A green skeleton key
Will open the law books
And close them—
The trickery is in
Having known H. Moss for some time before his death, I knew he was aware (to a degree of severe paranoia, which I believe ultimately took his life—but, in that, I’ll never know) of the universally corrupting effects of money.
The seeming contradiction in this poem intrigues me the most, that a “green skeleton key” (ln. 1) both “open[s]” (ln. 2) and “close[s]” (ln. 3) the “law books” (ln. 2). The color of the key, green, forces us to think of hard paper currency—the fact it is a skeleton key to law books suggests hard paper currency acts as a stand-in to what we would figure typically opens and closes the book of law: Justice. Yet, Moss makes no mention of this rightful keeper of the code of law—only of the symbol of thievery—suggesting Justice, the rightful keeper, plays no part in actually maintaining law. I propose Justice does stand beyond this poem, albeit invisibly and thus impotently as a skeleton key assumes its spot. Because Justice stands outside this poem (and outside of straightforward consideration) it is easy to think it likewise stands outside of critical considerations as well. Like a divine force, it merely oversees. But, this oversight does not stop the skeleton key from access to the book, whether to seal it or to open it.
Now, what does Moss mean exactly when he writes the law book opens or closes? One must first discover the contents of the book. While the content is meant for this otherworldly and invisible character, Justice, we must assume it is powerless against the contents of this book. Do the pages read the laws, ordained from on high? Do they contain a list of the condemned, past, present, and future? Opening of the book could mean the consultation of the laws, and the closing to mean the finality of imposing those laws. After all, it all depends on “who’s watching” (ln. 5). To generalize this rather confusing line I would say this book contains the laws to which all are (ostensibly) bound—unobserved, though merely stewarded by Justice—and the act of closing the book is to signify the finality of judgment upon all those whom the law applies. But, we cannot rely on the sight of Justice to determine the contents of the book for it is not present in the poem (only in the room with the book). There must be some kind of an audience to observe the book—and the only overseer Moss provides us is this conditional “who.” The “who” in this poem is not those bound to the book’s openingclosing but those who possess the green skeleton key—the moneyed peoples. So, sadly, we can never know, claims Moss, who is watching the book except those who possess the green skeleton key.
Yet, we’ve always known of the rule of law to be fair and objective—applying to all, even those with the green skeleton key. But, maybe I have to revise me earlier statement, claiming the ghost of Justice exists in the room—albeit blind to the actions taking place on it—with the book. I knew Moss to be an exceedingly pessimistic person so I can only guess he means to omit Justice not to signify its blindness and impotence, but rather its absence. Would there be any need for “trickery” (ln. 4) were that the case? The only reasonable reconciliation of the absence of Justice and the trickery to some eye is that Justice is very much present but that it is not present—it is dead in the room, crucified in the presence of the book without being consequential in the trickery of the green skeleton key. Therefore, there is an objective, perhaps even metaphysical Justice that oversees the physical manifestations of Law in the world, but without the power to intervene in any meaningfully objective sense. Therefore, Justice condones, implicitly, any trickery that occurs in front of it—the power has been taken from an objective force giving the finality of law and the contents of the Law (within the book) legitimate rule over those without the green skeleton key. All the righteousness of Justice has been stripped away from its power to rule over others.
Moss means in this poem to warn us—hence the ‘prophecy’—of moneyed interests in law. Though, I would go so far as to say Moss is not warning us, but rather telling us to prepare for the rule of the green skeleton key in the hands of the moneyed interests. Justice only works for the moneyed interests as they have killed, in any meaningful sense, Justice. Justice is mere capital and is to be used in the benefit of those who can access it, if even at the sacrifice of those contained within the book.