The Laughing Madness

Lorenzo never made it in the city as a wood-worker,

but he made a house, a bar and a jail

when he arrived on the forsaken malarial marsh

that the military and blood-drillers abandoned.

When the days were short and when the long Darkness

froze itself into his toes and danced with his mind,

the coyotes would yip through the night, screeching

while their noses were deep in the red steaming bellies of rabbits.

He was a hundred miles on each side from a fort, and sometimes,

travelers going west knocked at dusk, asking for shelter after

braving the insect-blanketed shores and begging for safety from

the cackles that crowed in chase. He took them in happily.

One winter, a walking priest traded Lorenzo a Bible for a fill of whiskey,

and asked "why do the beasts chortle like breaking glass?"

Lorenzo told him that they laughed when they killed,

and it meant that Death had just walked by.

The next spring, Lorenzo thought warmly of the priest

when he tore the scripture pages out to roll cigarettes.

After the priest left, no more travelers knocked at his hut.

Years passed with only the marsh's howling, giggling choir.

On a final cold night, he quietly lit his last candle while the coyotes cackled,

and watched the dark of his shadow-filled home attack the lone, tiny flame.

As Light died, Lorenzo decided to read what was left of the Bible

that lay with a stone under the short leg of his table.

As he read the shattered book, the cold in his toes

slid up, up into his mind. The wind cutting at his neck distracted him

and then he stopped reading to watch the candle dance itself to death

while the printed faith dejectedly faded into the ink of night.

Then, it was still in the unchallenged black. Slowly, the laughs grew,

closer and louder, congregating into a minor cacophony

of whoops and shrieks like the din of a symphony

tuning their instruments, building to a crescendo of a mad, mad jubilation.

In the pounding, chuckling murk, without warmth or light,

Lorenzo finally surrendered to the laughter that haunted

the derelict land. He leaned back in his chair and,

after fighting it for too many years, he sighed and listened.

His mind deserted and drowned in the pitch. He paused--

he heard something familiar. There was...a prayer, yes,

a prayer locked in those laughs...a pious and small grace,

a hidden psalm for the grim, bony finger that touches everything--sooner or later.

And, in knowing he heard it, he steeled himself with the last remnants

of a mind husked by the howls and decided he would not wait for "later";

he would not sit pleasantly in the dark and allow the madness

that fed on the night's abyss to hiss and scratch at the walls between his eyes.

In the swell of snickers, Lorenzo rolled one last cigarette

from the bound shreds of the rapture. In the roaring black,

he found his rifle and pocketed a handful of slugs,

ignored his coat on the wall and kicked the whiskey cask over.

While the spirits bubbled onto the floor,

he lit the gospel cigarette in his teeth unceremoniously,

then dropped the gnarled match to the soaked floor.

He opened the door and frozen tongues licked his unguarded skin.

He walked into the moonless veil as the bar, jail, and house burned,

and he shot in every direction at the laughter in the night

until he fell down in the cold and his eyes went blue.

The darkness peeled from the sky and Death walked away

and they finally laughed for him.


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