C.N.P Poetry 

  • Cathexis Northwest Press

Rimbaud in Abyssinia; Crime Scene

By: William Heath


Rimbaud in Abyssinia


Rimbaud writes all his poetry

before twenty. His secret way

to illuminate unknown worlds

the derangement of the senses.

High on hashish, he predicts

the future is already here,

the time of assassins has come,

his work as a poet is done.


Having seen enough, known enough,

had enough, he wants to change life.

Magus of quick getaways, he

leaves the Sabine suburban women

to sob, abandons the boring

bourgeois world of decadent France,

spurns European culture

for a hot African country.


“I shall have gold,” he vows,

settles for being a merchant

dealing in bales of coffee, hides,

a stint at gun-running, perhaps

dabbling in the slave trade—ivory

for ebony, as it is called.

Mean and stingy, his shabby

caravans traffick in failure.


Walking is his avocation,

to be footloose and fancy free,

his credo, to leave one place for

somewhere else his incessant goal.

Imprisoned by his own rib cage,

conspiring his own hell, he thrives

on disputes, often takes offense,

loves to detest his enemies.


He lives in Harar, putrid place

of sunbaked clay, and takes on

local customs, pees crouching,

works like a donkey, submits

to an atrocious existence.

At thirty he looks twice his age.

“The world is vile,” he concludes.

“As for me, I have loved a pig.”


Skin cancer, oblivion near,

he sets out for Egypt, kingdom

of pharaohs for thousands of years.

High on a pillar at Luxor,

deep in the stone he cuts his name.

then goes back to France to die.

Often delirious, with no idea

who he is, what he has been.


One leg amputated, the other

obscenely swollen, his deathbed

at his miserly mother’s farm.

Since Rimbaud has fits of spitting,

the priest, fearing profanation,

refuses holy communion. “When

you walk in the sun,” he said,

“think of me under the ground.”


Tout suite French critics make his case:

He gives up words to touch the raw

material things of this world.

A bitter, irascible merchant

in a sordid, exploited place,

he winks. No fall, his silence

is his highest achievement.


Are his words, his life, eloquent?

No poet writes like Rimbaud today,

some have mastered the art of being

no one you’ll want to meet.







Crime Scene


In West Baltimore a man in blue

watches a human body cool.

Blood droplets speak, so do spent

bullets, shell casings, how a body

falls if it fell where it is found.

Tiny fibers yield trace evidence.

A latent print. The first officer

to arrive is supposed to protect

the crime scene instantly starting

to deteriorate, but officer Jenkins

wanders off, uses the john, stops

for coffee and a doughnut on his

way to the hospital, drives home

when his shift is up, while others

contaminate evidence, step

in blood, touch suspicious objects,

filch what strikes their fancy.

A shrewd lawyer counts on cops

to bungle the scene of a crime

enough for reasonable doubt.

When back-up squad cars arrive

the cops seek witnesses, ask

what went down. “I ain’t seen

nothing, man,” a shake of the head,

averted eyes, hands dancing on air,

the usual gestures. The code

of the neighborhood hates a snitch.

This body is found in a bedroom,

no forced entry, no strange fingerprints,

which swiftly narrows the field

to family members and friends.

A Baltimore homicide detective

wastes no time suspecting the butler,

or some criminal mastermind,

here murders are domestic disputes

or drug-related; he studies not why

but how—a steak knife with

a broken blade, stab wounds

to hands and chest, blood splatter

of a struggle-—the mean streets

will provide who and motive.




William Heath has published two chapbooks, Night Moves in Ohio and Leaving Seville; a book of poems, The Walking Man; three novels: The Children Bob Moses Led (winner of the Hackney Award), Devil Dancer, and Blacksnake's Path; a work of history, William Wells and the Struggle for the Old Northwest (winner of two Spur Awards); a collection of interviews, Conversations with Robert Stone. www.williamheathbooks.com


Artist statement for "Rimbaud in Abyssinia" & "Crime Scene":


My poem about Rimbaud is based on a biography by Alain Borer. Rimbaud to me epitomized our expectation that the poet should suffer a tortured life. Edmund Wilson has captured this in his essay "The Wound and the Bow." I am not fluent in French, but based on the English translation I read it struck me that Rimbaud was a classic case of a poet who was honored more for his troubled life than his accomplished verse. He was, in fact, a highly unlikeable man. I am reminded of a tale from my youth when a woman asked her husband, "Why are you so awful and your poems so beautiful?" In terms of the craft, readers will note that I often write in stanzas and how a poem moves down the page is of great interest to me. While I don't use end rhyme, the music of the poetic line also matters greatly. "


Crime Scene" is based on David Simon's Homicide, a classic study of murder in Baltimore. Here I am trying to capture a typical crime encountered daily by the city police. The larger causes of such scenes is another question.