“I’ve Seen All Good People” by Steve Kistulentz

Reading by the author

after Erika Meitner

Just yesterday I read of a home invasion gone awry:
the proverbial lone gunman accosting party guests
as they enjoyed $100 bottles of wine, 
the literal fruits of their labors. How well conditioned
we are to picture the worst in cartoonish violence,
television’s routine cadence of gunfire, operatic screams.
Not here. Instead this robber left with the glorious
bounty of nothing. The hostess offered him a hug
and a glass of Yquem, served in a crystal goblet
the police later found behind a reeking dumpster,
unbroken. Suppose this criminal broke into your party,
and took nothing, not even the offered wine,
saying what the robber I’d read about actually said,
You are all good people, a bigger indictment
than anything else he could say. He’d say this, too,
You are all good people, as the arresting officers
from the first district put their hands over his head—
a benediction, a blessing, the laying on of hands—
before shuffling him into a police cruiser and off
to jail. We are all good people, the partygoers thought,
because who doesn’t crave an affirmation,
and we’d nod, and think, We are all good people,
meaning only the people who are just like us.
We are all good people who desire only to connect,
and the explanation is how we convince ourselves
of our innocence. Or our guilt. The tide that washes
over us can stain like iodine, and, no iron can stab
the heart like a poem written for a near-stranger.
We are all good people, even the old masters
who got it utterly wrong: the easiest way
to remove a band-aid is to pick at it constantly,
or to leave it until the adhesive gums up
the fine hairs that line a battered heart. The rain
has the smallest hands imaginable; Mister Death
has blue eyes in only one film; the light of certain lakesides
in the south of France is exactly like the glow of the shrimp dock
in Louisiana on a March evening when dinner is cheese
and a Dixie longneck. Staring off into the valley is best
done alone; the surgeon who removes a diseased organ
is sorely tempted, after the biopsy, to put it back.

Steve Kistulentz is the author of the poetry collection The Mating Calls of the Dead (Black Lawrence Press), the novel Panorama (Little, Brown), and two previous collections of poetry, Little Black Daydream and The Luckless Age. His recent work in poetry, fiction and nonfiction has appeared in such literary magazines as Another Chicago Magazine, The Common, Gettysburg Review, Tin House, and elsewhere. He directs the graduate program in creative writing at Saint Leo University in Florida, and lives in the Tampa area with his family.

Image: “Tools of the trade” by George Weinisch

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