Learning the City by Murders
by Nancy Breen
I once knew the lay of the city by murders.
My childhood was full of them,
heavy aghast quotients, causing talk
among bus drivers, bishops, and carry-out clerks.
What newsprint maps and broadcasts
didn’t teach me, I filled in by quizzing adults.
Have I ever been there?
How close is that to the park?
Do we pass there
on the way to Aunt Gin’s?
I could give directions to Fairfax
by explaining how to find the center grocery,
the last place the butchered four-year-old
had been seen alive. I didn’t know Kemperton
by the population figure on the welcome sign,
but by the number of family fatalities
the day the outcast uncle went berserk.
I still do it sometimes, reading
freeway exit signs without need,
blind to the familiar place names,
but chanting old lady
strangled in elevator
young girl run over
by nut in park
woman and children shot
be good husband, loving father,
pillar of the community.