hearted maybe
will rouse me to rub wishes into moth wings, warm my hands
with the friction from a railroad track, crush five fingers
of a rocks glass. you get it—i’m addicted
to feeling. are you not set aflush by the gall of a streetlight
mimicking the moon? who wouldn’t mimic the moon? i have
mimicked the moon. instead of casting a copper glow over
lovers, i gingerly walked coal into churches
swallowed by smoke. i was the classical music
that plays at Port Authority, a pistol
itchy on a June night. the night was almost another day
when i caught sight of how i’ll look
when i’m old—eyes viper black, crusted dribble
like a string of burnt rosary beads, a mutiny
of stars defacing my arms. i nearly shrieked
myself mute. look. the world is on fire, the stars
are necessary. a bartender once called me
unkeepupwithable & i wore it as a badge
before my liver began to glare, spectacles
hugging the tip of the nasal bridge. look.
i walk around my house where i live alone
tangled in paltry thread-count cotton
with my eyes chewed out. you see how i said house?
it isn’t a house. you see how i said ghost? i’m ill
-fitted & easily swayed & have my breath held
captive. don’t look now. a luna moth
is tickling your throat, his wingspan close
to devotional. he soars to meet his mate
through a summer ripe with midnights knowing
not even the pleasures of a tongue.
once she lays eggs, he will die. starved
for his namesake, he sails past a streetlight
with the eye of horus painted on each wing
their flicker in cadence with the bulb
in the night sky, a blur burning bright
before their soft betrayal. look—
you can look up now.

In 2020, I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder. This was equal parts relief and means for deep, dark reflection. I could finally be treated for what had been unwittingly wreaking havoc on my life for as long as I can remember; I could also begin the arduous processing of how so much of my trauma and painful memories were shaped. Thus began the trial and error of medication, including 13 antipsychotics in seven months—you can imagine what this did to my physiological, mental, physical, and psychic wellbeing. When we finally landed on a combination that seemed to work, my psychiatrist warned me of the risk of high doses of lithium over time—including but not limited to damage to my kidneys, thyroid, and brain—culminating in an expected shortening of my lifespan. I began to consider how the treatments or vices that make my life manageable on a day-to-day basis—lithium, cigarettes—will likely result in a truncated life expectancy, before my psychiatrist pointed out that compared to untreated Bipolar, lithium was actually extending my lifespan, as the lives of 25% of the afflicted are claimed by suicide, with my case proving a heightened risk.

This poem was an attempt, on some subconscious level—which is the only way to write, really—to dredge up all of the impulsive, life-risking behavior I’d exhibited prior to my diagnosis, along with some flashes of an imagined future, juxtaposed with the luna moth, who around this time had winged its way into my consciousness. The male luna moth lives only a week, dying once the female lays its eggs, but traveling expansive distances to complete the fertilization process. I thought about all that the luna moth travailed, even with its death imminent, and tried to reconcile this with my own potentially abridged life.

Anthony Thomas Lombardi is a poet, activist, and educator. He currently serves as assistant poetry editor for Sundog Lit and is the founder, host, and curator for Word is Bond, a community-centered reading series that raises funds for transnational relief efforts and mutual aid organizations. Lombardi’s work has appeared or will soon in Guernica, Gulf Coast, Colorado Review, North American Review, and elsewhere. He lives in Brooklyn, New York, with his cat, Dilla.