Gun on the Table

By Eric Nelson

My favorite scene in Body Heat has nothing
To do with the intricate plot
That William Hurt and Kathleen Turner
Devise to kill her rich, oppressive husband.
My favorite scene, maybe ten seconds long,
Shows Hurt getting into his car as an antique
Convertible drives by, a fully costumed clown
At the wheel, waving. Hurt stares, slightly
Bewildered, while the clown passes and disappears.
That’s it. Cut to Hurt and Turner in another
Sweaty sex scene and post-coital planning,

The foregone noir conclusion closing in. Meanwhile,
Since we know there are no meaningless details
In art, we keep expecting the clown to reappear
Or at least figure indirectly yet clearly in the action.
Like Chekhov said—if there’s a gun on the table
In act one, it had better be fired by act three.
But no, the clown is random, there and gone, an odd,
Unrelated moment like any of the ones that pass us
Every day and we barely notice
Because life isn’t art, isn’t revised for coherence,
Not until our lives collapse around us
Like a circus tent in flames
And we begin to look for the alarm we missed.


Eric Nelson has published five poetry collections, including The Twins, (2009), winner of the Split Oak Press Chapbook Award; Terrestrials (2004, Texas Review Press), winner of the X.J. Kennedy Poetry Award; and The Interpretation of Waking Life (1991, U. of Arkansas Press), winner of the Arkansas Poetry Award. His poems have appeared in Poetry, The Cincinnati Review, Southern Poetry Review, The Oxford American, The Sun, and many other journals and anthologies. He teaches in the Writing and Linguistics Department at Georgia Southern University.

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