weekend-readsThe Art of Heaven

Rodney Jones

In the middle of my life I came to a dark wood,
the smell of barbecue, kids running in the yards.
Not deep depression. The nice Hell of suburbs.
Speed bumps. The way things aren’t quite paradise.
Nights I read Speer’s Inside the Third Reich. He made
Hitler so amiable. It seemed important to see that.
There had been a murder in town. The victim
was Lucia’s student, a naturalist and promising poet.
Jealousy on steroids. Spying. Stalking. Threats.
Then violence of such a brutal, dehumanizing kind,
I felt the need to submerge the killer in a pattern.
A friend said the connection between depression
and humor was genetic. Because the mother
was often sad, the child learned to tell her jokes.
I wondered if the killer played an instrument.

Coming home each afternoon past the dairy farm,
and the three curves before Union Hill Church,
I kept rewinding and viewing evidence from his trial:
the break-in, the stabbing, the new friend helpless,
listening as she asked, “Am I going to die now?”
and then hearing, “Yes, you’re going to die now.”
Multiple slashes, cuts, nicks on the bone of the spine.
I saw the little pains coming up from the big pain like smoke.
The horses grazing in the field did not raise their heads.
Earlier she had been eating pizza in a place near campus.
He drank a few beers in a bar where I go sometimes.
Perhaps I had once bumped into him as I threaded
through the pool tables on the way to the men’s room.
Or was that her, alone in a corner, studying his letter
that began, “Tramp, liar, whore, enchantress, bitch.”

Now you can find it on the Internet—it reads like
a farce of the ego or a sample of Leviticus—“Eternal
lover . . . [I will] come crashing down . . . ” in the records
of the circuit court of Jackson County, Illinois—“with
a thunderous vengeance and a furious anger”—sad
brackets where the characters grew indecipherable
as the author’s hand hastened or trembled—“and they
will know that my name is Houdini because I can
disappear and reappear like magic and no man—”
Here a mother might still help. Here I see a boy
with air guitar, lip-synching, strutting at a mirror—
“nor beast nor nothing man-made can either contain or hold me.”
But where the posturing ends, the blade is whetted,
and the inner geniuses begin to work for an idiot,
all the editors wade into the still waters of sleep.

The bar was quiet in the afternoons, and later,
the noise of the racks breaking. On the televisions
above the tables, the images of men running
back and forth and crashing into each other—
I thought that for him her death had started as a game,
that the game took the form of possession, a trance,
as on childhood nights when the room and hour vanish.
That the process is the same for the many as for the one,
the beauty, the beguilement, then the blindness.
That this projection might be reversed or spun.
You could look at blood and see the art of heaven.
Probably you could see it. You could not confess.
Even in the bunker, Hitler saw himself as architect.
Speer, in the Cathedral of Ice, directed the lights
skyward to hide the homeliness of the Gauleiters.

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