This week in the PEN Poetry Series, PEN America features a poem by Joshua Bennett. 

Elegy for the Police State

What I imagined first were pruning hooks.
Something biblical, agrarian, a new use 

for metal once good for little 
more than tearing the air 

from a human body. Then, a gesture 
towards the speculative: improbable, 

overdue machines, teleportation 
pads & 12-speed hover-bikes, 

lightsabers that can’t kill, but make you feel warm 
& amorphous upon contact, like good 

ramen, or when you find someone 
else’s money on the floor.

The exercise grew unwieldy, 
so I gave my energies over

to more practical matters.
Who to call when you get robbed

or hit with a bat. Who else to feed the dogs 
of entropy & personal choice, the price 

we pay to live decent, which 
is to say, far from the stench

of the dead & the dying interlocked, unintelligible 
with all that gold in their mouths. 

Here’s a story: once, freshly cast 
by my old man to the hotel room wall, 

throat now full of my own, unoriginal 
blood, I knew I needed my father 

dead, assumed the quickest route 
would be to call the law. 12 years old 

& already this kind of contract killer, 
I took my cue from scenes

at school, black wands buzzing
before each child, marking us 

ready for class or cuffs, no middle 
ground to be found really, what I have since

heard called a pipeline more of a smooth
continuum from hold to hold, everywhere

batons & threats of premature interment, everywhere
taupe walls like the ones in jail & someone’s grandbaby 

pummeled raw.



Once a week, the PEN Poetry Series publishes work by emerging and established writers from coast to coast. Subscribe to the PEN Poetry Series mailing list and have poems delivered to your e-mail as soon as they are published (no spam, no news, just poems).