SECTION FIFTEEN
POETRY PAGE ONE

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COLUMN NINETY-SIX, SEPTEMBER 1, 2003
(Copyright 2003 The Blacklisted Journalist)


(Photo by Irina Adam)

STANDING BAREFOOT IN THE DEATH HOUSE VESTIBULE

I.

standing barefoot in the death house vestibule
image to make the homefolks proud. Daddy'd
have a hissy fit, but here i am
standing barefoot in the death house vestibule
December dark and strange never much light in hell-unit
they don't get much company in the evenings
unless they have one of these overtures to a wake
these much discussed but seldom seen state
assisted homicides yes his death certificate
cause box will read HOMICIDE

(standing barefoot in the death house vestibule)
all been together we witnesses of the
condemned since before four o'clock sitting
at another kinder gentler jail down the road
getting cokes and candy from the warden our
host for the pre-prelude social hour
two hours long, who's counting?
somewhere in this same jail
a much bigger room for the victims'
witnesses 27 of them which explains the big
old bus outside waiting to take them to the big show

(standing barefoot in the death house vestibule)
5:30. they load us into a van with curtains
heavy tint on the windows, drove us through
the freezing Oklahoma wind, rain to the Main Event
it's important that no one sees us
that we never see the victims' witnesses
justice's wheels on extra-slow grind on this one
near twenty years since the Lawton Massacre
must be two or three generations of witnesses
for the victims it was an awful crime I know because
he described it to me choking on a million tears none
would make him feel better but he's tried
to practice Bodhisattva way. do the best work
he could in this awful place. with his gifts for writing
and understanding five innocent men are no longer
on the row

(standing barefoot in the death house vestibule)
we're here, icy rain pelts our faces then the doors
                                                                                                           
swing open, whoosh, no creaking here, this is a state of the art
death house a model to its kind.
the whole time i'm taking off my shoes letting
the guards peer in them some attorney keeps
asking if I need help hell yes I need help I need
(standing barefoot in the death house vestibule)
I need to know why these folks have sent out
written invites to come watch them kill this boy
this boy who has been my friend for five of the
19 years he spent here contemplating his crime and consequences
seen me through the loss of my husband
comforted him in his hours of pain longing to be healthy again
yes I need help but not with my damned shoes
now they take us into a narrow gated
passage that holds yet another gate the second
gate can't open until the first gate closes so for breathless
seconds we are cows in a slaughterhouse holding pen
eerie darkness sense of doom

(standing barefoot in the death house vestibule)
my heart jumps then the gate opens we go into
a brightly lit room vending machines folks take
candy and pop serious here now the lawyer stands
at the head of the table starts telling us what
we're gonna see how my friend will get to say
his piece then the preacher will say his then
standing barefoot in the death house vestibule
there will be a grinding sound that signals the
lethal drugs starting their journey to his veins
pretty soon well I can't explain it but you'll know
it's over for him the lawyer says my mind races this
morning I last saw my spirit child he said "mom
I know it's hard for you but I need you there to
tell me when it's time to go" time to go? hellfire
how about right now let's miss the big show
let's get on outta here

(standing barefoot in the death house vestibule)
the ritual demands to be played out I try hard
to imagine how I'll know when it's time for him
to go we've established a signal so he'll know
standing barefoot in the death house vestibule
so he'll know when I think it's time I pray God
that somehow I'm gonna magically know the
right moment although any such wisdom escapes
me now I can't even swallow much less                                         
play my role of spiritual guide guru then they
come say it's time to go to the chamber such
a word chamber chambers should have tapestries and sconces
not Venetian blinds, fluorescent lights, medical fixtures

(standing barefoot in the death house vestibule)
the row of folks in the back are journalists
already seated when we arrive not allowed to talk to us
no one is allowed to talk at all huge native American guards
arms folded like giant disapproving statues make it clear
I'm gonna be quiet no matter what --pisses me off
I might need to scream try to slough it off
my boy needs me to tell him when
it's time to go great Buddha's tears how to know?
(standing barefoot in the death house vestibule)
 

II.

there'll be a sound
whirring, grinding sort of sound
when the drug pumps start?

looks so peaceful
clean white sheets
cover the ugly stuff, needles, restraints
crisp blue printed hospital gown
hair combed
skin soft and clear
he seems so young
and is
tied down tight under that
innocent drape of cotton
special gurney
lots of straps
it all looks serene
medical at worst
like looking through
blinds into an intensive care room
care will not be what's intensive
this night

can you hear it?
whirring, grinding sort of sound
when the drug pumps start?                                                            
                                                                                                           
we're in our seats
dare not move
guards all around
can't see victims? families
but they're there
busload of  "em
a big crime, his
papers called it a massacre

he starts to talk?
to them first
the unseen but heavily present
harmed ones seeking closure
starts to tell the story
told many other times
more eloquently in conversations
over 19-plus years
how hovering near bank's ceiling
he watched unrecognizable
inconceivable self
stab four, shoot two
one fatally, one not
could do nothing to stop
Dark Man, dark man did it
but no one no one believes that
don't want to believe
much less go where
Dark Man lives?  

can you hear it?
whirring, grinding sort of sound
when the drug pumps start?

tonight he doesn't mention
Dark Man
tells the families
with pleading heart
he's so sorry, will never in this life
or soon the next
understand
don't know how it happened
it wasn't me, it wasn't me
his voice breaks                                                                                                                                                                                                                 
have they started? I feel dizzy
warden
tiny sad smile
teasing corners of his mouth
shakes his head no not yet
warden, chaplain, doctor
lady with big hair big book
still don't know who she was  

can you hear it?
whirring, grinding sort of sound
when the drug pumps start?  

he turns to us
those come to be his friends
at this final time
i love you mom
everyone looks around
knows his mom isn't there
who, where?
I  know it's me
there when he needed
no one else had a minute
so I was mom I was mom
with me
priest
psychiatrist
uncle
that's it
crowd's pretty small
by the time he reaches this place
chamber so-called
civilized now modern
even the time is changed
no more midnight mystery
times of execution in Oklahoma
6 p.m.
then off to dinner
It's business here
Very serious business

can you hear it?
whirring, grinding sort of sound
when the drug pumps start?                                                  

i promised i would tell him
when it's time to go
i still don't know
but he believes and so
must I have faith
as he puts forth so lovingly
these last hard weeks and months  

i hear it
whirring, grinding sort of sound
when the drug pumps start?  

I ask this favor
priest takes my hand
holds it tight
does he need me?
do I need him?
does it matter?
energy steps up to hyperphase  

spirit son looks at me
waiting for the signal to go
i feel faint
inadequate to any task
but my right hand rises
in a fist
to my heart
signal we preplanned  

his eyelids flutter
oh so briefly
hand twitches
gasp  rattles across the mic
into the room (was there pain?)
there are those who hope so
head falls back
he's gone  

can you hear it?
whirring, grinding sort of sound
when the drug pumps start?
no.  

in seconds
skin turns                                                                                           
greenish gold
claylike
body seems to just fall away
fall away
caves in on itself
eyes, mouth open
and i feel him in my chest!  

i/he wants to laugh
to run from the room
skip joyfully
through this place
of unwelcome death
now this is out-of-body at its best
he says  

hush, I tell him silently
i'll walk you out
but we can't run
we can't laugh
he calms a little
still wants to play
freedom is so sweet  

blinds clap shut
guards take us out
back through visiting
through reception
all the way
he begs to laugh, run, leap into the air
no wish from me
to see the ugly side
of any of these guards
so I keep shushing him
almost amused myself by now  

back to the vestibule
at last near freedom
staff gathered there in
some macabre
reception line
still no one speaks                                                                                                            

what's he doin? now?
oh no, he's using my hand and lips
to blow a kiss                                                                                    
to his favorite supervisor
she blanches
yes, he promised her this would happen
she believes?  

outside again
in the cold wet night
wind gusting all around
flash of sword blade
red coat
white gown
purple skirt
the guides have come
he whooshes
from my heart
to their arms
i lift my face
unharmed by
ice, rain, wind
throw my arms into the air
rejoice!

Copyright - 2003  Elizabeth Jasper   ##

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