“So We Beat Them” by Ed Shacklee

Ed Shacklee


One limped a little, and another had a stammer,
one was cross-eyed, swarthy, and employed atrocious grammar;
so we beat them with a pipe, and then a club, and then a plier,
bending them like pretzels after binding them with wire,
sending trite condolences with tappings of a hammer.

One was far too clever, another drolly thick,
one was hyper, one disfigured by a nervous tic;
so we beat them with a tire iron, then aimed a rolling pin
at tender ribs, boxed their ears, and kicked them in the shin,
pretending we were sorry while we plied the heavy stick.

A fear of heights gripped one; one lived in mother’s cellar;
one, depressed, developed gout and had a pasty pallor;
so we beat them in a mixing bowl till minds were scrambled eggs,
safe and snug at home because we’d manacled their legs,
and lent our ears but didn’t hear their squalls amid the squalor.

One ignored the hoi polloi as they were mouthing curses,
one kept her nose in books and mumbled antiquated verses;
so we beat them with the crucifix, an ankh, and shepherd’s crooks,
painted them like prison walls and hoisted them on hooks,
and pent them on their merry way in gilded, garish hearses:

and when they got to heaven with its lovely rolling beaches,
their uniforms restarched and blanched to white with holy bleaches,
we beat them with a lightning rod, the hand of God, and thunder,
for only strikes against the flint can spark a soul to wonder.
There is no balm in Gilead but serpent oil and leeches.

from Rattle #50, Winter 2015


Ed Shacklee: “Trying to write poetry comes from reading the poems of others aloud, I think. It doesn’t seem to matter if you’re smart or eloquent, or not. I started mumbling to myself sometime after coming across William Meredith’s The Wreck of the Thresher, in which a poem ends, ‘There’s flowering, there’s a dark question answered yes.’ I can’t reproduce the experience here, and I doubt anyone can unless they’re as immature, unlettered, and blue as I was back then, but that resonated; the unspoken question that could be any question, the modest, unconditional yes, and the sudden flowering of that line. It shook something till it was almost awake. Arise and walk, I guess you could say. A while later I heard Meredith give a reading, and I regret that I was too tongue-tied in his presence to go up and thank him.”

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