Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Trace Evidence

Tree-bending wind rustles the quietude of a sunny late-spring day. Dixie, who has been limping occasionally for the past three days wanders the fence line in search of something (or someone) to unleash her howling and flies across the backyard, greening her feet in cut grass. Archie lounges by the backdoor, waiting for Dixie's call to arms or to be led inside where I'll retrieve a treat from a foil bag, and he will dance for his food.

At the moment, I have too much to do. My family is leaving, midweek, on the long drive across Ohio. I need to make preparations. After deciding, a few months ago, that I should apply to PhD programs in Creative Writing, I have GREs to consider, a statement of purpose to craft, and a critical paper to write, or rewrite (as the case may be). More, there is writing to be done. My book of short stories has been neglected for so long that I sometimes imagine it rising up like a wraith from the binary textures of my hard drive only to swat at me with a long, cold claw as I sleep. My manuscript of poems still needs more polish and each of the poems needs to be shown the door, so that they might cavort in distant inboxes, vying with hundreds of other like-minded poems for the attention of an editor's eye. Alas, there is also work to be finagled. An application here or there, with the aim of imagining a hearty savings account from what seems thin air.

Sometimes, I suppose, one must simply focus.

A month ago, after an evening of rain, I let my dogs out for the morning, and Dixie sniffed out a bright red vinyl purse, abandoned in a patch of overgrowth just beyond the edge of our fence. I stared at the purse for a moment, trying to figure out what the object was and what it was doing on my property. I leaned over the fence and opened it, looking for some form of ID. The purse was empty. I wondered how the purse had arrived there. I constructed scenarios. Narratives. A purse snatched from some unsuspecting woman. She would have screamed as the mugger darted downhill under flickering streetlamps. She would have wept, feeling herself violated, as the mugger emptied the contents of her purse, tossing her make-up and chewing gum into the street like nothing more than refuse. She would have been cradled back into the bar on the corner so that she could phone the police, as the mugger rifled through her wallet, taking cash and credit cards, and discarding everything, even the photographs of her nephew’s graduation, as trash.

And now, after trying to be a good Samaritan, my fingerprints were smudged all over the purse.

I phoned the police and left the purse tangled near the fence.

Thankfully, the police did not come for a couple of hours. No one, of course, was any danger. No crime was, at the moment, being committed. I'd hope in a city this size that such a call would take a while. Yet, dispatch did call me to let me know they hadn't forgotten. Someone in uniform would arrive soon enough. I spent the time showering and thinking of how the investigation might unfold, considering how this could change the way I thought about my neighborhood, my home. I imagined the police arriving in droves. Perhaps they would cordon off the walkway with yellow crime scene tape. They would don gloves to dust for fingerprints as I sheepishly explained how I'd contaminated the evidence by handling the coarse vinyl. Perhaps.

When a policewoman finally pulled up in her squad car, she was alone. I took her to the side of the yard and pointed out the purse, explaining that I'd looked inside it, but found no ID. She asked me to step aside, reached toward the fence, and grabbed the purse, which she took to the trunk of the car.

And that was that. A report of found property. No need to speculate.

In retrospect, it seems apparent that, under my wife's influence, I've watched far too many crime dramas. In retrospect, it seems clear that, even if you do not believe that writing can effect change in the world, you must acknowledge that writing can change the way we interact with that world. And, to my mind, that's more than reason enough to write a poem, to hope that it is read.

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