about cruelty, how it peers over the top of a trench,
waits for you across the cratered expanse
of no-man’s land, takes aim and fires,
not to kill, but to disfigure, maim.
You’re never the same. You find ways
to hide the scars. It’s a losing proposition.
I grieve for their sorry, sorry asses.
for the sickness that swallowed them,
for the wounds that left them lame
all the days of their sorry, sorry lives.
Copyright 2022 Edward Harkness
The Law of the Unforeseen, Edward Harkness’ third full-length collection of poems (released September 2018) is available at Pleasure Boat Studio. He lives with his wife, Linda, in Shoreline, Washington.
I’m back home in Shoreline, WA, and I’ve attached one of many mugshots of my uncle […] Harkness (b. Iowa, 1897), this one dating from 1931. He and his younger brother, […], became morphine addicts during the Spanish Flu Epidemic. For the rest of their lives, they committed petty crimes to support their habits, as my poem details. Of course I’ve fictionalized certain details in the poem (including the name “Sweetie,” but some details are, alas, true. After countless arrests, the pair were sentenced to life imprisonment for being habitual criminals (early charges included being “jointists,” or operators of a “joint” or speak-easy during Prohibition). Their mother, my great-grandmother, Bertha Harkness, did in fact write a letter to the Washington governor pleading for leniency, And in fact the governor granted both brothers a pardon after they’d spent years behind bars.
I seriously wavered about sending you this picture. These two brothers brought huge shame to my father’s father, Ryle Harkness, the only one of the three brothers to go straight. Dad remembers when he was in junior high and seeing a headline in the Bremerton Sun newspaper that read something like “HARKNESS BROTHERS ARRESTED AGAIN.” And I still have living relatives who might not be so happy knowing I’ve given you permission to post this photo. I do it on the grounds that this picture and others are public documents and can be viewed by anyone who searches their names on the Washington State Archives – Digital Archives.