The First Madman I Ever Saw

old man with dementia

The First Madman I Ever Saw

I have seen more since,

some who were mad and knew it, and

some who did not,

but he was the first madman I ever saw.

I can remember his face, but his name

is gone forever.

He used to sit in the same chair

every day, he would sit there and look

at everyone

as though he couldn’t quite see them.

His eyeballs were big globular things.

I was at school then, and we’d been

cutting up beasts eyes in biology

and I imagined that his

were like that, veined

and round and squidgy

and wrapped in untidy white fat. They


after you had passed him by,

late, like creatures

too slow to swivel when they should.

He was old, a retired butcher, I think,

with slicked back grey hair

and a fat round belly

twined in braces,

and a nose full of shrubs of hair

that he fed with strong and evil snuff

from a battered tin box.

Everyone just walked around him

as though he wasn’t there,

and he wasn’t there, really,

not any more.

This was at my grandmothers,

at her boarding house,

where we were staying because

we didn’t have anywhere else to go.

She took them in, these broken

and damaged men,

full of problems and empty of hope,

unloved and unlovable,

singletons or cast outs,

unwanted fragments of family

who didn’t have anywhere else to go.

She made quite the collection of them.

This madman sometimes comes mind,

because one day I walked in

to the sitting room

and he was standing, the madman,

not sitting.

He was standing, swaying, in front

of the chair he always sat in,

with a long dangling streak of

evil yellow snot

swinging from his nose

like a liquid whip.

He was staring, perhaps

looking at his past,

or at his future,

or the horror of his present,

or maybe just nothing at all,

standing there, looking,

moaning, swaying, maddening.

Looking at me.

I stood still.

My grandmother came out of the kitchen,

told the madman to sit down,

which he did,

told me to go to my room,

which I did.

There was not an ounce of concern

or worry on her face.

I stayed in my room

until she called me down later

for the evening meal.

I don’t remember eating.

I don’t remember seeing

the madman

ever again

though I fear that one day

I will see what he saw.

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