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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 
him 
while his mother listened and cried over the 
bible. 

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 
stuck out 
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 
torture him 
but his father 
who was a huge and terrible man 
tortured him for 
us. 

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 
later. 

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 
decades later 
I still think of his death 
while having forgotten all the other deaths 
and everything else that happened 
then.


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.