This time the hold-up man didn't know a video-sound camera hidden up in a corner
was recording what was before it or more likely he didn't care, opening up with his pistol,
not saying a word, on the clerk you see blurredly falling and you hear--I keep hearing--
crying, "God, God," in that voice I was always afraid existed within us, the voice that knows
beyond illusion the irrevocability of death, beyond any dream of being not mortally injured--
"You're just falling asleep, someone will save you, you'll wake again, loved ones beside you. ..."
Nothing of that: even torn by the flaws in the tape it was a voice that knew it was dying,
knew it was being--horrible--slaughtered, all that it knew and aspired to instantly voided;
such hopeless, astonished pleading, such overwhelmed, untempered pity for the self dying;
no indignation, no passion for justice, only woe, woe, woe, as he felt himself falling,
even falling knowing already he was dead, and how much I pray to myself I want not, ever,
to know this, how much I want to ask again why I must, with such perfect, detailed precision,
know this, this anguish, this agony for a departing self wishing only to stay, to endure,
knowing all the while that, having known, I always will know this torn, singular voice
of a soul calling "God!" as it sinks back through the darkness it came from, cancelled, annulled.
C.K. Williams's Flesh and Blood won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry in 1987. His latest book, Selected Poems, was published in 1994.