Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Law, violence and alienation: Ralph Pomeroy's "Corner"

The cop slumps alertly at his motorcycle,
supported by one leg like a leather stork.
His glance accuses me of loitering.
I can see his eyes moving like a fish
in the green depths of his green goggles.

His ease is fake. I can tell.
My ease is fake. And he can tell.
The fingers armoured by his gloves
Splay and clench, itching to change something.
As if he were my enemy or my death,
I just stand there watching.

I spit out my gum which has gone stale.
I knock out my new cigarette --
Which is my bravery.
It is all imperceptible:
The way I shift my weight,
The way he creaks in the saddle.

The traffic is specific though constant.
The sun surrounds me, divides the street between us.
His crash helmet is whiter in the shade.
It is like a bullring as they say it is just before the fighting.
I cannot back down. I am there.

Everything holds me back.
I am in danger of disappearing into the sunny dust,
My levis bake and my T-shirt sweats.

My cigarette makes my eyes burn.
But I don't dare drop it.

Who made him my enemy?
Prince of coolness. King of fear.
Why do I lean here waiting?
Why does he lounge there watching?

I am becoming sunlight.
My hair is on fire. My boots run like tar.
I am hung-up by the bright air.

Something breaks through all of a sudden.
And he blasts off, quick as a craver,
Snug in his power; watching me watch.
This is the meaning of the crime of loitering; this is the danger of the "broken windows" theory of policing. Everyone is on trial, even if you're just taking a cigarette break. There are similarities and differences here with horseback police patrols: both rely on a knight-like positional superiority, but horses have lost most of the menace they held through history, while motorcycles can still have a vicious animality. The community is rent by a goggled invader; it is rent into the innocents who have nothing to fear but are afraid, and the guilty who should be afraid but who want a challenge. This is order without justice; this is courage without love. If you have felt the bloody blush of fear when you see a radar trap, imagine the perception of law's lawless power to someone who has never felt protected, never felt served by these cold outsiders. What happened to the Clinton + Republican Congress community policing effort? Did you sympathize with anyone in this poem?--did you view this as a tragedy with no protagonist?--did you ascribe guilt to the gum-chewing smoker?--


Anonymous Anonymous said...

im studying this poem right now and your point of view on it was very interesting and helpful!

5:12 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home