death of an idiot
he spoke to mice and sparrows
and his hair was white at the age of 16.
his father beat him every day and his mother
lit candles in the church.
his grandmother came while the boy slept
and prayed for the devil to let loose his hold upon
while his mother listened and cried over the
he didn’t seem to notice young girls
he didn’t seem to notice the games boys played
there wasn’t much he seemed to notice
he just didn’t seem interested.
he had a very large, ugly mouth and the teeth
and his eyes were small and lusterless.
his shoulders were slumped and his back was bent
like an old man’s.
he lived in our neighborhood.
we talked about him when we got bored and then
went on to more interesting things.
he seldom left his house. we would have liked to
but his father
who was a huge and terrible man
tortured him for
one day the boy died. at 17 he was still a
boy. a death in a small neighborhood is noted with
alacrity, and then forgotten 3 or 4 days
but the death of this boy seemed to stay with us
all. we kept talking about it
in our boy-men’s voices
at 6 p.m. just before dark
just before dinner.
and whenever I drive through that neighborhood now
I still think of his death
while having forgotten all the other deaths
and everything else that happened
From Burning in Water, Drowning in Flame
Selected poems 1955 – 1973
Black Sparrow Press, 1986.
First published in:
Burning in Water, Drowning in Flame, 1974.