Capital Punishment

When they found her
she was near a culvert,
street smart no more,
and though it was cold
rigor mortis had not set in.
A dark sedan sped up the county highway,
the police helicopter making pursuit,
state cruisers intercepting the suspect
at his wife’s home in his girlfriend’s car.
He confessed to several killings.
They say white guys are the worst,
chasing after their mothers,
Oedipus with ill intent
literal or symbolic accidents
about to happen,
evidence left at the scene:
broken homes and bad track records,
personality prints fueled by fantasy
more than passing familiarity.
To get at connections,
understand victims.
It starts very quietly,
two or three skeletized bodies,
prostitutes spread over the county.
Scant leads play predator in the press.
When you get a fresh one,
there’s better luck
to make pattern fit.
He works from a car.
He is comfortable in this environment.
He lives out the nightmare
he mistakes for a dream.
They found her on Thanksgiving:
it was a very dark time
but still consistent,
a hunter, or a fisherman,
a regular kind of guy
holding down a job,
no weirdo, but whacko.
He was successful.
He would be so again.

Inspector Frederick George Aberline Reminisces about Jack the Ripper

I write with some difficulty.
We were blind, turning around,
catching what we could.
Mary Malcolm, fifteen, said of Elizabeth Stroud,
“She is my sister.” The Times didn’t understand
what she meant. He was a master murderer.
Sometimes one must beat a corpse
to get at its secrets, the truth,
she was forty-five,
and photographed as she lay,
once beautiful,
a sharp affair.
The press engaged
the inevitable twaddle
of popular hypothesis.
Blood is a funny fluid,
a single drop tells much,
buckets wash through us,
buckets can drown us all,
splatter cast upon a wall,
she spun as she went down,
it’s more than liquid meat,
a pattern of living detail.
The initial wound projected forward.
The stain of the crime was lost
in a torrent of publicity,
the bricks confessed and shuddered.
Skin puckers around a wound
whether blade or bullet.
He was in a hurry,
he knew what he was doing.
Why couldn’t we catch him?
Suddenly violent, he felt he could
keep it under control, and mostly did.
If I could tell him one sentence,
it would be, “You don’t kill because
you have to, you kill because you can.”
Oh, heaven help me, God, ghost stories.
I was counting bodies all over the city
of a practiced killer with a territory,
we became a community of evidence,
never again is a long, long time.
That is as much as I know.
I gave my word to keep my mouth
permanently closed about it.

13 Ways of Killing a Raccoon

Raccoons haunt our orchards, prowl among the fruit trees,
eat our cherries, apples, apricots, leave nothing untouched,
unsavored, untasted, unhandled by their quick, clever paws.

You can try planting squash around the tree trunks,
put rose, holly, blackberry cuttings along the ground—
why not just kill them like the masked bandits they are?

Perhaps electrocute them. Strip extension chords
down to the wire, plug them all together, set them up
like Christmas lights for a shocking harvest display.

Set dogs upon them, coon hounds, baying in the night,
raccoons can’t outrun those dogs bred to hunt them down,
man’s best friend lets out a certain howl with quarry up a tree.

They will figure out a way to get into your grapes.
Colonies of Africanized honeybees could dissuade them,
you, too, in the dance of pollination.

A 12-gauge with #2 shot works fine as well,
the small balls of lead or steel or whatever
ammunition manufacturers stock today.

Use a .22 caliber pill, so the critters don’t hurt the dogs.
I have trained GIs, like George Washington I have heard
bullets in the air, there is something to their charm.

In the city, one may utilize high-powered air rifles,
high-powered pellet pistols, high-powered slingshots,
blowguns, bows and arrows, all illegal projectile weapons.

Set traps. Humanely catch one so its leg doesn’t break,
carry it to a rain barrel, a lake, a pond, river or stream.
I almost drowned, swimming in October, years ago.

Count the corpses. Do they number in the hundreds,
like Spartans at Thermopylae? Do their smaller faces
launch a thousand more raccoons?

Aren’t they rabid? Well, no outbreaks around here.
They send scouts to my house, to test the water
we leave out for the cats and forget to bring in.

Of course, run them down, like cane toads in Australia,
smash them like exotic snails blown in by tsunamis,
excuses go on forever, so do raccoons.

On a walk, I waved at one, who waved back.
My wife said, “That will never happen again.”
I waved again, so did the raccoon, happy to be alive.

Mr. Dillinger Speaks from Retirement in Florida

The lady is right.
Nobody’s really insane
when everyone’s crazy.
We stepped from the house
into the cool of evening,
leaves flew by like bats.
Did you appreciate the view?
Take care, good company:
shocking facts appear at the window—
for her sake, keep a lid on it,
selectively stew, show off the stuff
with a turn of common sense.
Thanks to grace luck chooses a star
for this night, fortune in a cloud,
beauty to skin and bone.
I shall remember your eyes,
how you look in your new sweater.
The matter rests, closed.
I won’t lose you like a nail
and I won’t run away.
The bullet screamed like a train
coming through a tunnel.
Are you interested in the unknown?
I won’t waste your food,
I have different dreams now,
I never knew a more treacherous man.
Winning may be costly,
again, we may survive:
expect the most from life.
To be consistent one must be simple;
complexity has room for multitude
but little else.
Danger arrives when all appears safe,
a man’s chance reversed
sure as a rock island in the sea.
A heron cries above the bay.
One cannot ride wisdom over the border,
one cannot have it by money or degree,
it’s a damn shame,
villains have familiar smiles
if you register them by name.
Watch your tongue.
Few people think and friends who don’t
are worse than enemies who do.
At dawn, we saw naked people,
dogs circling the sun.
Be careful, I’m in a bad mood.

Tough Guys

Pride never helps, punchy.
The thing is you got ability,
a stiff reward for creativity.
The bad news is we have to start
talking each other’s language.
Two-bit criminals represent the law,
we were lucky to get away.
Always know more than you seem.
Patience is a virtue,
if you have the time.
People learn by being wrong.
These weapons weigh a ton!
Am I already asleep
or do I dream of what I want?
Deep friendship comes of chance greeting,
sometimes young men of wealth have character
and heavy pockets.
Are we out of the forest yet?
I’d like to know how strong we are.
Tomorrow will take us with its usual certainty,
your smile in every arc, every curve,
my tongue clattering after each corner.
Were you as old as I have grown
or had I been as you have seen,
generation may pass away
while you glean the grain of my secret
ripe for a dark century, bewildering time.
Perhaps this misfortune frightens
but laughter raves away,
renews our expectation
of who meets whom in the comfort of evening,
brief encounters on a vagrant wind.
Gaping lout, I may never understand the matter
but have done as I have said.
Hold on to your chicken.
Don’t be a loser from the start.
Come on, you lazy bastard,
clear out, for Christ’s sake,
we should have had shotguns.