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?”


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.”


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.