Sheriff Matt Whitlock Confesses to a Lesson in Zen after Hours

By R. T. Smith b. 1947
I like it quiet like this, Alton. I like
to think. I love the way spring light falls
easy, soft. This morning I was driving
the cruiser, savoring gold pollen everywhere
out in the south of the county. Real nice,
seeing forsythia and daffodils, ditch irises,
and a few Cherokee roses opening white.
It was a blue day, and I had a Tampa Jewel,
just counting cows, seeing an April breeze
in the catkins and new leaves, the radio off.
I know that’s hardly right, but curse
any citizen who’d grudge me an hour’s peace.
Then I started seeing this marksmanship
in the caution signs, the yellow diamonds
that warn of deer or curves ahead, a steep
grade—there’s one of those. Four circles
and a jagged hole, likely a thirty-eight
slug, smack in the center neater than Willard
cleaves meat at the joint. A dozen and more.
I got mad because I get paid to protect
what the county commission declares holy—
the park with its petting zoo, the rebel
sentry on the square, and all the highway signs—
and here’s all indications that some felon
has no respect, some felon who can shoot.
I admit my feelings were mixed, that right
indignation at the broken law, but envy
of his eye for centers. Mind you, I saw nary
a rip on the fringes or a near miss. Bull’s-eyes,
every sign I saw. A fool is what I feel, you
understand, cause I motored over to Pig Burton’s
store near The Bottle and asked him—he was
stacking feed sacks on Robert Ring’s vehicle—
who the hell was the target king of Beat Three.
Pig always has his hands in every pie; he’d
know if some individual had been hauling off all
the turkey shoot prizes. I know I should know,
too, but a sheriff’s got beaucoup chores
to do, mostly idiot paperwork. I’ve lost
touch since the last bond vote hired me four new
deputies, all dirt-dumb. Well, old Pig has
that laugh he can’t hold back, and he points
his finger pistol-like at Robert, who’s got
a shamed look on his face. “Pow,” he says
at me or Bob, looking back and forth, just
“Pow.” Seems Bob’s boy Earl, the one
that ain’t got the sense of a chicken under
that cowlick red as a rooster comb, is known
to have sneaked Bob’s Colt a week before
and shot every yellow sign he could till his pa
ran him down and whacked him good,
then locked him in the fall-down curing shed
overnight—he’s a hard man, but he loves
that boy. I remember once ... but how the hell
can any half-wit you wouldn’t trust to milk
hit the bull by the eye first time he ever gets
loose with a handgun? “It’s easy,” says Bob,
less shamed than afraid now he’ll have to pay
for fresh metal—his people have always
been tight—but he’s showing a grin I don’t like.
“Real easy. He just cuts loose from the hip,
five short feet back, sometimes maybe six,
and comes back later to paint the target circles
wheresomever his bullet hits. He aims that
paintbrush right smart.” Blessed if I don’t
feel the fool for being full dumbstruck
at a trick Earl’s not bright enough to see
as a joke. But I didn’t write it up nor charge
a soul, just ground my cigar in the dirt
and helped myself to a Dr. Pepper, made believe
it didn’t mean a thing, but all day I’ve been
riding, listening to crime reports on state radio—
robbery at the mall, attempted rape maybe, wrecks
on the bypass and a set fire in Brill’s deer woods.
It gets to be too much. I shouldn’t even take
the time to sit here watching this dark space
where folks have been dancing all evening,
hearing the quiet after all those raucous songs,
but Alton, don’t you see, the feeble boy’s right,
or half right, at least? It all comes to the same,
whether you get what you want in the end or
want what you get. The law works that way:
each law makes more crime, but it’s not my job
to say. Warm up my cup just one last time.
I’ve got to circle Ampex once more before
I turn it home. God, this dark feels right,
no matter what flowers out there shed spring
light. The dark is what hits me as holy.
I’m calling it a day. Catch you later. Night.

R. T. Smith, “Sheriff Matt Whitlock Confesses to a Lesson in Zen after Hours” from The Hollow Log Lounge. Copyright © 2003 by R. T. Smith. Used with the permission of the poet and the University of Illinois Press.

Source: The Hollow Log Lounge (2003)

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Poet R. T. Smith b. 1947

POET’S REGION U.S., Mid-Atlantic

Subjects Buddhism, Religion, Jobs & Working, Activities

Poetic Terms Dramatic Monologue

 R. T. Smith


Poet R.T. (Rod) Smith was born in Washington, DC, and grew up in Georgia and North Carolina. He earned a BA in philosophy from the University of North Carolina-Charlotte and an MA in English from Appalachian State University. His collections of poetry include From the High Dive (1983), The Cardinal Heart (1991), Hunter-Gatherer (1996), Trespasser: Poems (1996), Split the Lark: Selected Poems (1999), Messenger (2001), Brightwood . . .

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SUBJECT Buddhism, Religion, Jobs & Working, Activities

POET’S REGION U.S., Mid-Atlantic

Poetic Terms Dramatic Monologue

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