I have a love/hate relationship with police—bitter lately. After my experiences with cops (a troubling Alabama sheriff sticks out) and looking at them through my bell curve lens, I see about 15% are authentic heroes; 15% should be in jail for life; and in between fall all the rest on any given day. I made a pact with one of my high school friends to apply to the NYPD after graduation, but the police academy temporarily closed because of budget cuts in 1976. He went on to join the Marines (couldn’t convince me to join) and later became a cop. One of my tennis playing best buddies retired as a NYC Corrections Dept. Captain at Riker’s Island: the incarceration of America is another story.
March 2003, the night the U.S. military invaded Iraq, I sat with poets and cops in the New York Society for Ethical Culture Manhattan auditorium, for the book launch of Off The Cuffs: Poetry by and About the Police. One of my poems was included in the book’s opening Witness chapter: wrote the long piece after seeing two policeman beat a black man who was on the ground and not resisting arrest in front of my building in Queens. The book has chapters such as Victims and Perpetrators, Insiders, and Dreamers. Jackie Sheeler, whose father was a cop, who grew up around cops, who once got arrested and charged for inciting a riot, assaulting an officer, and resisting arrest during a protest in Washington Square Park, was the book’s editor. Jackie, a spoken word artist and poetry M.C. was unique and inspiring; sadly, she died two years ago at a young 59. Maybe she would have been in the streets yelling black lives matter and no justice, no peace these last few days. With fine poet/cops and others like Allen Ginsberg, Sharon Olds, W.S. Mervin, Anne Waldman, Thom Gunn, Hettie Jones included in her anthology, this read is still highly relevant. There should never be another death like that of George Floyd and things are not simply black and white. I look forward to a truly sophisticated and humane system of policing.
How ridiculous and tiresome to hear speeches
about doing the right thing for God and country
by people whose morality requires a body cam.
On The Other Side
Ten straps hold him to the Gurney
behind soundproof glass.
Some pray, some sing, some
can’t find their tongues at all.
He decides, like many, to cry
“I’m sorry, so sorry.”
The first injection (sodium pentothal),
normally used for surgery, numbs him.
The second injection
collapse his lungs:
until last sputters of breath.
The last needle stops his heart.
On the other side of the glass, his mother
drops to her knees and a deep moaning wail
rises from her belly like she’s been run through.
A sound, guards say, unlike any found on earth—
a sound that oh…
could fill a cathedral.
You would have me
*An earlier version of “On The Other Side” appeared in the now non-extant Left Curve.
Front page image, “Police Painting,” by Thomas Harrison.
Until next time