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.
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.