Fairy Tale for a Young Inpatient


Down, down, way down, at the very bottom

of the old wishing well,

the one with the broken crank, no rope, and no pail,

the one still covered by the quaint,

scant roof meant to keep other things out,


down, down to where the memories you keep

lie at the bottom like tarnished pennies,

one day, there will appear a splendid fish,

as red and as gold as your fabulous cape,

my princess, my forlorn one.


You will see it swim in the deep,

distorting murk we all wish to forget,

fluttering its fins like a fledgling,

testing its way out of the well,

and you will drop a line, a strangling

thread from your cape, unspun in desperation,

trying, once more, to reach beyond

the bottom to where there are no memories.


But, you will catch this fish, instead,

reeling it in like a new story worth telling,

unnoticed until now, though it has always been there

flickering about between the dull coins.


And after you pull up this fish

with its sparkling gossamer fins

you will wrap it gently in the matching

colors of your cape, cradle it in your scarred arms

all the way up the narrow, insufficient pass

of your past with its many twists and turns,

along the whole cruelty of that journey,

then finally down the other side to a calm place,

where the lake water licks the shore in little waves.


There, you will kneel down and surrender

all that you’ve carried into that clear water,              

stretching yourself out to swim with the fish,

the beautiful one you rescued.



A Game of Cards


Night finally came. I had already

turned on the overhead light

illuminating the room,

its different shades of gray,

when my patient suggested

that we play a game of cards.


I thought about this.

I had long ago given up on chance

and was steering my life

toward the certainties I had begun

to learn were truly there.


These were not certainties as one knows facts, today,

with their tangible logic as hard as rock

and as immutable as the progression of multiplication tables

always moving toward their unavoidable answers.

Those were the mental traps of a mundane mind.


Instead, my certainties were a kind of wisdom,

which emitted from a veiled, capuchin-clad figure

that I noticed followed behind me

wherever I went.


At each moment of indecision on my part,

when I would find myself at a crossroads

where the vanishing point to each choice

showed nothing but a vague promise

diminishing into the distance,


it would whisper to me, imparting

its knowledge into one ear or the other

(it had no true preference)

always telling me the whys and therefores

of the options I was contemplating.


Of course, no one else saw this.

Why should they? The figure

was obviously there only for me.


But to try and explain to you what it was

I should start by saying what it was not.

Although it was wont to speak anything                

more than the advice it gave,                         

it was not a guardian angel.               

This much it had confessed to me.                            


Nonetheless, I began to look upon it

as a higher force from a not so ancient past,

whose physical and spiritual being had been

so deformed by the misfortunes of its own life,


that in its current configuration it had willed itself

to maintain a presence in the nether wake

all mortals make moving through the world

and to advise the mortal it followed

how to thwart the tragedies and mishaps

the figure had already lived.


The overhead light flickered once,

and my patient interrupted my thoughts

insisting we begin our game.


My poor, delusional patient,

whose white garb and guileless expression

belied the true wiles of his mind.


He laid his first card down, telling me

in his earnest, matter of fact manner

how he would beat me, that his sense of numbers

and his memory were better than mine,

so for him, this, too, was no game of chance.



About the Poet

Tim Mayo’s poems and reviews have appeared in The American Journal of Poetry, Avatar Review, Barrow Street, Narrative Magazine, Poetry International, Poet Lore, River Styx, Salamander, San Pedro River Review, Tar River Poetry, Valparaiso Poetry Review, Verse Daily, Web Del Sol Review of Books, and The Writer’s Almanac. His poems have received six Pushcart Prize nominations as well twice being chosen a finalist for the Paumanok Prize. 

His first full length collection, The Kingdom of Possibilities, (Mayapple Press, 2009) was a finalist for the 2009 May Swenson Award. His second volume of poems, Thesaurus of Separation (Phoenicia Publishing 2016) was a finalist for the 2017 Montaigne Medal and a finalist for the 2017 Eric Hoffer Book Award. He lives in Southern Vermont, where he works in a Mental Hospital.