by Moneta Goldsmith

Last night I saw a man get tasered
on Broadway Boulevard;
I was standing at the entrance to the park,
underneath the jacaranda trees,
the ones with the graffiti on their trunks—
all those unwanted tattoos
I can never make any sense of
so they seem important somehow—
this was around sunset
so the sky was something terrible—
and the police got him three times in the ribs
they missed the second time I think,
because the man just
staggered for a moment,
out of habit almost,
like it was a performance of staggering—
in any case, after the first tasering,
the man noticed he was unharmed
and began charging at the police
like a crazed animal,
and for whatever reason
I pulled out my camera phone
which I don’t usually have with me but I did this time
(there must have been a reason for that,
the police half-joked later on)
and so I began to film each one of these taserings
with great concentration
so that it looked more and more
as though through my little camera screen
there were these little firecrackers
going off underneath the man’s shirt—
in fact, it looked almost as though
somebody had been standing above him
stirring a string of spaghetti with an invisible spoon—
(the man was in fact airborne,
at least up until the third tasering,
when the man cracked his head
on the wall behind him
with a thump
and his languid body,
slid to the ground
where the police took turns
kicking it each time it tried
to get back on its feet again—
the man’s body, that is—
so that
you could see the marinara sauce,
I mean the blood spilling out
from the ends of his tendrilled hair)—
you know the way a noodle of pasta is
sometimes flung at the wall
to see if it’s ready?
well, I don’t know how to describe it
any better than this—
people believe that because
you are a writer of some kind, which in truth I am not
even though I am writing this story, that you should be
endowed with a unique vocabulary
to describe all sorts of things, tragedies especially,
(people falling down and hitting their head
on a wall, for instance),
but it just isn’t true a lot of the time,
I am no writer, and sometimes a man’s head,
as crude and commonplace as that may sound,
will hit the back of a wall with a thump,
which is just what happened
to this man today
who was tasered by the police;
in any case, in the middle of all this,
people began to come up to me
to ask what happened;
although not long
after I opened my mouth to respond
many of them came to their own
conclusions about things—
far more elaborate conclusions
than any of the conclusions I might have
told them, I’ll be the first to admit—
‘that right there once was a halfway house for ex-cons,’
someone said,
‘that’s right, I remember that now,’ said someone else—
‘place should’ve been closed down years ago’—
then a third passerby,
a gangly man on a bicycle who wore
an odd and severe expression on his face,
and who seemed even less interested
in what was happening than the others—
in what was really happening, I mean—
proposed the idea
of an elaborate hoax,
an incredibly convincing
film set,
so convincing perhaps
there must have been a hidden camera (he said)
someplace in the brush there
(besides my hidden camera, of course)
all this was no more than
‘the major studios’ collective raid on the inarticulate,
turning the rest of us’—a number of us were
huddled around my little video screen now—
‘into mindless puppets drinking down Hollywood’s
sweet nectar and its proverbial ambrosia’
(he actually said that)
‘or was it, Kool-Aid? he said, ‘I could never get that straight’
‘why would there be a halfway house across from a park,’
someone rejoined from the crowd,
‘unless the city installed the park later on—’
an idea which made sense to us
at the time, but this may have been
because of how distracted
and flustered we were—
and so
in any case, all of this—
the taserings,
the botched manhunt,
the growling dogs and
the armed standoff with the crazed man—
must have gone on
for something like thirty to forty minutes—
I don’t know how long exactly,
I’m not very good at keeping track of time
and besides this, I kept on looking over
at the African man in the park—
a refugee who once told me he comes from Kenya,
and who talks to himself each day in broken French
through the little metal bars of the park,
which always reminds me a little of that lab animal some years ago
that scientists say completed the first ever successful
piece of art or drawing
ever to be produced by an animal
and everyone was all excited about this at first,
until later on when they had to hide their excitement
because the drawing merely turned out
to depict the bars of the cage that
the animal was kept in—
something that surely embarrassed the scientists
a little, I imagine;
anyway, that’s what this man reminded me of
in that moment;
I remember thinking also how space and time
must have been different for this Kenyan man
who was forever mumbling things
to himself in French;
how the space and the air around him appeared soft and maritime,
I guess I envied the man—
nobody paid any attention to him,
he didn’t pay attention
to who was paying attention to him,
and I have to admit
that as long as I stand around
on street corners
longer than I probably should,
lost in time or in thought, and allowing
for the space around me to become soft and maritime,
for all of that
I still feel remarkably conscious
of these moments when I’m becoming lost
so that I’m not ever really lost,
not entirely; what’s more,
whenever I try to give myself over to the moment
it is as though there is this mounting sense of panic
or else a strange inner calm
that can only precede some grave and unforeseen disaster;
which makes some sense when I think back because
at some point during all this
somebody seemed to have tackled me to the ground
to get me out of the way, I guess—
because I felt my camera phone fly up
into the air, and it wasn’t as if I was
watching the man in the park
just then
because I remember
very clearly seeing
the gun pointed at me by the police,
which surely was meant to be pointed
at the other man
from earlier;
I must have been
caught in the background
because later on I did remember the police yelling
‘crossfire!’ and ‘hey kid with the camera, get the fuck out of the way!’
and I honestly didn’t realize they were talking to me at the time,
although I do remember
looking at them (looking at me) through my little camera screen—
you can just picture me holding up my silly screen[2]
like a man who has brought a knife to a gun fight;
I can’t say for sure if I imagined dying
in that moment but I do know I saw myself
from the perspective of the gun—
I saw myself seeing myself
in a way that I’ve often wanted to in my life
but have seldom pulled off, before or since;
and when I eventually got up from the ground and opened my eyes
there was a policeman organizing—quarantining, you might say—
the rest of our group into a circle around me
and someone, the severe man on the bicycle I think, said
‘he’ll have a fractured neck for the rest of his life’
and it was difficult to tell whether he was referring to me or to the
tasered man on the ground across the street,
who seemed to be in custody now—
‘don’t forget about the third degree burns’;
then someone else said:
‘poor kid must’ve taken quite a fall, bet it was concussive’;
‘there are all kinds of side effects from the jolt in the tasering mechanism,’ said another—
‘yeah, like scrofula, for instance’;
‘and scar tissue,’ said another, ‘don’t forget about scar tissue’;
‘the kid barely fell, come off it already,’ someone was saying;
‘what’s scrofula’?
‘it’s an archaic medical condition,’ said the man from before;
‘no one knows for sure.’
‘it involves glandular swelling that lasts for the rest of your life.’
‘it’s a glorified leprosy of the skin,’
‘except it can be lethal,’ someone else added.
‘come off it, it’s not a cosmetic condition at all
‘it’s a question of chemistry, tasering has always been chiefly a neurological problem’;
the group of them went on quibbling like this for a while
until eventually the police put the man on the stretcher to leave,
most of the others left also
and as the ambulance drove off
I experienced
a sudden unexpected feeling of emptiness—
I have often felt this way before,
it is as if I had broken something a long time ago
without knowing it,
without anyone ever giving me the bill;
the climax of abandonment, so to speak—
the feeling isn’t easy for me to describe,
except to say that
I wanted for someone to tell the ambulance they had
left something behind;
I wanted them to come back and pick me up;
but in any case, once everyone had left
I walked back into the park instead,
and I approached the bench
where the Kenyan man was seated;[3]
and once again, it seemed to me
like the Kenyan man had been floating
in a condition of weightlessness,
so totally unaffected was he by the prevailing panic
and general commotion that had occurred
no more than a few feet
from the gates to the park;
I noted the low box hedges at the man’s feet
where I imagined he slept,
I saw that his clothes were covered
in a layer of dust, and noticed they smelled of soot—
and then—
I still don’t know why I did this—
it wasn’t as if this man looked particularly
hungry or destitute—
although I noticed
he wore his pants a few sizes too long
so that the front hem probably
touched the ground when he walked,
and that his jacket was perhaps
a couple of sizes too big for his body—
but in any case, I rummaged through the two or three items
I had in my canvas bag
until I found the chocolate bar
that I had saved for later,
the one the girls had given me
and I handed it over just then
to the Kenyan man
who flinched at first, just as I had done,
he regarded me warily
but eventually he sat up straight and proper
as if to receive a guest,
so that I felt suddenly as if
I were part of some dark
web of intrigue
and at the same time I experienced
this unusual sense of wholeness;
I guess I started to feel a little like the police
officer must have felt
pointing his gun
at the man from earlier on,
or his tasering device
(whatever the mechanism was);
and so
finally stashing the chocolate bar away beneath
a heap of clothes, the Kenyan man
thanked me, only
he thanked me in his broken French
and his voice had grown thin and cracked
perhaps from too much silence—[4]
and so then, even though
it seemed for a moment that
if someone had been standing off to the side
watching all of this they might have got
the impression that this man from Kenya and I
had a lot more to say to one another,
as if this thick warm charge
had passed between the two of us,[5]
and even though by this point in the evening,
I felt a little dizzy and wanted
desperately to sit down,
I turned to leave the park once
more, hoping at least to get out
from the cold.


[1] A point of contention in classical studies, ‘the gates of sleep’ mark the site where Odysseus and, later on, Aeneas are granted their respective tours of the underworld. The description in the last lines of Virgil’s Book VI are of particular interest, as the narrator suggests that those who pass through them to return from the underworld are perhaps not as alive as those archetypal spirits and ‘shadows’ who remain below.
[2] The word screen comes from the old French escren:
A screen is often something you may hide behind.
A screen can also be a wired netting to keep out bugs.
In basketball you don’t see a screen coming, if it is a good screen.
Sometimes a screen is a large sieve or riddle, especially for sorting grain, coal, and so on into sizes (as in the case of a ‘sight-screen’, or a ‘wind-screen’).
To be screened is to be tested, as for a disease (like HIV, Hepatitis or, in this case, adulthood).
Many people, the Japanese especially, prefer to get dressed behind a screen.
To screen also means to shield or protect—to afford shelter, or to hide.
[3] This park bench was as if abandoned by war, and way up in an infinite altitude, the sun sent light to keep it company. Whoever sat on this bench sat firm.
[4] Dante’s description of Virgil, his personal muse and spiritual guide through the underworld in The Divine Comedy. This phrase also represents the voice of Reason that has been silent in Dante’s life for too long.
[5] Fortune is glitter, it shatters when it shines.

Moneta Goldsmith is a writer, teacher, and the author of two ‘poetry’ chapbooks, including the forthcoming They Haven’t Invented a Pill for This Feeling Yet. His writings can be found in such magazines as Sparkle & Blink and Gorilla Troop, among others.