Even if you think you don’t like poetry – I admit I don’t read a ton of it myself – if you’re a fan of crime fiction you really should be visiting The 5-2 on a regular basis. In addition to seeing many familiar names amongst the contributors, you’ll also be treated to the discovery of new talent you may not yet have had the pleasure of reading. Either way, you won’t come away empty-handed or disappointed.
And if you need a little push to get you going, just check out the stops on the 30 Days of The 5-2 Blog Tour, a tour during which different bloggers are taking turns spotlighting a poem of their choice every day in the month of April. I’ve chosen to feature the phenomenal “Nothing to See Here” by C.J. Edwards.
Nothing To See Here
Late afternoon, 1300 block
of North Rural, summer shadows
stretching across curbed sidewalks,
Gawkers and young kids skulk
to peek, and whisper behind
their hands to each other.
and choked cries
clot the air.
An officer’s shout moves everyone back
a few feet, more than needed
to get out of the way.
Someone says two speeding cars
shot at each other.
The news later said he was only thirteen.
In the moment, no one could tell
how old he was.
When he was gone, the crowd pushed back
beyond the tape, stared while the officer
stood over a torn and bloodied
Holy hell, right? There’s as much power, raw imagery, and emotion in those few lines than many authors are capable of packing into an entire novel. And if that last stanza doesn’t hit you like a sledgehammer, well, there’s just something wrong with you because “Nothing to See Here” hits all the right notes… and hits them hard.
Which got me thinking, where does something that powerful come from? How does one not only come up with the idea for something so stark, but manage to present it such a realistic manner? So I decided to ask the man who wrote it, and C.J. was kind enough to answer a few questions about his creation:
C.J., you’ve been a police officer for many years and the poem “Nothing To See Here” was inspired by an actual call you responded to, correct?
Yes, it was. This was the summer of 2006, and I was working middle shift. A 911 call came in about a person shot. It was on my beat and I was only about four blocks away at the time. When I pulled up an ambulance crew was already working on what turned out to be a thirteen-year-old boy who had been struck in the head by a stray bullet fired by one of two cars chasing each other up the street.
How long had you been policing at the time of that incident? Had you encountered anything similar prior to that day, or was that your first homicide scene involving a child?
At the time I had been working the street as an officer for about five years. During that time I had seen at least a couple hundred shooting victims, both alive and dead. This was the first time, however, that I’d seen a victim so young.
Why write the poem from the perspective of a bystander instead of the officer?
Before this poem was written, I had made several attempts to write poems and short stories about police work. None of them worked. One of the many things I learned in my creative writing classes is that sometimes a writer can be too close to his subject. That was the case with me I think, so I decided to try and distance myself from the poem as I wrote to see what happened. “Nothing To See Here” is the result.
You’ve said elsewhere that the event that inspired the poem stuck with you for years after it occurred. Did writing about it change the way you reflect on that day in any way?
Yes, it is one of several incidents that have stayed with me. I can still see that boy’s face and hear his stuttered breathing. The whole process of writing this poem, getting the bones down and then revising and revising and revising, has changed how I access that memory. Before the poem, that image would sometimes just pop into my head and play out over and over. Now, the memory is still there, but it doesn’t come unbidden anymore.
Interesting how in something of a psychological game of tag C.J. has actually transferred the “memory” of that event to me by writing “Nothing to See Here” – and how in spite of myself the image of that dying thirteen-year-old boy and the discarded, bloody SpongeBob t-shirt now pops into my mind unbidden… but welcome.