New Order of our Lady of Bethlehem, 1247

           Hard to imagine Mary ever had a hand in
           creating Bedlam, with what she’d seen.

An asylum in a mad city, Bedlam begins
in a town ditch with eleven chain,
six locks, four manacles, and two stocks,

to guard (or guard against) the menti capti,
whose minds lay tangled in a landscaped
brain. Mary’s blue robe the only sky

for inmates; fabric swag from her cape-hood
to her belt the only evidence of a breeze.
At some point, she was whittled down

to a statue, tucked in a plaster recess, a bubble
floating next to chained legs, a rough shoulder
straining at its socket as the owner turns

away from townsfolk, there as an audience,
there for a snobbish gawk. Spoiled for sport,
they come for a laugh at the lunacy next door,

a lovely diversion for guests and at a cost
of a few shillings tossed into a bandit’s basket,
poor box ever-empty. They see as if a gallery.

A zoo. Patients panting in a pit of exhaustion,
as spectators circle and flick barbed taunts
and jabs. Get physical. A freak show. Future

maps will lead others to a thriving museum
where they’ll gamble contributions for a chance
to see bedlam and attend a theatre-in-a-ward,

where The Honest Whore, Part 1, played daily.
(Here, let’s hope our imagination can zoom
out to include the honest Bellafront, “female

hysteria” ended by sword, epithalamium unsung).
Like so many songs, silenced, she. Unstrung.
Eventually, the building buckles. Crumbles.

Photo by Diana Kumst on Unsplash

Michele Parker Randall

Michele Parker Randall is the author of Museum of Everyday Life (Kelsay Books 2015) and A Future Unmappable, chapbook (Finishing Line Press 2021). Her poetry can be found in Nimrod International Journal, Atlanta Review, Bellevue Literary Review, Poetica Review, and elsewhere.