In this, the bicentennial year of Edgar Allan Poe's birth, as we approach the 160th anniversary of his death, I am still amazed by the power of the man as a myth. There is enough historical evidence available to support a reasonable speculation on the facts of Poe's life and death, but the real fact is that the morbid power of his stories has had the almost supernatural effect of transforming his biography into the final, posthumous tale in his canon. I myself can think of no finer tribute for a writer. Here then is my contribution to the mythology of Poe's end, from my book, Carnival of Vulgarities:
ME AND PESTIS AND RATTUS AND POE
Me and Pestis and Rattus on ending our travels
dropped down in the ditch where lay E. Allan Poe
While we stood there a moment assessing the poet
mesmerized at the bounties ill fortune can bring
Rattus’ eyes spied a shine that he fancied a ring
The writer reclined half in filth and in water
He acknowledged us not save to droop his dry lid
and breathed bubbles and rattles of pain and disorder
that when burst in the air loosed a piteous sound
Rattus, finding no ring, took to snuffling around
Pestis stirred from his perch in my gut and did wander
to the soul that now stewed in that vile urban brew
“It’s an honor, dear sir, one I’ll always remember.
Though you’ll pardon good Rattus, he’s helplessly nosy.”
Rattus bit of poor Poe, left a wound red and rosy
“Virginia!” Poe croaked, less a breath than a spasm
“Baltimore,” answered Pestis, to mock or to sooth
Yet the poet said nothing, not a word of rebuke
His left eye showed white in its half-lidded socket
and Rattus, still hopeful, nosed around in his pocket
“Look at him,” said Pestis, “they’ve run him to ground.
Picked him clean of his finery and clothed him in rags,
cast his soul to the spirits Regret and Despair,
till it’s fallen so far that it’s scarce fit to cull.”
Rattus dug in the pouch till it covered him full
Did the man not then shake and his face flush with anger?
Or was it a trick of the gaslight’s dim glow?
No words did he strain but his arm bent behind him
and he rolled on his back as to make himself cozy
Rattus hid in his coat like a corpse in the posies
“You despise us,” said Pestis. “Our nature offends,
knowing naught of compassion or mercy or love,
and you fancy us fleeting and grim apparitions.
But we’ll still be around when the sky groans and crashes
and Rattus will play in your bones and your ashes.
“For you wrong us, dear writer, to think that we come
as a torment to harry your vanishing soul.
We’re pilgrims, we three, not crusaders nor reavers.
Thus we’ve journeyed this far from the sands of the Pashas
to bask in the flame of a life burned to ashes.
“It is well you might ask, and as well I might tell you,
who we are to have traveled so hardy and long.
Though in truth we have died many times in our passing
we are Legion like Father, split after the Fall,
and the nature of one is the nature of all.”
Still the poet spoke not, only moaned incoherent
and wallowed in garbage beyond hope or pain
If he cared for the tidings of glory we brought him
it showed through the mask of his face not at all
Rattus poked out his head, said “I heard a foot’s fall.”
“By your leave,” Pestis bowed to the poet in reverence,
“we’ll depart you in peace and we’ll not meet again.
Though you die you will live in the rumors and stories—”
Here a cry cut him short as the body was found
Rattus sprang for a hole and we followed him down.