To my parents' dying chagrin, many years ago in college I elected to major in English.
In those beer-soaked and miscreant years, my exposure to the vast canon of world literature forged my appreciative palette for poetry. Like reading Shakespeare or funky guitar hooks, I think it was the rhythms that truly attracted me. Later, with discipline and critical study, I developed the dumbstruck awe of just how difficult it is to illuminate with thrift and passion.
In the years since school, my grasp of poetry has expanded a bit. No longer force-fed from some professor's stale reading list, the responsibility for exploring the brave, artistic margins of bob-and-weave prose became my own. Now, reading poetry for me is more of a mental tonic. Some may examine history's circus, but to truly understand the sweat, blood, and gorgeous pain of our screwed-up world—nothing beats a poet's insight.
Crime is an exhausting subject. When Gerald So asked me to submit to his crime-poetry project, The Lineup, a few years back, my reaction was predictable. I balked.
Poems on crime? You must be joking.
Nope. Gerald was serious.
Like many crime fiction writers I know, yeah—sure—I'd dabbled with the short form and ninety-nine point nine percent of time I did so with embarrassing results. Take your pick. Homage mimicry. Sappy whittles aching with strain. Attempts at mystic song. Fortunately these disasters should never and will never see the light of day. Of course, I had my reading phases, too. Steady diet of Cohen and Carroll for a while. Whole soggy, burnt-toast piles of Yeats. Neruda and Baudelaire when I was feeling horny, lovesick, and stoned.
Anyway, I considered Gerald's request and gave it a shot. I mean, why not, right? Writing takes guts, what’s the worst that could happen? Gee, I make a fool of myself? Please. Nothing new there.
At the time he asked, I'd been listening to a rebroadcast story on the state-authorized teacher-killings in the Mexican city of Oaxaca. It was all so terrifying, brutal, and fascinating.
Are the politics of poverty and social justice crime-related? If you have to ask that, you’re not paying attention.
I heard Charlie Stella kind of dug what I wrote.
IN OAXACA, 2006
shakes on scabbed knees for her son
thrown in a river.
a teacher, his crimes are steeped in truths
so many justices betrayed.
a testament scrolls from the bores
in his back, something he dare to whisper
and then roar.
in Oaxaca these things
are the same
a gun is a gun is a gun.