But such are courts and such, of course, are bribes,
And such is evidence that police provide,
That one might wonder if his line ran true,
If that judge that condemned the man to hang
Perhaps erred, perhaps leaned a bit left
To compensate for forces brought to bear.
This surveyor, sir, may or may not
Have done the crime for which he paid the price.
He wouldn't be first to take consequence
That belongs in truth to powers-that-be.
At any rate, sir, my contract states
That any time an execution occurs
I shall show up and cut down the accused
And transport his corpse back into town.
For this I'm paid a small but frequent sum.
My place, it's understood, is not to judge.
Why not, I said, leave the corpse to hang
To show the fruit of rectitude ignored?
It's not tidy. A corpse attracts birds.
Great crowds of crows, sir, will congregrate
To stare on death before it's covered up.
They always leave behind a dreadful mess.
So, you cut the dead man down yourself?
I make these gallows runs after hours.
The hangman, even the cleaning staff,
Have all gone home to get a night's rest,
And no one's there to do work but me.
So how come you to know the corpse's crime?
There's a toetag I take off and sign
And leave behind to show receipt of freight.
It specifies in full the name and crime.
The name, though, has now slipped out of mind.
It ordinarily won't take too long
To do the paperwork and make the trip.
This run, though, is running rather late.
What's happened? Wasn't the corpse dead yet,
Still jerking around, proving troublesome,
Not content with how justice turned out?
It's funny, stranger, you should mention that.
Imagine how I felt, as I drove along,
To hear sounds of movement come from behind,
To feel a knife tip prick my ear lobe,
To hear a whisper slide along the blade,
The kind of harsh sound dead lungs might make
If rasped up through a noose-strangled throat.
That voice, indeed, caught my attention.
What, driver, it said, are the names and weights
Of all the kinds of hadrons and leptons,
The quarks and gravitons and superstrings,
That Godhead has currently put to use
To make the world's matter remain entwined?
Why, excellent corpse, I croaked, do you ask?
I thought, perhaps, we'd entertain ourselves
During this long night we'll spend together.
A game, I thought, would help those hours pass.
But it's only a short drive back to town.
Just relax. Listen to the radio.
And then, before you know it, we'll be there.
Who knows what I, what you, truly know?
The game we'll play tonight, my friend, is this:
I'll ask riddles, some real brainteasers,
For which you, smartass, provide replies.
And the one I just asked is just the first.
Consider, driver, if it's one you can solve.
If that riddle's answer is known to you,
Tell me at once or else I'll slice your neck,
Slice through blood vessels and spinal chord,
Slice through your throat and take off your head.
First I'll shorten you, then do myself,
Then take the heads and transpose the two.
And after that, I'll do the driving here,
And you, driver, can lie flat on my back
And listen along for the long eons
To classic pop hits played in rotation.
But make sure, too, that your answer's correct.
A wrong reply achieves the same result.
Liber Jonae Contents