Monday, January 26, 2015

To Lieutenant Columbo,Immortal Detective Of The Nagging Clue

[to the lingering memory of the actor, Peter Falk...]

he never finished one bowl of chili.
ate hot dogs, almost, in the park.
boiled eggs for breakfast pulled out of a raincoat pocket
too early on the scene;

canapes when he was desperate by handfuls
with a rumpled face,sleep=deprived at the galas

couldn't hit a target. start a car.
grew dizzy in the heights, just about fainted in
the OR, couldn't find the exits.

grew seasick on the piers...
couldn't stand the sound of guns.

mostly he swallowed clues and so
sustained life.
a little hunched in a raincoat too small

for him. he made his wrinkled way
in all the neighborhoods so affably confused
(his ruse of all ruses) got
told to have some cake at the back door.

that was on a good day.
they all looked down on him
but he clicked away

ticking his everything off the list
sneezing behind the drawing room curtains or

in his grey horror of a rattletrap car
wending his way where the parking valets

looked askance. but the clue is somewhere,
that's the waltz of the off the subject banter
the one that doesn't fit with the others

like the Detective himself. the one that stands out.
and just when they think it's over and they're off the hook
there he is again, snooping in the shrubbery,

no matter how hard they wished he'd just disappear
but oh dear he's come back
and still on the same tack

having slept again in the same clothes, colloquial of speech,
confidential to a fault, wide eyed,
wafting his drugstore cigars, pacing it out while learning painfully
not to drop the ash absent mindedly in the grand

foyers or in the priceless ashtrays hey but. it's somewhere on the staircase, on the rug
where the dear departed lay slain, in the spring mud
nobody tracked in. who can say?
"Boy, this is some place!" he'd gush in Bel Air
putting them at ease and then:

did it rain on Tuesday?
reenacting it all, absorbed beyond the scene.
wherever it is they don't want you to be
you keep turning up, your head in the hothouse
popping up like an orchid or

with your dog who can't stop barking
(perhaps he's giving you clues in dog language...)
your unpaid bills wadded in one pocket
crammed in with an impossibly small notebook

while we wait to see just

what will trigger the latch and the grand detective spring
at them like a mad jack in the box with

the clue that rankles. the next to the last last question, sir,
one more thing, sir, if you don't mind. the golden ring grasped in the end by the unforgettable detective-
 the actor's inimitable performance

an immortal performance guaranteed to irritate the perps
and astonish us
so that we had infinite fun watching their faces unravel
and the schoolboy, wrap the sum, the flush of victory

sustained far beyond this week's episode...
or anything else on tv everafter.

how we wish in this evening sun that he'd come back from
mystery Heaven for a day with that
"just one more thing" the grand sweep of his hands

frankly, consoling the superior minds who thought
they'd easily outwit him and
then, the play's played out so consummately
and we can't even grasp what we've seen.
he's like the ants at the picnic who carry it all away.

without anyone seeing how it's done.
or that it's even gone.

mary angela douglas 26 january 2015

Note on the poem: I had a "just one more thing, sir" experience with this poem that I could not solve. There was another mysterious quality that Peter Falk embodied in his character Lieutenant Columbo from time to time, a really almost mystical, magical quality of seeming to want to befriend the criminal because he saw in  him something else than the crime . On those occasions I sometimes felt he was (as the character)prolonging the questioning sequences somewhat beyond the point in time when he actually had all the evidence in order to delay dealing the final death blow of the arrest. Or maybe the truth is Columbo had no friends being so single -mindedly obsessed with clues that didn't fit except in the moments leading up to the arrests!

This intensified the way the actors played off of each other in an often very touching way.

The most supreme example of this (as it was reflected in the response of the actor portraying the criminal)was in the episode with the very fine actor Ricardo Montalban as a Spanish matador who presented in the final scene his cape and his sword to Columbo in such a profound way it was incredible, as if acknowledging Columbo himself as a kind of matador pf the truth, but there are many other examples where a lot more is going on than a simple plot line.

As fine as the scripts were this kind of thing could not be written into the script. It all lay in the interpretation and the interpretive power of the actor and the exquisitely humanly vivid interpretations of Peter Falk seemed to draw out unseen dimensions of the well known actors playing the scenes with him.

This goes beyond acting I think into some immortal arena or pantheon that ultimately is indescribable, and that is the just one more thing, sir I cannot get into my poem and so I mention it here. And this is also why I was not surprised that Wim Wenders chose Peter Falk to briefly portray an angel come down to earth in one of his films. An angel with a twinkle in his eye who appreciates good coffee and has divine and human secrets he keeps well.

It is said that Peter Falk worked hard at investing his character with even many of his own personal qualities and quirks, even background. I think it would be hard if not impossible to find another character created by an actor with so much attention to detail, that is, in the parlance of artists, with love.

For anyone interested he wrote an autobiography "Just One More Thing" still available at or possibly Amazon. (or in your library perhaps) It came out in 2006 just 5 years before he passed away.