Fairy Tale for a Young Inpatient
Down, down, way down, at the very bottom
of the old wishing well,
the one with the broken crank, no rope, and no pail,
the one still covered by the quaint,
scant roof meant to keep other things out,
down, down to where the memories you keep
lie at the bottom like tarnished pennies,
one day, there will appear a splendid fish,
as red and as gold as your fabulous cape,
my princess, my forlorn one.
You will see it swim in the deep,
distorting murk we all wish to forget,
fluttering its fins like a fledgling,
testing its way out of the well,
and you will drop a line, a strangling
thread from your cape, unspun in desperation,
trying, once more, to reach beyond
the bottom to where there are no memories.
But, you will catch this fish, instead,
reeling it in like a new story worth telling,
unnoticed until now, though it has always been there
flickering about between the dull coins.
And after you pull up this fish
with its sparkling gossamer fins
you will wrap it gently in the matching
colors of your cape, cradle it in your scarred arms
all the way up the narrow, insufficient pass
of your past with its many twists and turns,
along the whole cruelty of that journey,
then finally down the other side to a calm place,
where the lake water licks the shore in little waves.
There, you will kneel down and surrender
all that you’ve carried into that clear water,
stretching yourself out to swim with the fish,
the beautiful one you rescued.
A Game of Cards
Night finally came. I had already
turned on the overhead light
illuminating the room,
its different shades of gray,
when my patient suggested
that we play a game of cards.
I thought about this.
I had long ago given up on chance
and was steering my life
toward the certainties I had begun
to learn were truly there.
These were not certainties as one knows facts, today,
with their tangible logic as hard as rock
and as immutable as the progression of multiplication tables
always moving toward their unavoidable answers.
Those were the mental traps of a mundane mind.
Instead, my certainties were a kind of wisdom,
which emitted from a veiled, capuchin-clad figure
that I noticed followed behind me
wherever I went.
At each moment of indecision on my part,
when I would find myself at a crossroads
where the vanishing point to each choice
showed nothing but a vague promise
diminishing into the distance,
it would whisper to me, imparting
its knowledge into one ear or the other
(it had no true preference)
always telling me the whys and therefores
of the options I was contemplating.
Of course, no one else saw this.
Why should they? The figure
was obviously there only for me.
But to try and explain to you what it was
I should start by saying what it was not.
Although it was wont to speak anything
more than the advice it gave,
it was not a guardian angel.
This much it had confessed to me.
Nonetheless, I began to look upon it
as a higher force from a not so ancient past,
whose physical and spiritual being had been
so deformed by the misfortunes of its own life,
that in its current configuration it had willed itself
to maintain a presence in the nether wake
all mortals make moving through the world
and to advise the mortal it followed
how to thwart the tragedies and mishaps
the figure had already lived.
The overhead light flickered once,
and my patient interrupted my thoughts
insisting we begin our game.
My poor, delusional patient,
whose white garb and guileless expression
belied the true wiles of his mind.
He laid his first card down, telling me
in his earnest, matter of fact manner
how he would beat me, that his sense of numbers
and his memory were better than mine,
so for him, this, too, was no game of chance.
About the Poet
Tim Mayo’s poems and reviews have appeared in The American Journal of Poetry, Avatar Review, Barrow Street, Narrative Magazine, Poetry International, Poet Lore, River Styx, Salamander, San Pedro River Review, Tar River Poetry, Valparaiso Poetry Review, Verse Daily, Web Del Sol Review of Books, and The Writer’s Almanac. His poems have received six Pushcart Prize nominations as well twice being chosen a finalist for the Paumanok Prize.
His first full length collection, The Kingdom of Possibilities, (Mayapple Press, 2009) was a finalist for the 2009 May Swenson Award. His second volume of poems, Thesaurus of Separation (Phoenicia Publishing 2016) was a finalist for the 2017 Montaigne Medal and a finalist for the 2017 Eric Hoffer Book Award. He lives in Southern Vermont, where he works in a Mental Hospital.