20160526

Ben Egerton


FIVE BODIES

I. CHALK OUTLINE DETAILING POSITION OF HEAD WITH KNIFE IN HAND, 1950

Watch:
                any moment the chalk
will summon its template

conjure up the core
from sleeping dust

will pull – from where? – wind
that disperses the finer grains

cleanses the lungs
                                     restores each corner
with pulsing breeze

like flinging open doors and windows
on a clear spring day.

He’ll spit out ferrous-tasting
blood as skin and bone re-fuse

he’ll stand
                     dress
                                 fold the blade back
into its handle, slip it into his jacket

pocket
               then run his bruised right hand
through his regrown hair
                                                 and go looking

for a bus home.

II. VICTIM’S FEET HANGING OFF THE BED, 1934

Something in the stiffness of new leather
both expects and resists the foot. Loose tongue,
looser still with laces hooped between
finger and thumb, peeled back and mouth agape –

a cavity from which no sound will come
but complaint, the twist and creak of animal skin
mirrored in black. Polishing was always the job
of the night before, though not here:

the pair, purchased at Robinson’s earlier
in the week, will now never feel the discipline
of horsehair and Kiwi. A last once-over
with wax and a strip of torn shirt enough.

III. MORGUE, MAN WITH FLORAL TATTOO, 1945

All things pass, he said:
                                               pain from the carnation
needled onto his upper arm
                                                      irrational

fear of permanence as the first seeds
are sewn and sown
                                     a bruise budding across skin

worry that keeps him awake at night
                                                                        guilt
hanging like a pre-dawn mist.
                                                          Everything

slows and loudens when light goes
                                                                    amplified
in a chamber of nocturnal echo.

And how right he was:
                                              now, three days cut,
the bloom has already gone
                                                       petals

one by one
                     have quietly flickered
to the ground
                            and soon the stem will give.

IV. SHOES, ARM AND KNIFE, 1950

God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him.
                                                                        — Friedrich Nietzsche


Foreman of the jury








Exhibit A: Close-up
of the victim's left arm

















Exhibit B: Shoes




Exhibit C: Knife

Just like in the movies, or church, the clerk
brings out three items of evidence
in resealable bags tagged with capital letters.
He passes them one by one to me. Reflecting
dutifully, I pass them back to the clerk
who, in turn, administers each piece
in similar fashion to the other jurors
as a priest would the host and cup.

The position of God's arm makes me think
of the Sistine ceiling. Michelangelo
had placed Adam naked and louche in Eden,
used God’s outstretched right arm (the left
embracing a cherub for companionship
or stability) to impart the spark of life,
or point a finger of blame.
                                                  It was God's fault,
swears Adam, but I was only following orders.

That arm impotent now, flung out lifeless.
The other one too, shrugged off by the angel,
no longer anchor or counterweight. God’s
fallen body flat against the floor, knife
planted in his uncurled palm (to make it
look like suicide
, the prosecution
allege) and God's arm and shirt sleeve painted
with blood (burnt umber and cadmium red).

At least the Adam in front of me
had the decency to take his shoes off.
It was holy ground, after all, despite
the absence of a burning bush.

Odd choice of murder weapon:
blade barely three inches long, intricate
carving on the hilt, a series of curves
to accommodate four fingers, a curled
pommel to stop the stiletto sliding
in use. Ornate, yes, but perfect to slip
into a belt or tuck between a deity’s ribs.

Given half a chance any one of you
would've done it
, claims Adam. I've a mind
to agree. But Adam has taken the fall,
admitted complicity.
                                          A woman
at the back of court stands up, smiles and leaves.

               V. TRIPTYCH OF IMAGES TELLS A STORY OF SUICIDE, 1950


               1. Car parked in garage

Sooner or later someone will need to reverse
the car back out. The upholstery requires
scrubbing and the splatter above the door
will need a dab of peroxide then saltwater.

               2. Body on back seat of car

Up in the eaves the spiders had spun silk,
too much of it. A waste. Holes blown
through it catch only stale air
and shadows. Nothing sacred here.

               3. Detective

Framed in the rear window, the officer
has hands on hips, head cocked to one side,
cap and sunglasses on. A warm enough day
to unbutton his jacket but not to take it off.

               Additional details

Notes of orange blossom, jasmine,
and the scent of dust in the late-spring heat.


A note on the poems:
In 2004, the Los Angeles Police Department released images from its archives of crime-scene photography. The titles of the poems in the Five Bodies sequence are taken from photographs from the LAPD archive. These images, and others, can be viewed online at http://fototeka.com/lapd/gallery.html, or in the book Scene of the Crime: Photographs from the LAPD Archive by Tim Wride (Harry N Adams, 2004).



Ben Egerton is a poet from Wellington, New Zealand. He likes to write using traditional forms as well as experimenting with new ways to puts words on a page, often borrowing from the worlds of music and art. His words are readable in print and online in various New Zealand, Australian and British journals and newspapers.
 
 
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