The Songs of Mad Tom


With my tin timbrel
            and my gray hat,
I’ll walk the marshes
            and chase the rat.

Soldiers in my brain,
            small girls in my hair.
The field belongs to us,
            the blossom and the air.

As the cars pass by night
            and the ladies pass by day,
I grab my sheaf of spirits
            and beg them all to stay.


Mad Tom met a man
who took him up by the shoulder
and said: “What is your name?”

“Jove of the Skies,” said Mad Tom.
“Parson and Peach, Isaac
and Orator. I am he
who wears his crowns.”


Dung-devouring serpent at my feet,
God and his angels
lower their bangles
like stalks of wheat.

Crown of Tintagel on my brow.
Thor and his faces
walk twentyeight paces
to see me now.

Could you love poor mad me?
To eat the tree
of the lower grove.
You cannot love.


“Let me be just,” Mad Tom said,
“and rule over my empire
of cans and cigarette butts
with grace.” The mice
bowed, the ants flurried
and wept, and the sky
sang for him.
let justice be
for twig and flea,
ankle and feather
in deep heather.

A thousand tongues will praise me
and none will beg my pardon,
my inmates there all to declare
I am a caring warden.


Then shall I be called
Tom O’Bedlam, the eternal inmate
whom none investigate
but all fascinate. Then
shall I make shows
for the fairies outside my cage,
as I grope my breast
and twit like a parakeet,
and make my eyes
like sunny thunder on the pavement.

Photo by Melyna Valle on Unsplash

Nick Roberts

Nick Roberts is a 25-year old poet, academic, and researcher from Boston, Massachusetts. His work has been previously featured in La Piccioletta Barca, Black Horse Review, Iris, and The Bangalore Review. He studied at UMass Boston, where he received his BA and MA in English, focusing on Old English and the poetry of Charles Olson. He currently lives in Dorchester with his partner, dog, and many books, and teaches at Suffolk University.