There is a child somewhere who has not heard of death.
There is always a child who has not heard of death
and always a child breathing who does not think
of stopping breath, or even that it could
be stopped, making a rhythm of despair.
Subtle, yet textured in their ignorance
they are a hundred colors with one shade
A thousand notes maintained in monotone.
They are not told “You are alive,”
They’re only told “You are not dead,”
in tones of condescending bliss
and self-enraptured complacence:
a pitter-patter on the head
a piece of cheese, a slice of bread
a cardboard berth, a hole for piss…
and once a month they’re visited
and held close, raising small, sweet necks
to share a slowly thinning blood
then told again, “You are not dead,”
and left there in the cardboard bed
watching the closing caging steel
told that with such assurance, they’ll be well
that with the tender light, and threadbare sheet
and time to think, and time to think…
You can smell the velvet in those brief visits,
tepid red wine and late-night dialogue,
pearled lights and diamond tables. Veined marble floors.
Sharp teeth, well-oiled smiles; noble positionings
the velvet where those captors come from.
Sequined and holding tissues,
giggling like maniacs, fraught with lipstick.
“You are not dead,” their captors said,
until a dozen years had passed;
“You are not dead.” Their message changed;
“You are what cannot be alive,
and still must strive to live like this,”
and fingering their brief samite
they blow the prisoner a kiss,
a child-kiss, upon the head
(with lips so bitter-brightly red):
“You can never unlock the door
because we have the Golden Key
and still must strive, a prisoner
to act as if you were like we.”
To act as if a golden key’d been twisted in a living heart,
to sit upon a paper sheet and fake a marble warmth beneath,
a silken rustle, throaty wine. “Just act as if you were like mine–”
And then the child, being told
a living death is only living,
comes to believe their own undeath:
then to those captives, unforgiving:
“Come, feel my neck, and listen to me breathe
and breathe like me.”
Their skin is chalky, cold.
They never told us quite what living means.
[AUTHOR'S NOTE: I wrote this particular piece-or its first version-ten years ago during one sleepless night after a long, winding conversation with a friend and mentor. In some ways this is a description of real experiences; in others, it's a play on words and concepts - the common conflation of "Deaf" and "death" or "dead," for example. It's also a little sympathetic to vampires... and playing with the meaning of vamp, in general. Am I making a statement about audiology and the obsession some have with speaking? Yes - but it might (or might not) be the statement you think I'm making. In ten years I've formed ten different perspectives of the same poem; it wrote and keeps rewriting itself.]