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From the archives

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In equal balance justly weighed

Slouching toward Democracy

Where have all the wise men gone?

By Populist Demand

When urban and rural voters went separate ways


First thing in a new day, an inmate’s cheek

gauzed over a stitched hole. “I was too long

on the phone, so he smashed my head on the wall

and I bit his lip in self-defence. Then he bit

me — you can see it under the bandage.”

And a piece of cleverness: a new kind of shank

discovered when they turned out a cell,

fibreglass given a flaying or flensing edge

in the workshop, then hidden in a shoe,

to be carried past the metal detectors

in all innocence. The officers wear with

misgivings a stabbing vest, knowing what

their charges know, a slash to the throat

or the femoral artery will kill as surely

as a straight thrust. They learn some rolling

aikido motions to throw off an attacker

but know then to run fast and far from a fight

that ends in swarming and a zippered bag.

The phone: “Get over here, an inmate’s down.”

Late sixties, this prisoner has fallen on the range.

His heart has been stopped five minutes

and his body is grey. They work his chest

to drive the death out of it, but it stays.

The paddles come and shock after shock

merely confirms what you can see in his skin.

“Yeah, he’s dead.” At once, there is a cough and a pulse.

Strange recidivist, the fellow is back.

A few hours in hospital and he is filthy

with rage. “I signed a fucking DNR.”

And sure enough, the file reveals

a long-expired wish to die. The lawyers

are called, and this case is going back to court.

Richard Greene has published three books of poetry of which the most recent, Boxing the Compass (Signal Editions, 2009), won the Governor General’s Literary Award in 2010. A new collection of his work, Dante’s House, including a long poem in terza rima, will be published in the coming year by Signal Editions.