Was it a dream, this wilted bud
wasted among the trodden mud?
Was it a hope, this crumpled page
discarded near an empty stage?
Was it a wish, this broken quill,
nib splintered so the ink would spill?
Was it desire, this flint-struck flash
extinguished unto lightless ash?
Is it despair, this fatal sigh
when longlived aspirations die?
Like a bitter child finding
in his Christmas stocking,
I will hold this disappointment
with a clenched fist,
my grip hardening as the years
until my hand should waste to dust
or the lump should crystallize into a
for my bygone crown.
Coroner, just staple it to my faint forehead,
the cause of death; and tag my twitching toe
before you put me with the legion John Doe dead—
beneath this morgue’s cold, clinical glow.
Coroner, I do believe you will soon find
that my skin is quite thin when you cut in,
for I’ve a soft-cover for both body and mind,
never having a hard-cover, though a shut-in.
Coroner, when you split me open, look to see
the heart that beat so hard as I composed
what my brain fain thought to be poetry;
that heart still beating— open, but also closed.
See how my heart quickens, hastening to pace
as the scalpel ascends, my soul laid so bare,
and look at the agony on my febrile face—
the pain of seeing how you do not care.
Never had I thought to go under the knife
while yet living, Coroner, and all those times I tried
to make for myself a literary life
are now lost among the others that have died.
No numbing agent, and no rigor mortis—
I can feel with every nerve, though I lay inert
upon this operation table, a corpus
awaiting the body bag and then the dirt.
And do not hold back the medical school
whose students seek to become as staff—
let them observe the dissection of a fool;
perhaps one should like an autograph.
Wait, are we to needle and thread already?
Careful as you stitch! Do not twist or jerk!
The spotlight fades and I am feeling quite heady—
Watch out! Have a care! This is my body of work!
What an upstart little sapling you seemed to be
with riddles running wild in its riotous roots,
growing on hopes and pride into a tall tree
as you splayed your spread-fingered shoots.
How fast you grew toward the fanciful sky,
holding your ambitions like a glorious crown
stuck in the clouds— ever so deliriously high
that your spindly trunk snapped and fell down.
What a stark collapse that shook the earth!
And you, yourself, too, splintered all apart
so that you looked down at the upturned turf
and saw therein your dry-rotted heart.
You trifled with riddles and poems and wit,
thinking yourself wiser than the way of things,
but then you came aground, bit by broken bit,
and found but kindling in your recording rings.
The Green Man could not save you, oh no, no, no,
nor the rains of plenitude that always came,
and, so imbalanced, you were doomed to go
and now no one knows your secret name.