Joan Colby

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Closing the Asylum

It was about money
As is always the case
When bureaucrats palaver. Artwork by Gene McCormick

The vaunted doors close
Upon the snakepits,
The shocking parlors,
The cuckoo nests.

They rove unmedicated
Through the failing downtown
Where all the stores have fled
To malls. To rave at vacant windows
Or pick through bins or throw
Themselves into the river.

Thirty, forty years behind walls,
Nowhere now to go, the lost
Families, absent friends.

Samaritans step forward. The church
People. Good hearts and then
The stipend that the state provides.
An old woman’s frugal pension.
She opens her doors—a room and bath.

At first, she seems like a grandmother.
Like the one I almost remember.
The rooms are clean. Mine has a bed,
A dresser, a mirror in which I behold
The dancing lights and golden insects
That live within my veins and scrawl
Red signatures upon my flesh.
So long since I have seen my saints
Blotted by the pills I toss
Down the toilet flushing away
Those grey dayroom years.

One claims to be a vampire,
Another a sea-captain
He shouts avast at confused pedestrians
Who tell themselves these people are harmless.
The haggard woman who shows her breasts,
Such wrinkled dugs. The prostitutes
Who trade for drugs, sing nursery songs.
The drinkers on the riverbanks, shopping carts
Full of haphazardness. The library snoozers.

It is a while before I can see clearly
The demon staring through her eyes.
When I accuse, she looks surprised,
Pats my hand, says I imagine
As demons with their vast deceit
Are known to do. God tells me
To take those eyes out with my spoon
And eat the demon. When she cries
I beat her into silence. She
Will thank me when she realizes
What I’ve saved her from.

A woman, newly released, has taken hostage
The inhabitants of her rooming house.
She fires at the officers
From an upstairs window, wounding one.
She says aliens have overtaken the city.


Joan Colby is editor of Illinois Racing News, a monthly publication for the Illinois Thoroughbred Breeders and Owners Foundation, published by Midwest Outdoors LLC. She lives with her husband and assorted animals on a small horse farm in Northern Illinois. She is also associate editor of Kentucky Review and FutureCycle Press. Her latest books are Ribcage and Broke.