Canvas Waiting

Receptivity in Clinical Practice: Canvas Waits, a poem falls into being

“Golden Boy,  as he came to be known in a later part of our work, entered his first therapy session with earnest vulnerability, desperation and resolve. The session time ended quickly, he asked if he could return the next day. It was as if having begun, he could not risk losing momentum. At the top of my scribbled intake notes I wrote, “unfurling”. Not my usual assessment language, it was a harbinger of the poetic channel that opened within me for the duration of our work together.

The next day I did not see him; I had a previously scheduled supervisory session in Indianapolis. As I was driving home along the north-east corner of I-465, a fully formed poem fell into me, unbidden. I was not in the habit of writing poetry, had not done so in years. There was no conscious intention, only a sense of something arriving that required me to pull over, put on my blinkers and jot it down immediately. While he had not been an active part of my thoughts or supervisory process that day, the poem was clearly about Golden Boy.

Throughout the work that emerged, I continued to encounter him in ways not exclusively contained in the normative realms of time, space, and clinical reflection. While such experiences have always been part of my personal narrative, I’d never yet had such a clear series of encounters in my professional world and was a bit unsettled. Shame is a word that resonates. To be that receptive might imply something negative about my boundaries.  It was, and continues to be, an invaluable gift to have the wisdom of mentors with which to explore these mysteries through the professional lens. Consultation allows me to transform shame and claim the sacred.

Treatment with Golden Boy followed pretty standard interpersonal therapy cadence. For me it resides in memory as a relationship characterized by receptivity and poetry. What follows is the unaltered poem that arrived on I-465. It is not shared as a great work of art. Its value lies in representing appreciation for connection, creativity and spirituality within the clinical relationship.


Canvas Waits

He tells me of creating

a modern Norman Rockwell

which, if stripped away,

would reveal

His tortured version of Munch’s Scream

Both lack authenticity

Brushstrokes influenced

by longing



How to paint a self-portrait

when all reflections are seen

in carnival mirrors?

The artist sits in darkness

 canvas waits, truth uncertain

Fearful, he picks up the brush