Writing the Mystery

Eventually, you’ll want
to start writing it down,
thinking the story will
spoil otherwise. And then
going downstairs some night,
you’ll think you found a body
underneath some lumber or,
in a grim-comic vein,
thirty years of pulp magazines.
Just a ventriloquist’s dummy,
leering like you expected it to.
Go deeper.

You’ll start to think
in the first person,
having another cup in
that diner at 3 p.m.,
a white-clad angelic busboy
sweeping under your feet.
You’re stalling—keep moving.

Talk to clerks, waitresses,
railroad conductors, cops.
All tell you different stories
of work no longer fashionable
that has to get done,
that never ends. An undertaker
tells the worst he ever saw,
but you can’t describe it.
Keep listening.

Think out weapons, motives.
Work out how the little
librarian can stuff a body
in the book return,
or if your kindly priest
could bury it between
the early and the later mass.
Things like this can
shatter your story
but can’t make it.
Keep looking.

Without the body, nothing sticks.
Everyone can account
for their actions, nothing
happens at all. Don’t give up.
You’ll see how bodies behave
when they finally want to be
found—floating serenely
to the surface or sprawled
cruelly, as if a failed human
cannonball—that morbid detail
that keeps the page turning.

Originally published in Rattle, Summer 2002

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