The Book of the Dead Man (Drugs)

By Marvin Bell


Live as if you were already dead.
                     Zen admonition 

1. About the Dead Man and Drugs 
The dead man tried to read the small type, but it was too small.
He tried to listen fast when the pitchman covered the side effects.
There was little to do but risk it.
It was the new drug for everything, a panacea.
He would no longer prowl the beaches looking for a word in a bottle.
He would not need to decipher the markings of crab shells, tea leaves, coffee grounds, the
crystals or the clouds.
There would be no meaning of life, just life.
Then, in time, the dead man would feel a pain that had no name.
The side effects were death after one dose, muscle atrophy after two, kidney failure after three,
there was a list.
The dead man has been on his knees, looking for a pill that rolled off the counter.
He has counted out dosages, placed the vials at bedside, woken himself in time, stayed up for the
last, all that.
He knows that each pill is a concoction, like a cake, eat it all.
Each has its own way of defining a life.
So the dead man favors placebos.
As for body parts, he prefers to use the ones that hurt. 
  
2. More About the Dead Man and Drugs 
It hurts to stand up, so-what?
It hurts uphill and downhill, as it should.
The dead man caught the general apathy toward the sociopolitical but dispelled it through better
chemistry.
He thought hard, the way a high-jumper pictures his approach and his clearing of the bar before
starting.
The dead man’s foreshadowing can make something happen.
So he saw himself on a road away from the battlefield.
It is true, he could turn imagining into ability--the power to walk, say, first pictured, then
realized.
The dead man is too corporeal for hallucinogens.
His drug is late nights, his obsession is now and its aftermath.
The dead man’s drugs are not remedies but food for the overtimes.
They would be cure-alls, magical, miraculous, were they not dated.
The doc’s charts show when time will run out, but it’s a guess.
When the dead man is told he cannot walk, he walks.
He laughs at pain, he has a lot to learn.
The dead man is a geezer, and he is happy to hurt. 


Marvin Bell was Iowa’s first Poet Laureate and is the author of over 16 books of poetry. A finalist for the National Book Award, Bell taught for many years at the Iowa Writers' Workshop as the Flannery O'Connor Professor of Letters. He currently is an emeritus faculty member. Over a long career Bell has held numerous visiting lectureships at universities, including Goddard College, Oregon State University, the University of Hawaii, and the University of Washington. Bell currently serves on the faculty of the Masters in Fine Arts in writing program at Pacific University in Oregon.

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