William De Witt Snodgrass
Nightwatchman's Song - Poem by William De Witt Snodgrass
After Heinrich I. F. Biber
What’s unseen may not exist—
Or so those secret powers insist
That prowl past nightfall,
Enabled by the brain’s blacklist
To fester out of sight,
So we streak from bad to worse,
Through an expanding universe
And see no evil.
On my rounds like a night nurse
Or sentry on qui vive,
I make, through murkier hours, my way
Where the sun patrolled all day
Toward stone-blind midnight
To poke this flickering flashlamp’s ray
At what’s hushed up and hidden.
Lacking all leave or protocol,
Things, one by one, hear my footfall,
Blank out their faces,
Dodge between trees, find cracks in walls
Or lock down offices.
Still, though scuttling forces flee
Just as far stars recede from me
To outmost boundaries,
I stalk through ruins and debris,
Graveyard and underground.
Led by their helmetlantern’s light
Miners inch through anthracite;
I’m the unblinking mole
That sniffs out what gets lost or might
Slip down the world’s black hole.
(ending his rounds, the watchman, somewhat tipsy, returns)
What’s obscene?—just our obsessed,
Incessant itch and interest
In things found frightful:
In bestial tortures, rape, incest;
In ripe forbidden fruit
Dangling, lush, just out of reach;
Dim cellars nailed up under each
The loser’s envy that will teach
A fierce vindictiveness,
The victors’ high court that insures
Pardon for winners and procures
Little that’s needed
But all we lust for. What endures?—
And trash containers overflowing
With shredded memos, records showing
What, who, when, why
’Til there’s no sure way of knowing
What’s clear to every eye:
The heart’s delight in hatred, runny
As the gold drip from combs of honey;
The rectal intercourse
Of power politics and money
That slimes both goal and source.
What’s obscured?—what’s abscessed.
After inspection, I’d suggest
It’s time we got our head
Rewired. I plan to just get pissed,
Shitfaced and brain-dead.
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