July Poetry: "A Mascot for Your Mental Illness" by Armin Tolentino

July 17, 2017

Artwork by Mori Walts

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.         
                                                                 Or maybe
thousands squirm. 

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.


Armin Tolentino

Armin Tolentino received his MFA at Rutgers University in Newark, NJ. His poetry has appeared in BACKWORDS Press, Blue Earth Review, and The Raven Chronicles. He is an Oregon Literary Arts Fellowship recipient and wastes many hours on the Pacific Northwest waterways trying to catch whatever will bite.