Detective Work – POEM

by Brent Short on April 2, 2014


“Every body persists in its state of being at rest or of moving uniformly straight forward, except insofar as it is compelled to change its state by force impressed. “
–Newton’s First Law

detective work all artwork by Brittany Rathbone


Police work was
both tedious and boring,
Determining motives,
examining all the mechanisms
for revenge and cruelty
over the years had become
one long slog through
human misery and degradation,
but it was a job.

Swimming through files,
documenting the disturbed
and their angry ghosts;
the plot—run and chase,
animal instinct, grim threats;
a journey into violence,
living in a fantasy of escape
and dark euphoria,
where terror is no stranger
and there’s no end, no going home;
lives uncongenial to insight,
following the wrong map,
their going forth cursed.


Perpetrator, victim—
you see yourself
in that dark mirror,
a miracle, marveling at
how things ever held together.

Still, there are moments
of entertainment, even levity,
as you take a step back
from those everyday disasters
and the perversity
and the staggering blindness,
the stupidity: difficult lives
as irresolvable
as hell itself.


When the call came in
it was right in the middle of coffee
and staring out the window,
out into a steady drizzle,
which was comparatively speaking,
an immense pleasure
on this dreary morning—
particularly so
on this dreary morning.

Through the rain I remember
a lone streetlight dazzling in the dark.
Strange business, I was thinking,
such a violent turn from tepid gray
to seething storm, a sign
of some deep hidden disturbance;
rain crashing down with a vengeance,
a passion, like a world hurled
down in rage or unbridled joy
by some shining god,
a blinding rain, everything
whipped and lashed by it,
a masked sun behind
the dark sheen of metallic sky
sitting over the city,
ready to burst, rupture.

I couldn’t quite put my finger on it,
the whole collision of emotions
unsealed by the storm,
trailing off into a fine rain,
driving down those
rain-slicked streets
to the spot where
the victim was left,
another inglorious deposit.


Not many know what their life
is really worth.

Follow me if you will,
into that room,
as you step through that mirror,
reading the aftermath
writ into the air,
where papers were floating
in their derangement,
objects capsizing over overturned
shelves, pictures upending
in their detachment,
and there cowering in the corner,
a room that’s stunned.

Picture an ugly story getting uglier,
the sameness of the same
as it comes screeching to a halt,
every dread and desire
gaining the upper hand,
an unmanaged impulse,
an exhilarating game,
an infliction and release of pain,
a glee in one’s handiwork,
in thrall, an action painting
setting forth
the most drastic of terms,
what the artist is bringing
into the real world—
something to remember him by.

If you want to know the artist,
study the art.


You’d think there’d be more,
a troubled air, some leftover
trace from the performance,
but there isn’t.

Only what’s missing,
but felt all the more—
the motionlessness of a body
fixed to the floor,
clawing across a bed,
a startled pose, a silence
and a horror frozen to the chair,
unreachable and nowhere.

Ironic as it may seem,
even after what animates
them has vacated,
tipped over by pure force,
time moving on immutable,
indifferent—despite this
sudden, precipitous change
in circumstance—
the victim still, somehow,
has the last word.

Neither at rest or in motion
they tell a secret and keep it,
how facts are the facts
in the collision and embrace
of time and space…
but back to my story.

detective work


When I got there,
the hired hand, or maybe
he was the gardener,
was growing more and more
upset about all the digging,
officers tramping around
ruining his spring bulbs.
People are going to be unsettled;
for me it’s more an archeological
venture and forensic exercise
than the up-rush of dread
burning flush
from my first couple of digs.

I bent down in the wet chill
of the morning,
peering down into the excavation
at the disposition of the body.
I checked the pallor of a hand,
the first artifact,
drained and translucent,
limbs situated haphazardly,
often arranged by way
of some dark ritual—
you know, an excuse to play God.

I look down at this last battling
with nature, the end of this
tormented thing sunk down
in its dark, vegetative state,
laid out in its makeshift bed,
covered by the breath of
death manifest. Identifiable
to someone, not me—
acted out with the force
and frenzy of erasing
some irreversible mistake.

The body still hides
as much as it reveals,
but never look away.


The found world,
an enormous crime scene,
the earth as it opens up,
hidden inside a wound,
where chasms are born,
already poised, openmouthed,
an underworld drifting up,
yawning, pulling back
into the dark invisible,
transporting in a slow dissolve,
a dark whisper, a consuming
riddle of never and always.

As I look into the darkness
I see everything.
Something has placed me here
to see inside that neverness,
the mystery of my own death—
the whole of my life,
a suspense;
the one always arriving late,
the last to know,
left unaccountably alive,
standing at the edge,
breath-held, awestruck;
a privileged observer
looking down at one more
poor bastard put out of his misery
and his impossible desires.

The things it takes to fill a hole.


No more thrills for this pilgrim.
Life is short—time uncertain,
and the need to know endless,
the hope that the images
flashing before our eyes
are adding up to a real story.

Solving crime is no less insistent—
the when and the what,
the where—
a certain persistence
and vanquishing of the perpetrator
beyond any half-measures.

The very things giving
our lives meaning making them
that much more precarious,
a target just by living.

As cold as it sounds
I take comfort in that.
I find a certain freedom there,
up against it, walking the line,
learning the dance.

I work the evidence
and I make my moves.
In a way it’s that nakedly simple,
the truth of how I do it,
the force driving my direction.


Even now as we speak,
in my mind’s eye,
I’m working and waiting,
waiting for a feeling in my bones,
I’m all eye, nerve, caffeine.
That’s the dark idea
setting me on his trail,
the line I run,
the feeling pushing me
out into the wild maze:
in and out of every weary bar,
every shady motel, standing at
the threshold of another
strangers’ room,
every place I never
wanted to go.


And still, there’s an art to this,
a staying of confusion,
and like any work of art
that keeps beckoning,
eloquent, mute, drawn endlessly
onward with patience and practice,
you gain an appreciation for
the value of the form
in light and space,
drawn over to a point of no return,
the precious way to your object,
moving through the world,
what it is and what isn’t—
rising to your own occasion.


So you want to be a detective,
chasing clues, holding on
to that fresh, new daisy chain
of evidence, strung together
clue to clue, what to ignore,
what to pursue?
You might be onto something,
you might not be.

Now you see him,
now you don’t.

The secret to your work—
a dark logic burning itself
into your mind,
a caution, a warning,
a carrying through,
hurdling over yourself,
baffled by the immediate outcome,
growing more determined
or more hopeless,
studying the slant
and fall of shadows,
their allure and confusion,
what might be there,
the predictability of a future
set in the past,
a silhouette assuming
its various features—
a search for the man standing
at the end of the street.

detective work


And just as every story needs
a narrator, life waits on no man.
And those who haven’t run
such a good race,
those who disguise their trail,
turning the bafflement around
on its head, toying with it,
making it plead for its very life,
turning the tables,
at their mercy—
those who haven’t finished
bouncing off the walls,
playing out the calculus
of a disenchanted world?

They want to know,
no matter how far back
their happiness lies,
or how large
the avenging angel looms,
they still want to know:
How did it come to this?
How did you find me?


And I answer:
something’s out there,
an impossible presence,
an ache.

And when you feel it,
the difference,
the difference between
that moment and all
the others preceding,
you’re at the beginning,
the very beginning,
but you’re
onto something.


And then in that first
unguarded moment,
in an admission despite
all to the contrary,
whatever they were thinking
was coming next,
and as what’s really
coming next pours in,
they want to know
because they want their life—
as natural to them
as their own breath—
to somehow make sense again.

Is anyone ever really truly lost?
I don’t answer that,
even as I enjoy the capture
and grab because even this
most gratifying sensation
is fleeting—that I keep to myself,
like all the good I’ll never attain,
and the people I’ll never save.

detective work

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Brent Short

Brent Short lives outside Tampa and works at Saint Leo University as the Director of Library Services.  He’s been a contributor to Sojourners, Radix, Mars Hill Review and Inklings. His poetry has appeared in Eads Bridge Literary Review, Windhover, Tar River Poetry and Sandhill Review, and still holds up “The Waste Land” and “Four Quartets” by T.S. Eliot as the towering achievements in modern poetry that the rest of us can only aspire to.


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