These poems were written as a cathartic response to all the murders of my youth. Jack and Robert Kennedy. Martin Luther King. Malcolm X. The picture of airport runways filled with airplanes unloading the bodies of Americans killed in Vietnam. It was as if the world was in a state of rage… When I was at university I went to a George Wallace political rally in Detroit. What I noticed about the Wallace supporters was the intensity of their rage. It was as if one of their family had been murdered in their living room in front of them. And they had been forced to watch.They were there as families. Not just men. But wives, and grandparents, and children. It was like church. And Wallace himself. He had that look in his eyes that you see in photos of Hitler went he was giving a speech. (Maybe all demagogues do.)  And I remember Wallace pointing at the protestors who filled the upper decks of the Olypium where the rally was held. And he smiled. ‘We know places we can put you after we win.’ (Or words to that effect.) And Wallace’s followers smiled. Many laughed. And patted the heads of their children as if triumph was a comforting certainty.

spectators (9)

nick the miner

twitches his ears and his eyes

wiggles

in his suit for special occasions

killing the flies

that refuse to be shaken.

he listens

to the prosecution’s case

and agrees with its conclusions.

‘life is sacred.’

nick mumbles with a sense of pride.

the defence’s case

hands on his hips, eyes on the floor,

barely audible words flee from the defence lawyer’s lips.

‘my learned colleague displays a strange disguise

dressing up vengeance as some sort of appertif.’

a flock of chuckles rose from the gallery.

‘we must not escape one truth

what is on trial here is crime itself –

do we just forget auchswitz, hiroshima, mai lai, pontchartrain, guernica?

what is this crime, in history’s terms,

but wind through some teeth,

breath down a street,

tears at her wake.

vengeance is the outlaw’s virtue.

mercy the rule of the blessed.’

‘even if gods,

we could not mend the past.

let us preserve the memory of this

girl in the murderer’s hands.

since death ends all

slaying my client will only seal his victim’s fate.’

the judge addresses the jury

‘let no one asy why we are here

guarding our memories…. pockets in knots

we are those

who did not survive birth and lived.

we are condemned to weigh the evidence

as if we were gods,

the possessor of all possible facts.

we have had enough of a joy

that flushed the heart

and leaves the lips chapped.

let us decide,

knowing that outside… in the stillness

not a moment has passed.’

I’ve had dreams. Nightmares. In which I felt guilty. For what? I’m not sure. But it was something very serious. I would wake up in a sweat. Wrought with angst. If only I could remember.  Someone told me that it was Catholic guilt. For the original sin. Eve tempted Adam with the apple. And every morning during high school when I opened my lunch, there was an apple in the bag. An apple a day keeps the doctor away. I wonder if that was what Eve said to her mate.

the accused takes the stand

x flower child…. root bound

barb’d wire head band

pointed nose…. gargoyle

over his

mouth

hair that scourged his face.

fingers… uncontrollable

kept rushing to the defense

of his eyes. words

cluttered in his mouth.

the sort of person who never has

a bad word

for anyone and whom

no one ever trusts.

he

smiles

at the courtroom

bleach’d out eyes

swollen lips

trembling with apologies.

elements (4)

overhead neon lights whispered

like grasshoppers

before the harvest

learning to fly.

locust rays

swarming

across the room

buzzing

around the accused’s head,

licking their lips,

gossiped.

the prosecution states its case

‘I will state the prosecution’s position clearly.

let no one mistake our claim.

a girl’s body lies defenseless,

now ruptured from her soul.’

the prosecutor’s glare turns from the courtroom to the jurors

their eyes begin to soften

like a box of chocolates

that have sat too long in the sun.

‘we reject all forms of mercy.

we beg for haste.

this rift must be mended.

this horrid tale must have its end.

our case is simple

based on the facts.

murder needs its answer.’

with all eyes upon him

the prosecutor turned

took his seat

smothered a chair.

One of the things one speculates upon (when death seems like an option) is a final message. When final means just that. Except if you survive, your final message seems somewhat trivial. I like what W. C. Fields is supposed to have written on his tombstone. “On the whole, I’d rather be in Philadelphia.” Final messages or thoughts are an illusion. Still one would like to say some kind of farewell. Which is what the murder victim is cheated of. No last wave. No last good-bye. My father’s life has always been a lesson to me. He had not aspirations for immortality. He was born. Survived a war. Had children. Watched them play. And died. Like a stone that is skipped across the water. And then sinks without notice. We’d all like to be remembered. (I keep thinking of the Adventures of Tom Sawyer when Tom attends his own funeral.)  But with the billions of people who have existed on the planet wouldn’t our presence be lost in the multitude. And if we all shouted goodbye and that goodbye rang down through eternity, wouldn’t it make an awful racket. In a way, I’d like to just – disappear. Quietly. Without notice.

spectators (7)

a philosophical cop leaned against a wall

munching on a hot dog

and wondered

what sort of creature is this MAN

who reaches for heaven and then licks the earth

and wondered

what sort of creature is this MAN

who once calls himself god

and then is able to swallow his pride

the philosophical cop looked away,

licked his fingers, and finished his coke.

elements (3)

in the crowded courtroom

perspiration drips from a nose,

hangs like a metal from an earlobe,

forms beads around necks,

headbands across brows

fills bras with pools

straightens out pubic hairs

drips drips drips

behind panting flys

20 days

and 14 metric nights.

spectators (8)

murder’s groupie

sits behind

chrome plated shades

black satin jacket

rhinestone studded jeans

smoking a cigarette

between

one set of lips

chewing gum

between the others

.

idling

until the murderer’s touring glance

shoots a spark between

her eyes sparks

a rumble

in her heart.

One summer I worked at a government agency dealing with a new pharmaceutical program. We had to deal with the problems that druggists were having. The fellow at the desk next to mine was tall dark and handsome. We’ll call  him Matt. Matt could have been a candidate on one of those reality shows like the “bachelor”. When he worked he had a habit of humming the theme music from the original Star Trek. We struck up a friendship. At lunch Matt often talked about his family who seemed bizarre. I had a picture of my sister in my wallet and Matt asked if he could meet her. I told him that she was already dating someone else. Something about him struck me as ‘eerie’. Our contract finished and we went on our separate ways vowing to meet again for drinks some day but never intending to keep the promise. About six months later there was a terrible murder in a subway station of a young girl. The murderer was never discovered. About a year after that I was reading an article about a woman who had been murdered in her apartment. The killer had picked her up at a dance club. She was about 15 years his senior. When questioned the killer said that the knives in her kitchen drawer had spoken to him, imploring him to kill her. I looked at the picture above the article. It was Matt.

the second witness responds to the question

a fist falling…. a girl below

crowd

circling like a ring

bowing their heads

except for a

kid with asphalt eyes who screamed stop

and the scraping of her fingers

as they tried to escape beneath the sod

there wasn’t even

a sound

.

a french girl beside me burst into tears

the moon passed

over the sun

each time I try to explain how I felt

I fall back

into facts,

a fist falling…. a girl below.

spectators (6)

dressed only

in the maple leaf

a flasher

lowered the flag… half mast

hoping the gentlemen would reach for their pockets

and the ladies’ eyes would all be cocked;

a reporter twisted his chin

a mailman plundered his ears

a girl wrapped in snakes and roses yawned

a cop saluted

someone’s aunt waved so long

a stenographer postponed her period.

the testimony of the third witness

I noticed the crowd

I saw him on her

I thought it was love

I heard someone

in the crowd

cry out

.

‘stop

it

this is murder.

I’m going to burst at the gut with laughter.’

my eyes shudder d.

her face was born into my memory.

the last words from her lips was

‘BASTURDS.’

Life does not exist outside the trial. Life does not exist outside human consciousness. Or at least that is the way we operate. We live in a cocoon of our own limitations. As  a species and  a social animal we look into the group. Like the group in Plato’s cave we only see the images cast on the walls. We do not see the fire that causes them. Or the greater light, of which the fire is only a faint imitation. Personally I feel cheated. I want to understand more. But also want to avoid the new age pseudo sciences. Why were we put here if we are to remain ignorant? There has to be more to life than Oprah and Reilly.

about the third witness

egologist

blueveningenes

long brown hair flowing like dandelion seeds in your breath

kneading her heart with her

tortured grin

as if the world had awakened into her dream.

using her despair as a fix

she laughs with her mouth

‘the world is constipated with flesh.

the earth is fat with us.

communication is buggery, what she needs

is a good laxative.’

spectators (5)

an old lady…. someone’s aunt

sits in the last row of pews

thinking that these problems we all go on about

are a social disease.

everything could be cured

if we exercised our prayers

and washed behind our knees

as she holds her handkerchief

over her mouth and nose

so she won’t catch a dose.

the account of the first witness

leaves litter danced a jig

as the sun played with the moon

a hoax

pigeons posted in trees

balloons filled with screams

the crowd stood around the scene

holding their eyes

seeing him shelter her with death

I’m sure it was an

accident.

he had found his victim.

she had lost her breath.

A kid at the high school I work in told me a story. Perhaps he embellished it. But he was talking about a basketball game he was at. At another school. When he said something. He tended to be boisterous. And a little glib. The kid behind him took offense. And put the barrel of a gun to his head. Nothing else  happened. As if that wasn’t enough. But it was a sober reminder to me that kids today live in a dangerous world. Not because human nature has changed. Or that teenagers have some how morphed into some evil creatures. But their world has become weaponized.

spectators (3)

a bat

dropped

out of the belfry almost mating

with the judge’s toupee. darted left

almost entering a woman’s scream. looped

over and up and to the right

everyone ducked

sergeant at arms ordered curtains drawn

a cat

leaped from the floor to the judge’s bench

lights doused

the courtroom turned blind. all the could be heard

was heavy breathing, wings flapping, a child like screech

and

a cat

laughing like a gatling gun.

the second witness consents to an interview

life is……………………………………… like Jack Benny

a private enterprise…………………… swinging his arms

a short term……………………………….volleying with grins

loan……………………………………………love in his eyes

the flesh…strokes the shag

we wear…toupee

off the rack…on his chin

someone has worn before.

death is socialized sleep.

you get the rest you’ve always wanted

without having to pay

with your dreams.

spectators (4)

mary, the master thief,

who has stolen 16 hearts,

a dime store lover,

is buried in a blush.

in a panic she scours the room

has anyone noticed

her leaving the ladies’ room

forgetting to flush.

For a short time I considered going to law school. I had just finished my Master’s degree in philosophy and one of my profs suggested that I might consider teaching ethics in law school. (My chances of getting such a job would increase if I became a lawyer.) The idea had some appeal. (Money.) But there was something about going to law school that bothered me. Like becoming a missionary in a leper colony. I didn’t think I would last.

elements (2)

plaster crack’d slowly

paint peel’d fell

from

the

ceiling in flurries

floor boards

creaked

like thin ice

cock roaches all 20 legs

scurried

across the hardboard.

one stopped to

sing

White Christmas

and

was crushed by a flake.

profile of the prosecutor

handlebar moustache.

bicycle teeth that flicker in his words. canyon

in his chin.

his eyes are too close

an unnatural saviour eloping with a cross.

there are no limits

to his smile.

he keeps all his movements catalogued in files.

he measures his days in gowns.

he counts his relationships with a computer.

he attributes his success

to two factors;

he was born with a criminal face

and never confused convictions with his career.

the first witness reveals herself

running her fingers like a comb through her hair. on the hour

her face is drawing thin.

an uncomfortable smile (like a child’s after she has knocked over a vase of flowers)

memories that lay cold and lifeless.

sheets that were seldom crowded.

on a whim she turns and addresses the camera:

‘It is easy to feel gay when one is young.

but wisdom is accumulated with years.

life is nothing

but dimly lit corridors and hushed voices.

(pointing her finger to her face)

and next week I’ll be twenty-one.’

murder About the Jury

May 14, 2010

Murder seemed to be a preoccupation of the 70s. Especially in Toronto. Where we went from a several murders a year to dozens. Of course we blamed it on the effects of the American media. We were confused. And angry. Our perfect little city had monsters in it.

about the jury

12 (7.5 x 4.5)           apostles

gathered for the murder trial       brunch

A POET

hands in his pocket

holding his invention                 SWEET MALINDA

her appetite is her profession

TWO HOUSEWIVES

curlers for credentials

A RETIRED COP

bouncer in an old folks home

A NIGHT CLUB SINGER

flexing his dimples                    FEMALE IMPOSTER

beauty abandoned for makeup

A SOCIOLOGY STUDENT

coughs and takes notes

how is what one feels related to what is spoken

JAKE

too many reasons buried in bottles ‘hell is for those who will not be nervous.’

TOO YOUNG stenographers

hands that start at the elbow

record their

MASTER’S boast:

‘money talks

everyone has their price.

give me enough pieces of gold

and I can rent you a victim.’

spectators (2)

cub reporter        buck teeth

yawning              braces

acne scars

in a pew

pressed against a large bosomed woman

dreamed of

swelling jeans

spurting sighs

spastic twitching

blood heated to steam

volcanic eruptions

lava flows

woke-up startled arousal

panicked –

her hand in his pocket.

concerning the lawyer for the defense

skin pulled tight like a sheet over the dead

across his skull

a slit for his words

his eyes crawl out through 2 holes

his body too small for his clothes.

he stands on his toes trying to make a favourable impression

perhaps he thinks

he might pull an upset

by blindly shooting up the courtroom with words.

if he won

his name would be on everyone’s lips

beautiful women would worship him on their knees.

each of his remains would be cherished,

they might even bottle his gas,

and he could spend his reclining years

signing autographs.

My wife reads murder mysteries. Teens love horror films. We live in a world where people make a living out of scaring people to death. Harmlessly. Why? Is it the same thrill that people get on a ferris wheel? That feeling of impending death. Knowing that we will survive. Is that what life is? A thrill ride. Except we don’t survive.

elements (1)

someone sucked

the air in                   held it

and then pushed it out.

each spectator took his turn.

some pinched their nostrils

some honked

some wheezed

some used cigarettes

to filted the air.

everyone was moderately pleased

that they’d been given the chance to breathe

until a pungent sound

a rose

from the corner

of the courtroom

where a little old man

had let his diet play a tune.

about the judge

behind the bench his robes hang regally

across                   65 years old eyes

chair with roots

shoulders

hammocks of flesh

sw ing ing

below his waist

skin melts

sliding

down his bones       stocking

overflowing in his shoes.

dreaming how

as a kid he used to swallow

caterpillars             farting butterflys

whole

just to hear them scream.

spectators (1)

a cat lay on the window ledge

curled

into a perfect circle

bathin’ in heat

opened one eye

saw the cockroaches

scurry around the feet

of a room full of spectators

like pedestrians

through heavy traffic

closed that eye

opened the other

watched the judge

hurtle his fury upon the courtroom

like a downpour

upon the rush hour

closed that eye

stretched herself

out full

a perfect straight line

and yawned.

While I was working on this piece I was reading a lot of Mircea Eliade. There are iconic images, archetypal characters and scenes all over the place. I saw the whole thing as a kind of Greek play that once performed, was played again. And again.

the mortician’s aside

the mortician

smiled                       dimples like gulls

against a falling sky

‘yes

I remember                the fresh salty air

from

her thighs.

I assigned                  a blue evening

gown

to the occasion.

I arranged the             powder

on her face.

organized her smile,

pruned the terror from her eyes.’

lineup of the possible murder suspects

politician                                         professor

devouring ears                                 in contact with almost every thought

flaming enormous eyes                    from burnt norton

confessing to any crime                    to suicide

like he was taking out a

loan                                                    to sexual mathematiques

to pay off the punishment                   that he caught

banker

immaculate

bandit inside

faithful     wife in his purse

living inside a brown briefcase

‘crime is just the violent extension of business

but I don’t think that makes me

capable of murder’

he confessed.

outside the courthouse

SUN squints

bleachers filled with clouds

TV cameras pan              late afternoon scene

RCMPolice stand behind barbed wire

Xx Xx Xx Xx Xx Xx Xx Xx Xx Xx Xx Xx Xx Xx Xx

protecting the courthouse from wind erosion

reporters sharpen their tongues

a mink dressed up in a woman

selling postcards of her operation

a loner                  2 lovers in the grass

discharges             trying each other on

his eyes

PICKET LINES:

homosexuals demanding equal time

woman’s lib; lips swollen into megaphones

behind the din a dog salutes the flag.

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