TO THE VOICE OF THE RETIRED WARDEN OF HUNTSVILLE PRISON (TEXAS DEATH CHAMBER)
Until wolf-light I will count my sheep,
Adumbrated, uncomedic, as they are.
One is perdu, two, qualm, three
Is sprawl, four, too late,
Night is already a thirsty county in Texas,
Salt ﬂat and unremitting
Blacktop dry as my mouth,
And your elastic vowels, my genial,
My electric ghost, my
Radio’s lonely station. Because the spectacle
Of suffering corrupts us, all punishments
Are now executive, offstage.
Most presume you a fable:
Echoes of approaching bootheels
That harry labyrinths of concrete corridors,
Or hooded in burlap.
We are convicted
As we are also pardoned: He cherished
His lawn, or afterwards he covered
The victim’s face. You make no judgments
Yourself. Only in bursal tones,
Tactful as the ﬁle box
That shows, if opened, the neon, pleading heart
Of Jesus wrapped in barbed wire,
You perform penalties others have scripted, so
Untroubled by so many.
How long I have listened to you
For news of the opal distances,
Or rain to freshen the morning’s arrival.
What keeps me awake? Nothing
More than a ﬂy’s dysenteric violin.
What puts me to sleep
Is your clement voice, saying
The dark has no teeth. While men like you live
In this world do I dream
I am either safe or spared?