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Cathleen Calbert

Death Goes Mad

Death Goes Mad

It began with little things:

sparrows whispered secrets
into his invisible ear,

how vile they found earthworms,
how their songs were screams.

Then the thing with the shoes.
Left was right,
right left.

He thought his breath
smelled like cigarettes,
like stale putty,
like a donkey’s ass:

shit, shit, shit
he went in this world.

Death checked himself in
to Our Lady of Mercy.

He had a full work-up.
The shrinks said, Borderline Personality.

He couldn’t distinguish himself
from someone else
(became fused, they said,
with every new lover).

Was Death psychotic?
Just another neurotic?
In love with his mother’s darkness?

(Death’s mom was long dead,
his dad unreachable in heaven.)

It’s always difficult
to say in these matters,

so they jolted his brain
with bolts of blue juice
and gave him milk toast
in whitewashed mornings.

They put him on Zoloft,
Paxil, Celexa, Effexor, Well-Butrin.

He might be left, they said, with a wet noodle.
But Death always could get a hard-on.
That was never his problem.

They told Death,
Today is the first day
of the rest of your life.

They told Death,
You design your own destiny.

They asked Death if he had any hobbies.
Hobbies? Death said.

They suggested he take up
knitting, sewing, crocheting.

Before his release, Death stenciled
Stars and a Crescent Moon
Stars and a Crescent Moon
Stars and a Crescent Moon
all over the hospital walls.

Shaken and bruised,
he lay off the sauce
and stuck to a regimen
of barley water
and vitamin supplements.

The birds no longer said anything
he thought worth hearing.

His bony feet fell
into the right right,
the right left.

Though still down in the mouth,
Death threw himself
             into his work.

Poet's Biography:
  Cathleen Calbert is the author of two books of poetry: Bad Judgment (Sarabande Books) and Lessons in Space (UP of Florida). Her poems have appeared in The Nation, The New Republic, The Paris Review, and Poetry.

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