Scott Withiam

Bending Truth to Advantage
November 18, 2020 Withiam Scott

Bending Truth to Advantage
From Robert Lowell’s poem “Those Before Us,” these final lines: “Pardon them for existing. /
We have stopped watching them. They have stopped watching,”
not true. This morning,
I sat on the park bench with that bronze statue of a man reading a newspaper, something our
ancestors used to do. When I pulled out my IPhone and began to scroll, the statue uncrossed
a leg, draped the open paper over it, and said, “That’s the news!” I immediately believed
everything to be a ruse. I scanned The Common for hidden cameras waiting to capture me
talking to a statue, so to air the act on social media or prime time TV. I tried to ignore it, focused
across the lawn, on a purple lilac branch blooming, reaching out from an old wall of arborvitae.
“The overgrown hedge swallows the rest of the bush,” the statue said, “keeps nine-tenths of the
bush flowerless. That’s the news!” then jumped up, clomped toward the hedge. I stood,
pocketed my IPhone, almost bit, but imagined those cameras following me chasing a statue
running across the lawn. I let it go, sat down again. The statue dived under the lilac, crashed
through the bushes till it fell quiet. I heard “That’s the news!” again, but faintly, and so
concluded: That’s all it was programmed to say, and something has finally gone wrong with it
and it died. Good.
I pulled out my IPhone and started scrolling through the usual selections
of uprisings, sieges, disasters, misdeeds, errant bombs and bullets, more innocent bystanders,
whereupon the statue burst from that tangle of arborvitae, raced back to the bench, assumed
its original position— seated, leg crossed, newspaper open— but now out of breath said,
“There are baby starlings nested in those bushes, their eyes closed, necks stretched, beaks gaping.”
That’s the news, I heard myself fill in! The statue raised a fist and stood again, but this time
didn’t run, instead lowered and straightened the same arm, then unfolded a finger to point at
a snail out of its shell. It had crawled halfway across the sidewalk. “It isn’t every day,”
the statue said, “that a slug like a bullet crawls out from its shell, behind itself leaves a glistening trace,
comes straight for you screaming, ‘Save me!’ You know you hear and see it. It’s going to
get crushed, so just this once protect it as a bullet helped out of harm’s way. Is that so hard to do?
Get up. Go to it. Bend. It’s what humans do best. Out of your arms and legs make pillars,
out of your back make a dome, make living a memorial,” and froze in that pointing position,
newspaper at its side, which, has always been the case, I’m told, the joke being, nothing there, so,
no point at all.

Scott Withiam’s second book of poetry, Door Out of the Underworld, was published by MadHat Press in October 2019. His poems are forthcoming in Barrow Street, Tampa Review, and I-70 Review.