By the end, we won’t remember what
happened when. We’ll remember hardly
any of it. The only thing that makes it
bearable is all the blossoming. The trees
turn white, then green. What unfolds
for me unfolds secondhandedly.
While they’re injecting the midazolam,
I am watching little girls in black
leotards play tag. Or it takes longer
than I think and we are already driving
home for dinner. But let’s go back
to before that. There was a murder.
It was violent. It was not an accident.
A young woman died and a young man
went to prison. Elsewhere, unrelated,
I want to be a poet. I fall in love with
someone. He becomes a lawyer.
We become a mother and a father.
We move to Denver. My husband meets
the young man in prison. He’s no longer
young. He becomes a kind of friend.
Of course this takes years. I learn things
like in supermax, the inmates are required
by law to have access to one hour
of sunlight per day. On death row,
the light though a skylight counts.
The men can’t touch their families
or each other. The day before their
executions, their mothers cannot hug
their sons good-bye. No one cares about this.
Why should they? Their victims’ parents
didn’t get to hug their children before—
yes. That is correct. So what’s wrong
with me? My husband sends his client books.
Should I say his name? He likes
vampire books. Mysteries. Thrillers.
When my husband calls him with the news
that the last appeal has been denied,
Clayton says Have a good weekend
when they hang up the phone. My husband
flies to Oklahoma City. I wait.
Amelia’s dance class is in a church.
I sit in the sanctuary and imagine
I am holding Clayton’s hand.
I am ridiculous. But my hand feels
warm for a minute. My husband calls
and he is weeping. Or he is furious.
He’s not dead yet, he says.
They kicked us out. They closed
the curtain and they made us leave.
It’s the end of April; everything’s in bloom.
It snows, then the sun comes back.
By summer, we should feel better.
By autumn, we might forget.
Our garden grows. We harvest. I walk
through the alley carrying vegetables.
When I get home and dump out the cucumbers,
I’m filled suddenly with joy. I pirouette
around the kitchen and imagine Clayton
is dancing with me, his spirit, anyway.
I think he is. I wish for it. I imagine
his victim’s mother wishing deeply
for my death, and I don’t blame her for it.
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Writing this poem about my reactions to the execution of my husband’s client Clayton Lockett was difficult, and sending it off for publication was harder. What is the role of empathy in justice? What stories do I have the right to speak? These are two of the questions I struggled with. The poem attempts its own answers, so I won’t try again here, though I will offer another answer to that first one from a friend who read drafts of the poem, the poet Noah Siela: empathy should be so reckless that no sin survives it.” – Kimberly O’Connor
The Colorado Independent‘s News-Stained Poetry Project features poems that are about the news, products of the news, responses to the news. “News stained” is meant as a badge of honor, a reference to the long tradition of the poet as witness. As Carolyn Forché wrote, politics can sometimes be seen as a “contaminant to serious literary work,” something to be avoided. But that way of thinking, she said, “gives the political realm too much and too little scope… It renders the personal too important and not important enough.” News developments, whether or not they are reported, shape our personal lives every day. We don’t often think in the moment about how that is happening and what it means. We should think more about it. Poets think about it. And we want to help encourage them to write more about it.
Please send submissions to firstname.lastname@example.org, subject line “poem,” with a short bio and some mention of where and when the poem was written.
Photo credit: Kevin Dooley, Creative Commons, Flickr.