Author’s Note: The following pair of poems appeared in the Edgar Lee Masters-channeling theme anthology Death in Common: Poems from Unlikely Victims (Edited by Rich Ristow). Each entry in the book is presented from the posthumous perspective of one of the victims of serial killer Charles Lee Eaton. Along with the body of Eaton (a suicide by hanging), the corpses were discovered in the killer’s basement, each sporting a wadded up piece of manuscript in its mouth.
Part of the thrill, and the whole art of the con
Was the instant extemporizing–
Deciding just what to offer that potential customer
Who’d just cracked open his or her door.
Whether to try magazines or marital aids, carpet cleaner,
Hedge clipper, starving-child-in-Africa sponsorship.
I had all the inappropriate forms, the various devices
Ready in my black suitcase, just like the one toted by
My literary hero, good country person Manley Pointer.
So when I spied the saint’s medal on the housewife’s neck,
I presented her the Good Word in gilt-edged form.
Like a fine Christian she turned her cheek
While slamming the door straight in my face.
Still diligent, I plied my trade further down the block.
AL-MUHSI, the doorbell read at my subsequent target.
I ought to diversify, I thought as I awaited response,
Perhaps add a Koran or two to the Bibles in my kit.
The cinnamon-skinned child who answered my ring
Preempted my pitch by stating her parents were not home.
Then that doe-eyed little fox tried to sign me up for
Boxes of the Girl Scout cookies she was hawking.
Dizzy from the turnabout, I fled the doorstep,
Decided to try one last house in this neighborhood.
When the hulking graybeard filled the threshold next door
I doused myself with charm and launched into my act.
“You, my friend,” I said, “look like a man
Who could really use a set of steak knives.”
With a toothy smile Charlie waved me inside
And proved me terribly prophetic.
A corkboard collage of rejection slips had nearly snuffed my aspirations,
But determined to take one last stab at breakthrough,
I joined a weekly workshop for local scribblers.
That’s where I met the not-quite-fellow fledgling named Charlie.
The group veterans offered merciless response to their putative peer,
Extending their ten-cent comments like cattle brands–
[Puerile] and [Misogynistic] and other declassing labels.
Charlie sat unflinching through the whole singeing,
Mute bobblehead nods his sole rebuttal.
Pity and stupidity meantime prompted my own constructive feedback;
I actually encouraged him to stay true to his dark visions.
Yet (or perhaps, precisely because)
I was the only one he tracked down afterwards,
The amateur scribe singularly conscribed to his basement slush pile.
His eternalizing hands erased all my would-be bylines,
Rendered me anonymous as a ghost writer.
But all that blunt trauma has only sharpened my wits,
And even the crumpled manuscript page stuffing my corpse-throat
Cannot stifle my newfound, hard-earned voice.
Another frustrated writer turned critic, I proclaim here and hereafter:
No fan am I of Charles Lee Eaton’s work.