26 October 2007

'Poem Noir' by Bill Knott

[Denis Johnson writes in the author's note to his 1996 Already Dead (called somewhere the best Robert Stone novel not written by Robert Stone) "This creation is not my own. I owe the deepest thanks to the genius of Bill Knott [b.1940], whose 'Poeme Noire' [sic] provides the plot of this tale, and to his wonderful kindness in letting me elaborate on it as I've done." The poem is indeed full of spoilers for the novel.]

POEM NOIR [source]

(Braille Balls)
Angry at my wife I drove out to our
Cottage by the lake. Around 1 AM a March shower
Began to fall and when I went out on the porch
To see it I saw a young man lurch
Into the lake with all his clothes on. There
Was nobody else around, the other cottages were
Dark, as was mine. He kept walking straight out
And soon the water was over his head. I shout-
Ed but he obviously didn't hear. He was trying
To drown himself! So I swam out and grabbed him. Sighing,
I resuscitated him. He lay on our bed
Smiling. Thanks a lot but no thanks, he said.
Then he convinced me that no matter what I did
He was going to commit suicide.
I had an idea: Does it make any difference how
You do it? I asked him. No, he replied,
What do you mean. Well, what about the electric

(I Want My Friends In Woody Lots, With French Toast Up Their Nostrils)
Chair? Would you care if it was that? No,
He said. Well I'll send ten thousand dollars
To anyone you cite, if you'll kill my wife and
Go to the electric chair for it. Yes,
He said, I'll pretend to be a burglar, kill her, then get
Caught. Send the ten grand to N, who rejected me. She'll
Feel sorrier then when I'm dead. He grinned. I
Said, Great. The next night I slipped
My wife 2 sleeping-pills then drove to my brother's
To try to establish an alibi but he got drunk,
Passed out so that was no go—damn.
When I got home I went right to my wife's room where
I found her snoring. What the hell, I said. Then
The phone rang. It was my brother,
He said someone had murdered our father. Father!
I said. A hectic day followed. Police, the tax
Lawyers, not to mention, my worthless alibi.
Finally that night I sat up late waiting for the guy

(Eel-tripled Eyes and Freezing Initials)
Who was supposed to murder my wife. The phone rang. My
Brother had been killed! I was chief suspect
Since I inherited the family millions. Wake up, wake up,
I shook my wife, but the 3 sleeping-pills etcetera.
The police followed me all the next day
But I slipped them. They didn't know I was hitting all the joints
To try and find that young drown man. We
Had a few things to discuss: That night
Down by the deserted docks we fought.
I was slugged into the river and I drowned.
No-one ever saw him. When they found
My body the coroner ruled suicide over remorse at my terrible crimes.
He hbaad [sic?] done the murders but I got the blame.
My wife got all the money, and married him.

When I made the [imaginary] film of this poem I changed the ending: following Hitchcock's example in Vertigo, I added a flashback 2/3rds of the way through—- in which the young drown man (Tab Hunter) reveals her husband's scheme to the wife (Dorothy Malone): they then plan the other murders; the conspiracy inspires them to sex of course. Later after the husband (Rex Reason) is convicted, rich soon-to-be-widow Dot jets off to Acapulco, up into a penthouse suite where Tab, who had earlier mysteriously vanished, welcomes her with open sheets and champagne to celebrate their successful plot... Next morning they breakfast on the sunny balcony overlooking a swimmingpool; she goes in to take a shower, she leaves him gazing down at 20 storeys: she comes back naked with a turban towel on but he's nowhere there: she hears distant screams which draw her to the balcony railing where she leans over zoomshot to see his dark-robed body sprawled dead on the bottom of the pool below. Then she hears knocks and voices at the door: "It's the police, Mrs Reason... We have some questions for you." The End.