portion of artwork for Dennis Mahagin's poems

Lennie Briscoe Is Clocking You
Dennis Mahagin

“People have asked me, you know, Who would you rather be, than yourself? … I tell them, Jerry Orbach, without a question …”
—Kurt Vonnegut

Six years sober,
and I’m thinking of the leavened
bread baskets, borne by certain fifty-ish men,
an extra-thick constriction in a Michelin waistline,
tart scent of sourdough and brine emanating
from the folds of an ample chin.

Yet one exception is Detective Lennie Briscoe
from the original Law & Order television show,
pre-syndication, sans spin-off. Oh my Briscoe
was so cool and slim-shady, into his mid
sixties, clean and tanned proper
in a powder-blue zoot suit,

He’d crack wise with his hirsute partner, and deconstruct
alibis for a cautious bald lieutenant in the bowels of a Bronx
station house; Lennie put the screws
to lippy perpetrators he called “Skels,” using a suave tact
that alternated between fraternal, fatherly, and demonic;
I remember Briscoe in fact saying once to a twitchy Giovanni
Ribisi (accused of serial child murder) something about
penitence, Lash LaRue, and “if I were you, kid,
I’d be looking for a way to help myself out …”

In the first season,
script doctors through subtext implied
Briscoe had nearly died of booze; for my part, curled
up tight on the davenport suffering multiple chemical
each ragged breath in my ear took on
the timbre of squealing
rubber; every fix was a getaway,
in my madness, my ennui,
I imagined Briscoe reading
Yeats by flashlight
on a fire escape, or holding a spoon
of steaming béarnaise sauce to the lips
of a girlfriend, half his age, his palm a cup
to catch the drippings:

“Whatta we gotta do,” my mind heard
Lennie say, “to fatten you up? Watch it,
now sweetheart, ‘cause this stuff is hot …”

When they finally wrote Briscoe off
the show, I ceased watching, busy instead
packing baggage, skirting my own cancellation
by tricks of the Gods, as through
a complicated witness relocation.
Now, I’m of the ranks of the semi-portly
men who must watch their every intake
like reruns enticing, who must abstain at Irish
wakes, saying “Oh, no thanks … Seen that one
… Been there. And done.”

Now when my liver swells
behind some Doctor Pepper or
7 Up, when my enlarged heart trips beats
like a semi-young but overripe plum splitting
the veritable juice seam, I still dream
of Briscoe, battering his boxer’s speed bag
in the big city loft, pure sinew popping leather,
Briscoe’s sweat skeins flying to meet the sunbeam
shaft pouring motes off cathedral rafters,
I see him interrupt

his workout, for a precious few
seconds, slightly winded and idly scratching his chiseled
washboard gut: “What?” says Briscoe. “What now, kid?
WHAT?” … Oh, my best mind, still extra

skinny with Lennie; but time fills me
up; I am trying to rise. I try.

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FRiGG: A Magazine of Fiction and Poetry | Issue 27 | Law & Order Issue | Winter 2010