I saw

from the beginning

to the end.

 

I missed nothing.

There were no interruptions;

no impediment to my view.

The scene was amply lit.

I could hear, though faintly.

I could not make out precisely what was said.

I watched.

 

With total clarity

like hard light from behind the storm’s edge

with strange slowness like an action replay

with isolation

like laboratory specimens

with a halting lack of emotion

like nervous actors on their stage

even with beauty

 

It took three minutes, sixteen seconds.

I watched.

I did not switch on my light.

My telephone, four feet to my right, I did not use.

My hands, feet, voice were still.

In the struggle she had lost one of her shoes.

 

Twenty-five others saw from the apartment block.

They used their eyes;

not their lights, telephones, hands, feet, voices.

Like me, they watched.

It took three minutes, sixteen seconds

.

The shoe was about five yards away, by the kerb.

 

Afterwards,

when the participant had been removed

and only the children pointed

where the paint had been spattered,

we learnt who we were

in cautious glances

and kept the secret that all of us shared.

 

Here

we know that in one way we belong

as we walk together

and walk alone.

 

So this is the other one I had published in ‘Smith’s Knoll.’ Perhaps in this form, perhaps in a slightly different form. This poem went through so many different versions; it was rejected about a dozen times first, with me changing something or other each time it came back. For a long time it had a truly terrible title other than the one above, which I am most certainly not revealing. But it turned into one of my best poems, I think.

Having said that, I find it a little embarrassing  and there’s a little story behind the reason why. Years earlier, in my teens, I flukily picked up a rare paperback called ‘Deathbird Stories’ by Harlan Ellison (sensationally good cult US sci-fi/fantasy writer) in a little bookshop that used to sit (and may conceivably still sit…) just below the archway in the High Street in Totnes, Devon. Why I bought it I don’t know, since at the time I had almost certainly never heard of him, but I thought it was one of the most amazing things I’d ever read. The most powerful story to me was the first one in the book, ‘The Whimper of Whipped Dogs’, which tells pretty much the tale I re-use in 03:16. It was based, as Ellison made clear, upon the true story of Kitty Genovese, who was fatally stabbed in a New York street while numerous onlookers watched from their apartment windows, doing nothing to stop the crime which was happening before their eyes. As I read ‘Whimper…’ and for many years after I was unaware of this incident save for the mention Ellison makes in his book. When I wrote 03:16 I referred back to the book, but not at all to the original incident; likewise when I was explaining it to editors, crediting Ellison with the inspiration, but not citing his own source. (The details in 03:16 like the time duration and the 25 watchers, may be changed from Ellison, which also may have been changed from the real incident.) I assumed the Kitty Genovese murder was a shocking but obscure news story, since forgotten by most. I was, of course, totally wrong. It was a case that gained a huge notoriety, and remains so to this day. This much I finally learned far, far later when I started taking some psychology courses – finding out that not only was the case famous, but had basically single-handedly initiated an entire field of psychological research, that of bystander intervention…

So that’s why, though I think this is an oldie-but-goodie, I find it a little embarassing, ’cause it does show up my ignorance as I wrote it. That was in pre-internet days of yore , but I kinda feel that’s no excuse in this case…

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