News poem: UNTITLED (By the end)

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.

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 tips@www.coloradoindependent.comsubject line “poem,” with a short bio and some mention of where and when the poem was written.



Photo credit: Kevin Dooley, Creative Commons, Flickr

Kimberly O’Connor is a North Carolina native who lives in Denver, where she is the Young Writers Program Director for Lighthouse Writers Workshop. She received an MFA from the University of Maryland in 2009, where she was a winner of both the Academy of American Poetry student prize and the AWP Intro to Journals contest. She has taught creative writing and literature in middle school, high school, and college classrooms in Colorado, Maryland, West Virginia, and North Carolina. Her poetry and creative nonfiction have appeared in Copper Nickel, Colorado Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Inch, Literary Mama, Mid-American Review, Mountain Gazette, Passages North, The Southern Poetry Anthology, storySouth, Tar River Poetry, THRUSH Poetry Journal, and elsewhere.