Matt Schumacher

The Angel of Death is Eating French Fries

Psychopomps carbed up on homestyle spuds.
Azrael’s blazing cold stare at a plate of waffle fries.
Don’t Fear the Reaper on the jukebox. The shaky waitress,
averse to unearthly customers. Ketchup flying like a victim bleeding badly.
What do you like to eat in there? queries Karl Childers in the film Slingblade.
One critic called Karl Frankenstein’s monster crossed with Boo Radley.
After Billy Bob boldly grills Jarmusch in his cameo, he waits
as if the Frostee Cream foodshack’s its own private universe,
the outpost of true connoiseurs. Jarmusch as Gene in his soda jerk hat
affirms Karl’s “french fried potaters,” are first rate.
The fries are chosen, prepared, and served in “to go” boat
like Charon’s “to go” boat, crossing the Styx in the Greek Underworld.
Choice is crucial to the film’s meditation on fate.
Karl later whacks Doyle dead to make Frank happy.
Sure, it’s murder. But is killing this selflessly, innocently wrought
altruistic, sweet, swift justice? The thought
of how the world would improve with all its Doyles removed!
Fewer fools who irrevocably fuck up everyone in their way?
Karl couldn’t stand Frank suffering like he had in childhood–
abused, left locked in a shed, to sleep somehow in a dirt hole.
Frank, the closest thing to Karl’s lost, stillborn little brother,
the son Karl will never have, is also his only friend.
Their friendship, and his self-sacrifice, is the film’s essence.
Toward the end, before the blade’s slung,
Karl directly informs Doyle he’s going to kill him.
And Doyle calmly tells Karl how to call 911.
In the mirror on the wall behind Karl, you can see that scythe fall.
Something, probably Doyle’s head, jumps up, tall after impact.
This sharp, sudden denoument is merely a relief.
But that mirror to me appears large and archetypal.
Maybe it reveals your life lived, flashing right before you die.
Or it’s a symbolic reflection on all our choices, all those what might bes.
If you pause the film and stare into that mirror long enough,
somewhere in there Karl never killed Doyle,
and he’s a free man, eating at the Frostee Cream.
Somewhere in there Karl and his little stillborn brother
got to grow up with each other. They had a father who cared
and raised them properly. A real dad.
If you stare in there long enough, in fact, you might see
the threads we sliced so decisively by our choices,
the threads sliced prematurely by others.
The lives we all might have had.

Managing Editor of the journal Phantom Drift, Matt Schumacher lives in Portland, Oregon, very near a Paul Bunyan statue. His sixth poetry collection, A Missing Suspiria de Profundis, was published last summer by Greying Ghost Press.