Diann Blakely

She Do the Police In Different Voices

In our country’s per­pet­u­al endeav­or to con­vert tragedy into pre-pack­aged spec­ta­cles not unlike “the Katrina Show,” sev­er­al suc­ces­sive shoot­ings have appeared night­ly on cable, often accom­pa­nied by argu­ments about gun con­trol.  Among the most recent is sure to be labelled “The Chick-Fil-A Massacre,” though the sole injury was sus­tained by a secu­ri­ty offi­cer who dis­armed the perp: his back­pack was loaded with extra mag­a­zines of Sig 9 ammu­ni­tion and fif­teen of the franchise’s sig­na­ture sand­wich­es.

I hate your pol­i­tics,” he was heard to shout at the head­quar­ters the American Family Council, which has come out, so to speak, in sup­port of Chick-Fil-A’s anti-gay stance.

The police’s delayed arrival prompt­ed some pun­dits to aver that the secu­ri­ty officer’s shoul­der wouldn’t have tak­en a bul­let, and the shoot­er been more swift­ly dis­patched, had the American Family Council work­ers been pack­ing.  They could have had a free lunch as well.

While I have no sta­tis­tics about poul­try plants, or the num­ber of the franchise’s restaurants—I’ve pur­chased noth­ing but iced tea or cof­fee from my cur­rent town’s—more than one Expert has cit­ed the num­ber of firearms that now exist from sea to shin­ing sea (and we know about Sarah Palin and her moose rifles in Alaska)—for each cit­i­zen to own some bul­let-pow­ered weapon, though half are ille­gal.  The last I heard was fol­lowed by a PAC-financed com­mer­cials denounc­ing “gun grab­bers,” inter­spersed with pho­tographs Hillary Clinton and ver­biage about a treaty with the UN.  Why?  Do these peo­ple believe that, after all this time, she still wish­es to Kill Bill?

I declare myself guilty: I, too, have been a “gun grab­ber,” albeit in a dif­fer­ent fash­ion.  Among the items jammed into my bath­room etagère, next to the Water-Pic whose ways I haven’t mas­tered, rests a pis­tol in whose use I am even less skilled.  Issued by the Royal Armed Forces to my ex-husband’s grand­fa­ther and refit­ted for American ammu­ni­tion, as I learned only a month ago, when a house­guest who found it by acci­dent insist­ed I “at least have the damn thing cleaned,” I knew from the start that this farewell gift from my ex-hus­band was intend­ed to make him feel less guilty were I to be mur­dered or raped or chopped into small pieces after he decid­ed to change address­es.

But one night, read­ing late, I heard a strange noise direct­ly beneath my win­dow, which was cov­ered with a black-out shade.  There was clear­ly a prowler afoot! And try­ing to force open the slid­ing glass door from the patio.

The godammned gun’s unreg­is­tered, I thought.  I’ve been afraid to call the police and take nec­es­sary steps.  In fact, most of the time, I’m afraid of the pis­tol.

Nonetheless, this was no time for think­ing, which is what makes own­ing firearms haz­ardous, espe­cial­ly if you require more than one set of glass­es: hav­ing stud­ied clas­si­cal bal­let for many years, my mus­cles have far greater mem­o­ry than I cur­rent­ly pos­sess oth­er­wise, and I did a grand jeté that pro­pelled me out of the bed and toward my dress­er.

I am for­bid­den to sell the dress­er or any oth­er piece of fur­ni­ture belong­ing to my mother’s fam­i­ly.  I am told the lamps, the chi­na, the crys­tal, the sil­ver, the end-tables, the can­dle hold­ers, and let’s not get into the chan­de­liers, were all brought from Godmersham, a/k/a Mansfield Park—no, I can’t intro­duce you to Jane Austen, for not only is she dead, but there’s no blood rela­tion, the house hav­ing passed to her own fam­i­ly under the laws of primogeniture—now a school for oph­thal­mol­o­gists.  Besides, I have much more in com­mon with the heir­loom-laden-but-cash-strapped, febrile, and intem­per­ate Brontë sis­ters, whose rap sheet is tru­ly mis­lead­ing: tuber­cu­lo­sis notwith­stand­ing, have you ever seen the gorse-spiked Yorkshire moors?  No place for sissies.

Nor are street-cor­ner deals involv­ing greasy—from fried chick­en sandwiches?—dollar bills, but I have often thought about sell­ing the hand­gun.  However, I remain also ill-accus­tomed to hav­ing my prop­er­ty invad­ed, thus I plucked the pis­tol from the dress­er, drew back the trig­ger, and crouched at the top of the stairs, star­ing into the dark­ness.

It wouldn’t have mat­tered if I’d left any and all of the chan­de­liers undimmed, for I real­ized the lim­i­ta­tions imposed by my own myopia.  A far wis­er course of action occurred to me: bolt into my study, lock the door, and call 911.

A flash­ing blue light was quick­ly vis­i­ble.  Only then did I tru­ly pan­ic: how was I going to explain the com­plete absence of reg­is­tra­tion papers?  Worse, I was wear­ing only a T. S. Eliot t-shirt with holes in it, a gift from students—might I be fired? would the police laugh at my skin­ny legs?

But it was too late: I peeked out­side again and saw four men, in uni­son, click on ter­ri­fy­ing­ly large flash­lights.  (I think this is called a “sweep.”)  Finally came thud­ding knocks on my door.  I opened the small case­ment win­dow to reply, for I didn’t want the police to think I were dead or rude.

Ma’am, this is your Metro police squad.  Are you in dan­ger?”

Hell, yes,” I almost shout­ed.  “You’re going to arrest me and my moth­er will have a heart attack when she learns that her only daugh­ter was hauled off to jail in such unsight­ly attire on charges of own­ing an unreg­is­tered gun.”

But I said noth­ing of the kind.  “Yes, sir.”

Can you come down here and let us in?”

No!”

What the two offi­cers thought an indi­ca­tor of gen­uine haz­ard was actu­al­ly a delay tech­nique: I explained, apolo­get­i­cal­ly, that they’d have to wait until I locat­ed the spare set in a fil­ing cab­i­net.      (Which, since it orig­i­nal­ly belonged to Office Depot, I sold on a sub­se­quent move.) I pushed out the screen, tossed down the keys, and then hid the gun behind my shelf-full of books on Eliot.

We are now on the premis­es, ma’am, and ful­ly armed.  Where are you?”

This was no time to ask why they couldn’t they pre­dict my where­abouts from the screen­less and half-open win­dow. It seemed more polite to shout through the study door and offer direc­tions: “First room at the top of the stairs!”

We are now stand­ing out­side.  You have noth­ing to fear.  We are ful­ly armed.  Will you open up?”

No.  Or, would you first be kind enough to walk down the hall—just two more doors—and bring me the robe hang­ing from a hook in the bath­room?”

Yes, ma’am!” the offi­cers rum­bled in uni­son.

Either they’re in for a big dis­ap­point­ment or should be pre­pared for a shoot-out them­selves,” I thought.  “One word about my legs [which, yes, resem­ble a chicken’s] and I’ll make their night!”

Fortunately, this did not hap­pen.  We had cof­fee at the din­ing room table, four police offi­cers and myself, and they took down a com­plete report.  But my mind kept drift­ing back up, to the land­ing.  What would I have done had I met with a maraud­ing mani­ac?  Ask him to turn on a light, stand very still, and, by the way, did he see a pair of glass­es on the din­ing room table that he might prove gra­cious enough to bring up the stairs to me so that I could focus my eyes and shoot him?

Ma’am, do you own any firearms?”

No,” I lied cheer­ful­ly.  “Did you see any signs of attempt­ed entry beneath my bed­room win­dow?”

Yes.  There are scratch­es, a gouge—which could be old—and a set of prints.  We’ll keep an eye on the house and come back in day­light to exam­ine the prints and take a set,” one offi­cer reas­sured me.

You know what I think?” asked one of his part­ners.  “Possum.”

Sir, I assure you this wasn’t a pos­sum.  They lack the nec­es­sary bulk to make the kind of nois­es I heard.”  I thought mur­der­ous­ly of the hand­gun on my Eliot shelves.  “In fact,” I said, half-dis­rob­ing and thus caus­ing some con­ster­na­tion on the officer’s face, “do you know who this is?”

He admit­ted his igno­rance.  “T. S. Eliot.  Ever heard of the play called Cats?”

No.  Do you have ani­mals your­self?”

No.  The play is based on a book called Ol’ Possum’s Book of Practical Cats.  He also wrote a poem with which you may not be famil­iar, but its orig­i­nal title was He Do the Police In Different Voices.  It’s a quo­ta­tion from Dickens sug­gest­ed to him by his first wife.”

Who?”

Never mind.  It ends with the Sanskrit words “Shantih shan­tih shan­tih.”  This rough­ly trans­lates to the ‘peace which pas­seth under­stand­ing.’”

Eliot liked movies, as well as music halls.  His essay on Marie Lloyd, the Lady Gaga of her day, is a too-lit­tle-known gem.  If my mind is caf­feine-jum­bled, think­ing of fast food, Hillary read­ing in bed when Bill broke the news, plus the afore­men­tioned pun­dits and Hillary as she sup­pos­ed­ly threw the book she was read­ing at Bill, two things remain con­tin­u­ous: the High Anglican Eliot reads his poems, I have always thought, in an odd, slight­ly oily into­na­tion; and while he may have switched to tea after his con­ver­sion to England itself, then wives, at one point, he mea­sured out his life in cof­fee spoons.

The offi­cers’ mugs drained and good­byes said, I thanked them for their prompt action and promis­es to secure my safe­ty.  Then I refilled my cup—coffee, soy milk, and rum, in equal parts—and retrieved the hand­gun, tak­ing care to lock the bed­room door as I smoothed the sheets and got back into bed with The Waste Land. And the pis­tol?  Lacking a “safe­ty,” its trig­ger remained in a retract­ed posi­tion through three addi­tion­al moves for over a dozen years.

The grotesque and trag­ic shoot­ings?  There is no let up.

for Quincy R. Lehr

~

Diann Blakely’s Cities of Flesh and the Dead won the Poetry Society of America’s Alice Fay di Castagnola Award from. She has appeared in numer­ous antholo­gies, includ­ing two vol­umes of Pushcart and Best American Poetry. Poems from her lat­est man­u­scripts, Rain in Our Door: Duets with Robert Johnson and Lost Addresses have fea­tured twice in Greil Marcus’s “Hard Rock Top Ten,” as well as Lisa Russ Spaar’s Chronicle of Higher Education poet­ry col­umn and Blip Magazine; Blakely has been also pub­lished at Harvard Review Online, theNation, the Paris Review, the Oxford American, TriquarterlyShenandoah, the Southern Review, and Verse, among oth­ers.