Crisis Unit
by Darlene Pagán

Maybe it was the question’s precision
or the exam I’d been studying in algebra
that made me think,
More than one?

when she asked how many pills it
would take to kill herself.  Heat fired up
my back and my face like an electric

current.  A freshman in college, instructed
to answer the phone only if no one else
had by the fifth ring, my voice whined

when I finally spoke.  
I suppose it depends
on the kinds of pills.
 But she had no interest
in solving for unknown values, no interest

in the difference between rational or
irrational numbers as she rattled off
pharmaceuticals as if she read from

a grocery list.  It was dinner time and from
another room forks and knives clicked,
glasses clanked, voices erupted in laughter.

The last thing I wanted was to put her
on hold or shout for someone’s attention.
The last thing I wanted was to spend

another second on that phone.  In a few
years, I’d have the right words on my tongue
to comfort or subdue.  I’d know to call

911 on another line or recognize she
wasn’t even crying, was likely baiting and
provoking me, and had, like so many

other clients, called only the night before
searching for the tender voice of her
favorite counselor.  When the line

went dead, I convinced myself she had the
better head for numbers, more experience
in crises, so that, no matter who had

answered the phone, the woman on
the other end would discover the
constant truth of the next full breath.


Darlene Pagán is a writer and educator, mother and wife, scholar
and activist, and her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in
Two Review: An International Journal of Poetry and Creative
, Willow Springs, The Birmingham Poetry Review,
VoiceCatcher.  Pagán’s essays have appeared in The
Nebraska Review
, Literal Latté, and Mother Writer’s Literary

On “Crisis Unit”:
Philip Lopate says remorse is a good starting point for writing
personal essays.  Poems too, I think.  It took twenty years after
working in an actual crisis unit to be able to write about it, not
because it was so terribly painful or sad, though it was often
painful and sad, but because I needed far more life experience
to understand those experiences.  Now, I feel as much remorse
for those who phoned in nightly as for the girl who had to answer
the phone.

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Apple Valley Review:
A Journal of Contemporary

ISSN 1931-3888

Volume 5, Number 1
(Spring 2010)

Copyright © 2010
by Leah Browning, Editor.  

All future rights to material
published in the
Valley Review
are retained
by the individual authors
and artists.