The Lunatic Ball & Other Poems by Margo Taft Stever

The Lunatic Ball

after “Dance in a Madhouse,”
by George Bellows, 1882-1925

Furious dancing gives way to screams;
five men stare, ghoulish, at the wall.
This is the lunatic ball.

The best student Yale had ever seen:
three months after graduation, typhoid—
brain swelled inside his skull.

They dosed out Calomel—five ghosts appeared
in a mercury dream; headaches unbearable.
This is the lunatic ball.

Married one year, baby the next, his wife
filed for release; the medical textbooks
he gleaned: futile, endless stall.

A woman names her baby doll Christ, lurches,
leans, a building in an earthquake, then
she crawls. This is the lunatic ball.

One man plays a flute, calls himself Faunus;
another uses an invisible latrine.

Attendants haul out a wildman in a straitjacket
on a wooden beam; a woman growls like a bear.
This is the lunatic ball.

Behind a glass wall, well-dressed spectators, riveted,
sit amused. Looking at them looking, the patients

know they are through. Spectacled
men sport greatcoats, and laced-up
women make jokes in the shimmering hall.

Previously published in The Lunatic Ball, Kattywompus Press, 2015.

Something Wrong

Cincinnati Sanitarium
Private Hospital for the Insane
College Hill, Ohio
March 27, 1878

Mrs. P.R. Taft,

Your note is received
and the trunk for Mr. Taft.

I am pleased to have to say
that he is getting along
much better than I suspected,
in quiet, and takes
outdoor exercise. The best
indication is that he is
becoming conscious
of his condition.
He said that he was not aware
that his health was impaired,
either mental or physical,
but he now perceives
that there must have been
something wrong.
I will let you know if his
comfort or welfare
requires anything more.


W. S. Chipley

From THE CRACKED PIANO, unpublished manuscript.

Causes of Mortification

Cincinnati Sanitarium
Private Hospital for the Insane
College Hill, Ohio
May 22, 1878

Dear Sir,

I was feeling satisfied with the progress
your son was making. It cannot be but
slow and gradual, but I cannot answer
for the consequences if he has many such

visitors as the gentleman who came
with your card. Your son requires, above
all things, quiet, and is in no condition
to be talked to about travel or a return

to house-keeping, or to be dosed with
ginger pop. These things gave him a bad
night and he is not as well today. He is
the subject of disease that requires

medication and no amount of reason
can have other than a prejudicial effect.
The less said to him of himself and his
relations to others, the better.

If the Brain is restored to its normal
condition, all of his relations to others
will appear in the proper light. It is
very desirable for one in his condition

to abstract the mind as much as
possible from self and engagement
from other matters. His attitude toward
his wife and the injurious effects

of her attention to him are not just
causes of mortification. These things
are common to almost all cases
of insanity; indeed, a notable disturbance

of the affective functions rarely fails
to be a marked characteristic of the malady.
Hence very few persons recover in the midst
of home surroundings and in association

with those who, in health, they most
devotedly love. I will be pleased to have
an interview with his stepmother if she
so desires it. I will make it convenient to call

almost any afternoon that may suit her.

Yours truly,

W.S. Chipley, M.D.,
Private Hospital for the Insane

Previously published in The Lunatic Ball, Kattywompus Press, 2015.

Van Gogh to His Mistress

He sensed his ear,
but he could
not see it.
In the blind
this is called

The last failed
of the body
to survive—
Keep this
object carefully.

The ear rested
on the table
among blue tints
and suppressed

To present
an ear
in the middle
of the night,
an arterial flap,
flap of
bat’s wing,
wing of angel.

Previously published in Salamander and The Lunatic Ball, Kattywompus Press, 2015.


Let the numb frost
keep you young.

Sleep, away from
the wrinkled toss

of twisted sheets
and spreading moss.

Sleep, the light grays,
small child;

the torn wind knocks,
rasps, reconciles.

Away from the screeching
gale, sleep

in the cove of
the hundredth bluebird.

From THE CRACKED PIANO, unpublished manuscript.

Margo Taft Stever‘s poems have appeared in literary magazines and in numerous anthologies including Blackbird, Salamander, Prairie Schooner, New England Review, Cincinnati Review, Rattapallax, Webster Review, Cadence of Hooves; Women Write Resistance: Poets Resist Gender Violence; Chance of a Ghost Anthology; The Breath of Parted Lips, Volume II; and No More Masks. Margo is the founding and a current editor of Slapering Hol Press and the founder of The Hudson Valley Writers’ Center.

Next: Laura Madeline Wiseman interviews Margo Taft Stever

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