The Gatehouse Heaven by James Kimbrell
Notice the language of death and decay in the first half of the poem, and then the switch to heavenly imagery after the phrase "After that, I thought it all saintly." Images of death and decay come naturally to a poem about illness, but the heavenly imagery is surprising. It lets us see the asylum from the viewpoint a boy trying to make sense of, and even glorify, his father's hospitalization and madness.
from The Gatehouse Heaven
By James Kimbrell
And what did I know of madness or fathers? First,
The old gatehouse guard’s country music, the katydids
And crickets and fire ants catacombed in their mirexed
Mounds. Then a narrow brick road and the groomed
Asylum lawn strewn with fronds of withering mimosas.
Then the fish-boned shadows of limbs, the walls
And barred windows awash in a light the color of rust,
Or river water, of a shade at dusk thicker than I’d seen
In the stain-glassed fields of junked automobiles
Jackson anchored to. After that, I thought it all saintly,
Heroic, the madhouse a heaven the farthest flung
Angels flocked in. And my father amongst them: gowns
And clouds and a ladder I climbed, rung by rung, hand-
Lengths behind them, far from the shock beds and Librium
High above the wing-beats and wailing that filled
The halls he walked, his slippered feet testing the ground.
James Kimbrell teaches writing at Florida State University. His second book, My Psychic, is recently out from Sarabande books.