Carolina Wren by Joshua Allen Aiken

For George Stinney, who in 1944 became the youngest person
legally executed in the United States. He was fourteen.

betty jane and mary emma had just come to the field
to pick some south carolina maypop flowers. i know’d
better than to say nothing—so when they ask if i know
where the flowers are, i shut my mouth like there is melted
tar on my lips. like the humidity has made this negro
too slow to say anything but: no miss, i dunno.

when they take me to the jailhouse, they lock me in a room
with men in grey suits. mama says, men wear suits for two
reasons: when they need to tell a lie or when they go to
church for forgiveness. so when they asked me what
happened: my words a cotton balls. they don’t hear them
and i can barely get them out. i tell them: i don’t know nothin’
bout them girls.

but they’ve locked the door. tell me what
i’ve done. tell me that i killed them girls.

and there is just too much sticking to the sides of my throat.
it is just me and these men and                handcuffs and spit in
my face and i want nothing more than to just fly away.

at my trial, my lawyer mr. ploucher tells me not to testify.
he don’t even look at me when he calls me boy. it only
take ten minutes for them to convict me. my mommas
cries are louder than sirens and railroad cars combined.
when they marchin’ me back to my cell, i catch my
father’s eyes. they are more electric and real than telephone
wire or an electric chair will ever be.

last week they told me 90 pounds was not heavy enough
to die. that the chair would not fit. so they gave me my
first full-course meal. like i am cattle. meat and bone.
when they strap me in the chair, they tell me it’s name is
old sparky. like it is a dog. like it needs a name.

i am still too small to fit
                                        (The man in the coat tells the men
                                        in the grey suits to be silent.)
they put the mask to my lips but it keeps falling.
like god did not want me to know this kind of touch.
                                        (And the room is a peaceful quiet.)
they have noose’d me here. they have lassoed me into
the devil’s chair.
                                        (And the electrodes have starting flowing.)
and that devil is snarling and barking, the chair is making all
the noise. so my prayer is a muzzle. my clasped hands
dynamite.
                                        (And they have flipped the switch like they
                                        are just turning the porch light off.)

and i am exploding. it’s so bright. and i realize that i’m flying.
that i am like a songbird soaring across the summer sky.

and i wonder: is this heaven?


Joshua Aiken is a poet, playwright, and activist from St. Louis, Missouri. He received his B.A. at Washington University in St. Louis in Political Science and American Culture Studies and his Masters in History at the University of Oxford. His poetry has appeared in or is forthcoming in publications such as Cactus Heart, Nepantla, HEArt Online, and Winter Tangerine Review.

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