Crime Shows

I watch crime shows from Norway and Sweden.

Wallander and Salamander and others with names I can’t pronounce.

I watch crime shows from England with American actors.

There are guys who hang out in dark corners and women police detectives

who talk about one night stands

and hang out in closets.

Then, there are killers who seem like nice guys

with sons and daughters that go to fancy schools

and live in apartments by the sea.

It’s easy to love them all

and hate them all.

The thing about being a teacher

is that you don’t hate your students

when Light In August is open to the first page

and you get to talk about Hip-Hop

in Faulkner’s diction.

Then, when you get to have them write Hip-Hop

that isn’t Faulkner’s diction,

it’s impossible to do anything but love them.

If Faulkner was a character actor in Wallander he would have been an old man

who lived in the tall grass.

The point is there is mystery in the woman’s heart

who strides the stroller down the street.

When she gets to the playground,

puts her baby in the babyswing, and looks up at the sky

wondering how her life got to be so crowded

with selflessness

that all she wants to do is cry.

I know this.  All I want to do is cry.

I am that woman in the playground sandbox

with my children getting sand in our eyes.

We love it together and then they get to go to summer camp and play with glue

and watch television.

I watch crime shows in mystery hours about mysterious shadows

to stave off the mystery in my heart

that collides with the mystery in the world.

There are no ghosts in my house but they talk to me anyway.



Click here to read Matthew Lippman on the origin of the poem.

Photo:  “Ghostly Childhood” by Alyssa Miller; licensed under CC BY 2.0

“Crime Shows” began because I had been watching the BBC production of The Fall starring Gillian Anderson. I had started watching it two months earlier, on Netflix, but found myself repelled by the serial killer, a family man, and his horrific character. I have two daughters and I could not reconcile the idea of how a man could be so loving at home and so barbaric away. But the show is beautifully done and Ms. Anderson is a fantastic actor, so I went back to it.
I went back to it because I love crime shows. In some weird way they are the perfect antidote at the end of the day to an incredibly hectic and stressful life.

But I am particular in my viewing. The productions have to be moody and dark, beautifully filmed, and well acted. These types of shows, mostly BBC shows like Luther, Top Of The Lake, and Wallander, appeal to my own darkness and aesthetic sensibility. Writing “Crime Shows” was a way of making some kind of sense of my attraction to those darknesses that live in my own heart.
In many ways I am particularly interested in going head first into topics—both intimate and not—that are sketchy, edgy, and unsafe. Mostly, because it’s fun and surprising. I always seem to find stuff in the language that is more interesting than, let’s say, if I were writing about a patch of daffodils in early spring.

I hesitated, at first, jumping into this piece but I am glad I did. Doing so, as the poem alludes, allows those great mysteries of the human heart—small and big—to whip themselves up into a frenzy and present themselves in ways that feel fresh and authentic on the page.

Matthew Lippman
Latest posts by Matthew Lippman (see all)