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Definitions - after W. C. Minor

by Oonah V. Joslin

Asylum, n., they could lock him up. Never set him free from
Broadmore, n., yet every night he left; flew over London in an airplane.
Crowthorn, n., his country pile; a one-room library in a two-room cell.
D for Deserter, the Doctor was ordered to brand other men who had fought at Wilderness.

Escorted by demons he endured this

twenty years seeking definitions
meticulously referencing every one.

He corresponded with booksellers.

Visited by vile hallucinations,
punished by prostitutes, Pygmies, paranoia,
the men he’d branded,
the man he’d killed,
he unmanned himself.

They could lock him up
but not imprison him
nor could they ever set him free.

They allowed him to die in D. C.
It didn’t matter where his body was.

What is it to be mad but madness?


There was no definition at the time.
There is no definition to this day.
The mind is an emergent property
we may not discover.


Ah, there’s a word!

[Author’s note] This poem is about an American, a madman, who was instrumental in the production of the first volume of the Oxford English Dictionary whilst incarcerated in Broadmore Asylum, in the 19th century. He had committed a murder in London.

Copyright © 2009 by Oonah V. Joslin

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