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Goya at the Madhouse

ISSUE:  Fall 2005

So this is where a love of the imagination leads,
      Goya thinks, boarded up inside his deafness,
quarantined, silence inside of him like embalming fluid,
      the whole scene swirling around him as he draws,
as if he’s come here to watch a storm from the quietest

of rooms, to feel each scream wash up
      against him and retreat, men grappling
with each other, some naked, some muddied with
      their shit, one man hung in chains, one eating
his shadow off another’s back, though most wander

through the mine-shafts of their interiors, oblivious
      to the rubble of the others, curled up or sifting
through the hourglass of sleep. So this is where it leads,
      the hieroglyphic mind, the grapeshot
of our fantasies ignited in the groin: self-pollution,

widows’ mites, leprosy. Last month, fevered, chattering,
      the dust-gnats of infection devouring
the petals in each ear, he saw, above him,
      a ceiling hung with snakes, constellations
in his bed fleece, lice in the dark hair of the night,

the doctor drawing a vial of ashes from his wrist,
      so that he felt himself disappearing,
as if he were being devoured by the larvae
      in the doctor’s eyes, by the madness
rising through the infinity of roots the mind unrolls

through the flesh’s darkest soils, madness carving
      its way up the totem of the spine,
prehistoric, raw, from the body’s Godless aquifers,
      until he began to see thought
as the salt the body’s stormy ocean twirls weightless

through the air, our chain-linked logic unable
      to keep caged the animal of our history,
each revolution giving rise to the bloody code,
      the Inquisition, the guillotine.
So this is where it leads, starvation, dunking tubs

and whirling chains, the attendant in the corner with
      a lashing stick, our reason the mortar
with which authority lays its bricks, these men
      the windfall apples of their age
or strapped, from birth, into the wheelchairs of their destinies.

So this is where a lifetime of painting leads, staring up
      all day into the rotunda of the mind,
drawing now one man with a paper crown, one quailed
      beneath the soft beak of a Hussar’s cap,
trying to suggest a balance in the filth, as if the inmates

were working towards a common goal, like shipbuilders,
      as if the madhouse might rise
on a battlement of shrieks, each inmate walking
      the gangplank of his sanity, he thinks,
like the time, as a boy, he found himself trapped

atop the catwalk in a barn, the ladder dropped below,
      sealed inside the asylum stench
of straw and pigeon shit, the dark complete,
      until, creeping forward, he popped
the hayloft window and looked upon a landscape

he could not reach, the crops fenced in by stone,
      the farmhouse too distant for his screams,
which is how he felt when his madness finally broke,
      lofted, alone, waiting for art to let down its ropes
and lower him back into the flattened world below.


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