Today is a death poem, which I suppose is appropriate given that tax day was yesterday, though at my current income level, tax day is always the day I get my W-2 form, so I can spend my refund as soon as possible. Maybe one day I’ll need an accountant–it would be nice to make that kind of money, or to win the lottery. Throw me in that brier patch, won’t you?
My poem for today comes from a true story–the murder of Dr. John Locke, a professor at the University of Arkansas while I was a grad student there. His office was three doors down from mine, across the hall. I’d never taken a class with him, but we’d chatted in the hallways a couple of times, and by all accounts he was an incredibly gentle soul. He was just about to retire when he was murdered by a mentally unstable grad student who’d been kicked out of the PhD program after ten years of making almost no progress. The student would register for classes, get his student loan money, and then withdraw. Dr. Locke was his advisor, and had actually argued to give him another chance.
I was in my office with my friend Paul when it happened, and everything that follows in the poem is as honest as I can make it. Memory, after all, is a clumsy thing, often inaccurate, but this is how I remember the events of those few minutes.
And any suggestions for a new title would be very welcome.
Near Death Experience
For Dr. John Locke
Like a metal shelf hit the floor.
A cry. A second time. Didn’t sound
like I expected, the pistol shots
from the office down the hall,
first day of classes, second year
of graduate school. Another voice:
he’s got a gun, as if this were
a cop show, but what else does
one say when faced with such a thing?
No phone in our office, so Paul
raced up the back stairs; I
hit the intercom, then crept
down the hall to see. And missed
completely the open office door,
the professor I hardly knew,
the grad student he’d tried to help
standing over him. Heard
the door slam. Got my books.
Saw the bicycle cop, helmet,
ridiculous spandex shorts,
sidearm, knock on the office door.
Heard later I’d been the last one
to see the killer alive. Not I.
I saw the door. Later I shook
when I realized he could have
shot me as I passed, blind.