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richard fein
dead letter dreams

Finally he slips one into his pocket.

Legions of lost missives.
A letter to John Doe c/o General Post.
Isn't he a species of John Doe,
filling slots from 9 to 5, overtime on Saturdays?
No return address.
One wandering anonymous being trying to connect to another.
Alphabetical slots, walls of alphabetical slots.
Names are interchangeable.
Jane Doe to John Doe
or John to Jane
or Jane to Jane or John to John.
All the permutations,
the married to their secret lovers,
the obsessed to a lover lost or to one
who never existed.
Every kind of sorrow is addressed here;
none find resolution---
all find their proper slot.

Finally he slips one into his pocket.
Felony and loss of job no longer deter.
He will have company and mystery tonight.
Clues are written, he will expose them.
Or kiss this first envelope---more will follow.
In the world of return to sender, no return address---
he will become the universal addressee.

a question of thirteen seconds

"After your head is cut off by a guillotine
you have 13 seconds of consciousness. . .
13 seconds is the amount of . . . energy. . .
in the brain to keep going. . . not only can you blink,
but you can do two for yes and one for no;
and it is said to have been done."
Dr. Ron Wright, Chief Medical Examiner of Broward County Florida.

Now no pardon is possible, even from God.
Now the wind in the lungs will be forever stagnant.
Now the lungs themselves will dissolve.
Now the Platonic ideal of mind free of body is almost realized.
What is proper etiquette for you--the executioner--
when all the condemned's debts have just been paid?
What to do for the already but not yet dead
at this socially awkward moment?
Are you, at last, forgiving?

Do you pick up the head by the hair
Do you stroke a pale cheek?
Do you allow a loved one to approach and kiss?
Do you hold up a mirror?
Do you torture the eyelids with a question?
There is time for one.
What would you want to know?
Does the being at your feet know the answer?
Or does the faintest consciousness blind one to what comes after?
What lies ahead---is it evening darkness or high noon blaze?
Do you ask if it's comfortable?
Is it now an it?

Think of something fast.
What is the professional thing to do?
Be silent? Be curious? Smile? Cry? Look away?
Sing a hymn?
Or leave the head in the bloody bucket,
and let the eyes glaze in a screamless terror?

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