Exploitation Film: a type of film that is promoted by “exploiting” often lurid subject matter. Exploitation films made in the 1930s and 1940s were films that got around the strict censorship and scrutiny of the era despite featuring lurid subject matter by claiming to be educational in nature.
Snuff Film: a motion picture genre that depicts the actual death or murder of a person or people, without the aid of special effects, for the express purpose of distribution and entertainment or financial exploitation.

Kansas, 1936


They wander in, in droves they wander in,
All ill with dust and ash, and seeking health
As it is advertised upon the signs
In letters glowing like acres of skin
Agleam with nervous sweat, leaned forward, rapt,
Polished by heaving light that pours out from the screen,
A monochroma benediction: Hail
To the forbidden image, hail to birth,
Hail to syphilis and fallen women,
Hail to those who act their ruin out onscreen
That we might watch, and be forgiven,
Bearing witness to their sins and wages.
We come here to adore and loathe ourselves.
We come here to see all, and not to be seen.


Come here, and see there’s nothing to be seen.
The streets are straight and narrow, all the lawns
The green of Paradise at Sunday brunch,
The sky is blue. It always is, has been,
And always will be as they reckon, those
The valiant workers, teachers, mothers, fathers,
Scrubbing pink into their faces mornings
Bending over sinks, the water dusty
Even here, the posture of the idyll frail,
Its spine curved down and braced with iron, and gin
At night, when eyes at last are shut, and woes
Return: no money, and always the fear,
The fear of nothing in particular, except
Unknowns, those murky things which have no names.


At first, it had no name. No one had known
Who made the calls, who signed which form and where,
Nor what this was that billed itself so bright
As EDUCATIONAL and yet a thing
It was a Tuesday when the sign went up.
By Wednesday word had blotted out the sun,
So when, on Thursday, rain romanced the town,
And all that bright red lettering drooled down
Into a pretty crimson puddle, then a stain,
The lurid words had exercised themselves
And every ticket sold, in secrecy,
No one desiring that his neighbor know
Of appetites for public mysteries.


Their public appetites were mysteries.
How could two tiny women eat so much,
Cramming the hamburger between red lips
As if dying? The younger one dripped ketchup.
But they had papers, it was whispered,
Federal, and signed and stamped. Public health
Was their only concern, and our welfare,
They seemed to say, smiling demurely round
As workers, teachers, mothers, fathers, came,
And filed meekly into Lincoln High’s
Brand new biology classroom that smelled
Of chalk and metal and formaldehyde.
The older woman at the podium
Thanked them all for braving this bad weather.


Be brave, be brave, weather the fear within you.
The unknown looms before these outgrown children,
Bunched up in wooden desks carved with sons’ names
And daughters’ hearts. They are about to see,
They’re told, a film for Public Health and Hygiene,
And scenes of Graphic Content meant to serve
As warning, For The Benefit Of All.
Could she perhaps mean childbirth, the legs
Of drugged anonymous Subject held back
To let the camera in? Or else the hands
Of black rubber that fondle softly parts
Ravaged by syphilis? These are all lessons,
Cautionary tales, not meant to scare us.
We are not them. The women smile. Trust them.


Trust them. We are not them. We are not these,
The awkward actors pacing out their parts
And plodding through their lines, a word obscured
By noise from passing cars. They are not us,
That pretty girl who strays and loves a man
Outside the church, outside the law. Unwed,
They love. We see her breast. And soon we see
She is unloved, and wanders innocent
Into his fury, first the fists and then
She tumbles down the stairs, hides her bruises,
And because she would not heed her mother,
We bear witness as the girl is murdered.
No antiseptic titles, no gloved hands,
Just the act of death performed, unscripted.


An act, or a performance, surely scripted.
Look how clumsily she lies to us, her blood
Is molten chocolate, she will soon rise
And there will be redemption, morals,
There will be a purpose to this, greater than
Just seeing it to see it. But then, the world
Does not always oblige us with such things.
We talk, we shout, we wail inside the dark.
And then the lights come up, and they are gone,
The two women, their reel, and the projector
Gapes like a gallows, and does not speak.
The girl is dead. Long live the girl, in nitrate.
Next week, another town, the lure of sight unseen.
They will wander in, in droves they will wander in.

This entry was posted in Poems, Poetry, UDPS and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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