“Portrait of a Mass Murderer”

A narrative exploration of a Western epidemic. [A rhyming sestina in iambic pentameter–by Paul Burgess]

Of boredom Janie feared she soon would die.
She needed something dangerous to try.
She’d taken all the pills a girl could take
While making all the love a girl could make
And now desired another high to give
Her faith that it was best for her to live.

Internal voices said, “Who wants to live
When life’s no more than efforts not to die?”
Beliefs and doctrines never seemed to give
The high she sought, no matter what she’d try.
Relationships and friends she tried to make,
It seemed, would rarely give but often take.

“Perhaps the time has come for me to take.
“Might ‘taking’ best define the phrase ‘to live’?”
Preparing for the move she planned to make,
She grabbed then shook and rolled a plastic die.
“Though six is high for my beginning try,
I said I’d take the choice the die would give.”

“Is there a charity you’d like to give…”
She cut the cashier off and said she’d take
A sack of fifties and then, “Don’t you try
To play the hero, Gramps. In films they live,
But, off the screen, they often tend to die.”
Then Janie thought about the news she’d make.

Responding to the gruesome threats she’d make,
A shopper cried, “There’s nothing I won’t give,
But please, this isn’t how I want to die.
I have a yacht and car I’ll let you take
If only you’ll allow me now to live.”
Her only words were, “It’s no use to try.”

A theft was not what she was there to try.
It mattered little how much cash she’d make.
While six would die, the others she’d let live.
She said she’d take the choice the die would give.
With ev’ry person’s precious life she’d take,
A part of her humanity would die.

She’d murdered people just to watch them die
Because she’d wanted something new to try.
She’d thought it might be easier to take,
More fun destroying what she couldn’t make,
Than it had ever been for her to give.
She’d thought by killing others that she’d live.


8 thoughts on ““Portrait of a Mass Murderer”

  1. Pingback: How to Write Limericks: a Brief Introduction to Poetic Form | Miscellaneous Inanities

    1. paulwhitberg Post author

      Not valuing life–their own and that of others–is a big part of the problem. As a society, we need to reflect deeply on what is making people turn to drugs and violence as means of escaping reality.


      1. Doobster418

        Agreed. There seems to be a “YOLO” (you only live once) mentality, which requires ever increasing thrills as the only way to make that one life worth living…or to die trying.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. paulwhitberg Post author

    Reblogged this on Miscellaneous Inanities and commented:

    Please read the following exchange and provide honest feedback.

    Someone with whom I shared this poem said the following:
    Good job being consistent with the rhymes. Sometimes it seems like you rely too much on the inversion of word order to make the rhymes, though. Serious theme.

    This was my reply:
    While I respect your feedback and recognize that the piece has flaws, I don’t really see much “word inversion” that would go beyond what some might do when moving around subordinate clauses in prose. Iambic pentameter, rhyme, and other formal elements can be awkward, but they can also be the features that distinguish poetry from prose. Although I am not in love with the poem, I do not think that all poetry needs to be read like prose; much of what passes for poetry is pseudo-intellectual prose that has been organized in lines to give it the appearance of being verse.

    How much of my response seems rational and how much of it appears to be an oversensitive person’s wounded rationalization of his work?



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