Poetry at Sangam




(for Kurt Brown)

Remember Patrick Bateman, some kind of abstraction,
not real, only an entity, something illusory, simply not there.
Or Camus’ Meursault, who possesses no internal reaction

to his mother’s funeral and goes to the beach without a care,
whose darkest moment transpires in brightest sunlight,
who gives rise to girls who shriek about Robert Smith’s hair

while he quavers about Killing an Arab, in pants too tight
and eyes lined in black. Then there’s Raskolnikov, the dropout,
poor, ill, unemployed, possibly insane, who spends the night

after using his hatchet, semi-conscious, racked with doubt,
not at all the extraordinary man he imagined himself to be.
And Humbert Humbert, the deviant who would stake out

schoolyards and force Lo to fellate him while he could see
the children emerge, a crime far worse than offing Clare
Quilty who has less moral fiber than the Grand Marquis.

Letters are not life, that’s clear enough, and the nightmare
of murdering someone is often transmuted into metaphor
that has little resemblance to the psychological questionnaire

a convicted serial killer might fill out, shackled to the floor
by leg-irons. Yet we’re drawn like moths time after time
and text after text, to these anti-heroes we love to deplore.

Letters are life to a certain extent. Just look at true crime
and the cottage industry it spawns: murderabilia, a lock
of Charles Manson’s hair on auction at Ebay, the prime-

time special devoted to John Wayne Gacy’s schlock—
ghoulish clown paintings done on death row—the array
of dramatized television shows that air around the clock,

living proof that murder is far more popular than the ballet.
Our compulsions are rooted in culture. Our thrill lives in fear.
We loathe and celebrate the worst among us and might pay

to see them killed. The deterministic logic we force to adhere
to their lives makes violence seem predetermined, rooted
in childhood. Yet those so far from us are actually very near.

Personally I’ll take Macbeth over Manson, the disputed
killer on the page to that in the flesh, any day of the week.
Murder as trope for absurdity is a sum less than any computed

from the actual loss of life, yet greater for the technique
of the author in revealing we harbor, collectively, an intent
to harm. Impossible to acknowledge, much less to speak.