The Last Dead Man

I was digging through some papers, looking for a particular piece of sheet music I thought I had. I couldn’t find it, but I found this poem that I wrote in 1994 after I saw a man get hit by a bus. The Latin quotation is from Ovid’s version of the Orpheus story, although I don’t know how I knew that in 1994. I wish I could find more of the poetry I wrote during that period, but I think this might be the only surviving relic, other than some things that eventually became song lyrics. I tended to not type them up or save them on my computer because I wasn’t submitting them anywhere, so they were just written by hand on loose leaf and then stuffed into random crevices and mostly lost.

The Last Dead Man

The last dead man I saw
Sang the strangest dirge

Between his moans:
Umbra subit terras.”

No wind to fight the heat,
I only wanted to know

If he was alright.
Umbra subit terras.”

It was in the paper the next week,
And I could see it again:

The wobbly, white bicycle
On the wrong side of the road

His wife left town afterward
With her sixteen cats

I grew interested in her
Tarot cards and her poverty

He’d had to make a phone call
About a job and scraped up change

He was eager
He was afraid

And when the sirens faded,
I had to tell the police and lawyers

What I had seen:
Umbra subit terras.”

And the bus drove away
With his blood on the fender

And the concrete too recorded
What I had seen

In bland reflection, a moaned melody:
I am suddenly an earthly ghost,

Slightly interested,
Slightly ashamed.

—M. David Hornbuckle
9/1/1994, revised 4/18/2008