In recognition of National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month, we’re pleased to feature Armin Tolentino’s poem, “A Mascot for Your Mental Illness,” which employs the extended metaphor of the “always stirring” bullhead unfazed by “sharp things” to illustrate both the silence and relentlessness of struggling with a mental illness especially as an Asian American. This honest poem artfully warns of the pain of confronting and bringing a mental illness to light, while braving that task itself.
— Eugenia Leigh, Poetry Editor
A Mascot for Your Mental Illness
Bullhead. Harmless and ugly.
Slime skinned, stirring the brackish
bottom. Always stirring the blackest
water. You can never tell. Convince
yourself it’s just the current disturbing
your slough. Perhaps.
When you sleep, the bullhead feeds.
When you’re awake, just try to spot it cleanly.
It shies from direct observation and slithers
in any of your hairline fractures.
Leave a line out. A bullhead can swallow
the trident of a treble hook
down to its stomach and still not budge.
Sharp things don’t startle it.
It has taken so many sharp things
inside itself and still has blood to spare.
It is silent and ugly and harmless,
unless of course the line is reeled.
Drag the dead weight. It cozens with
stillness as if it were weeds or lifeless.
All it desires: to grow and feed in your mud
without you ever seeing. Brace yourself
for the thrashing if you dare pull its secret
to the surface. It’ll break
its own spine to avoid the light.