“A Portrait of Death” by Ashford B. Long

There’s a painting at the gallery
With black hues sharp and strong.
The plaque reads “A Portrait of Death”,
Painting by Ashford D. Long”

I never understood the work
Try as hard as I might
To me it appeared as onyx
On a river bed at night.

Blacks on blacks that swirled together
Both dizzying and clear
But no matter how I long stared
The meaning would not appear.

I go to the gallery monthly
And gaze within the frame
But no matter how many times I’d squint my
The contents remain the same.

A Portrait of Death by Ashford B Long.

And yet each time that I came through
I’d linger longer still
Gazing longer at this painting
Unable to get my fill.

Another passerby noticed my attention
And stopped to laugh and chat
“You must see what my friend can see.
I feel blind as a bat!”

“Your friend can see something?” I asked
Annoyed and not looking back
“He says he can see the figure of death,”
Tapping the tiny plaque.

“A Portrait of Death” by Ashford B. Long

“That’s just what he wrote” I huffed,
Determined to find the cause
“He claimed he could see the cowl of death,
And make out bony jaws”

“Of course” he continued, “he’s crazy now,
So him lying is no surprise”
The man walked away, advising me
“Well don’t strain your eyes”

The very next day I returned
To the gallery and took my usual spot
However this time I saw something new,
Or at least I thought.

In “A Portrait of Death” by Ashford B. Long

I thought I saw a the outline of spectre
Staring intently through
The blackened page of canvas
As though saying “I see you”

Then as quickly as it came,
The figure disappeared
I blinked and rubbed my eyes
And explained away my fear.

“I’ve been here too long” I thought
Turning on my heel
“I’ve strained my eyes much too hard
And seen what wasn’t real”

In “A Portrait of Death” by Ashford B. Long

However, after that day
Strange happenings occurred
No matter where I went
I began to see some blurs.

Cowled figures, dressed in black
In the the shop windows,
Nestled within tree branches,
Lurking around wherever I would go.

I told my family and friends
They advised me to get myself checked
They all agreed they could not see anything.
The problem was above my neck.

My gift for conversation deserted me
As the figures grew sharper and more tall
They wanted to discuss movies and books
Instead of the death that was around us all.

This “Portrait of Death” by Ashford B. Lane

With frozen glances and panicked eyes
They would all nod while I spoke
Drawing a community conclusion that
My mind had finally broke.

And I could not blame them for those thoughts
As it made perfect sense to me
After all, I knew that this haunting
Wasn’t something that could really be.

The world I know has lasted so long
And so many people seem at peace
This danger that chases me everywhere
Can’t be real, or at least will cease.

I’ve driven myself completely insane
By staring into the painting’s abyss
What other reason can there be
For feeling bad in times of reported bliss.

At least that was I was thinking
For years at a time
Until I found the people who
Had my same rotten mind.

We all agreed the spectre was real
We agreed he was coming fast
We agreed that he drag us to hell
And make us breathe our last.

This “A Portrait of Death” by Ashford B. Long

Although it felt slightly nice
To no longer be alone
I couldn’t help but feel as though
My madness was still shown.

The shadows are getting longer
And death looms fierce and tall
His presence smothers my thinking
In fact he’s all I think of at all.

However, even as a grows to
Such size he cannot be ignored
Some more people claim to see
Him, but others just smile more

Now, I only see a wicked mirror
Whenever I’m out and about
In every smiling happy person
I feel a surge of doubt.

“Why did I look so hard?” I cry
Between ragged sobbing breaths
“What was I trying to find
When I was determined to see death?!”

“Now I’m trapped behind this painting
Watching things grow worse
So there will be no one left,
Not even to drive the hearse!”

My family smiled and held my hand,
Calming stroking my hair,
“Hush now, you. Don’t get upset.
The danger isn’t really there.”

Instead of making me calm down
It makes me let out of shriek
Even if those words are true
It means I’ve become a freak!

In staring my way through the painting
And living in the reflection of death
I’ve either ruined myself or
Found the world has no time left.

My granddaughter cut something out for me,
At the end of my life of fear.
She held out the clipping and with a wide grin said,
“Grandpa, look here!”

It was an interview with Ashford B. Long,
The artist who had painted, without light,
The painting that had ruined my life
And made me live in fright.

“A Portrait of Death” by Ashford B. Long

I skipped on down the article,
Intent on finding the part
Where they discussed that haunted piece;
The heinous work of art.

“That one?” replied Long,
Brow furrowed or so the article said,
“I can’t remember well but I think my point was
That we all wind up dead.”

“You can sit and think about it,
and stare into nothing deep as you can
Or you can accept, he’s lurking everywhere
And chase him off with your plan”

Long laughed a little,
Something I hadn’t done in years
“I guess my point is the thing that ruins you
Isn’t death, but fear”

“You’ve got to know he’s lurking
Someday he’ll take you far away
The point is to put if off awhile
And to help others around you stay”

“It’s smart to be a little scared
And look for what will come
But look too far ahead and stare too far
And the world comes undone”

“Because everything ends and that’s the truth
We’ve just got the time we’ve got
You can’t waste it decrying the inevitable
Or lost deep in thought”

“It’s action that saves a person,
It’s how you know you’re alive.
So get around and get to doing
Or else you are really just dying.”

That was three years ago I read those words
And now I’m near the end
I’ve lost family members, relatives
And even my closest friends.

But now, I find comfort
In the timer that scared me before
Life’s a race to beat the clock
And squeeze in a little more.

Death is practically on top of me
I can feel his bony hands,
But I’ll scratch and claw against that inevitable march
For one extra plan.

He’s not a opponent, he’s a rule
And at the end, this world is his
I’m just glad that after all this staring
I can see him for what he is.

“A Portrait of Death” by Ashford B. Long