January 25, 1965

The surly cop lookt out at me in sleep
insect-like. Guess, who was the insect.
I’d asked him in my robe
& hospital gown in the elevator politely
why someone saw so many police around,
and without speaking he looked.

A meathead, and of course he was armed, to creep
across my nervous system some time ago wrecked.
I saw the point of Loeb
at last, to give oneself over to crime wholly,
baffle, torment, roar laughter, or without sound
attend while he is cooked

until with trembling hands hoist I my true
& legal ax, to get at the brains. I never liked brains—
it’s the texture & the thought—
but I will like them now, spooning at you,
my guardian, slowly, until at length the rains
lose heart and the sun flames out.

This article is part of The Nation’s 150th Anniversary Special Issue. Download a free PDF of the issue, with articles by James Baldwin, Barbara Ehrenreich, Toni Morrison, Howard Zinn and many more, here.

John Berryman (1914–1972) wrote five essays and eight poems for The Nation between 1935 and 1970. One month after the last poem was published, he sent a letter to the editor noting the “unremitting hostility” of an unfriendly review by “this bastard,” Hayden Carruth.