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Best of Irish Poetry 2009
Best of Irish Poetry 2010

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Songs of Earth and Light

Songs of Earth and Light
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LAURA WALKER

 

 

 

Laura Walker

Born in the shadow of the Wyoming Big Horn Mountains, squatted her sheltered adolescence in Las Vegas, rambled through her twenties in the high desert of Utah, and grown the last decade in Eastern Washington, Laura Walker is now a teacher, writer, and mother-of-a-teenage-boy thriving along the Columbia River in Richland, Washington. She received her MFA in Creative Writing from Eastern Washington University in 2005 and taught a poetry workshop in a medium-security men’s prison. Her poems have appeared in The Kolob Canyon Review, San Pedro River Review and Cascadia Review and are forthcoming in Inscape.


 

 

Highly Commended in the Gregory O'Donoghue International Poetry Competition

 

Gladiator Days

 

I’m captive to the way he said “I had to handle my business”
with the camera zoomed tight on his eyes and mouth
that I swallowed and wondered what it would feel like to kiss
his eyes, his heart. Those eight syllables and how he said death
differently when speaking about somebody’s father or the penalty
as if they weren’t the same word. His choice was to end the life

 

of two others and his own. But they won’t run his life
with concrete and steel cages, even if that is their business.
He doesn’t go to the cops. The wolf called him out and the penalty
was 67 stabs with a shank in the head, throat, his eyes and mouth
until he was finally still. The surveillance camera saw the death,
the bragging and strutting, bloody hands—another white power kiss.

 

Yet he’s no “race hater;” it’s the society of prison to never kiss
ass, never stand down, stand up for one’s people, take life
as necessary, starve the wolves, shun the punks, take death
over weakness, throw down in the yard, deal with business.
State prosecutor calls it racial, more lies from the mouth
of a murderer, an Academy Award wins him the ultimate penalty.

 

Orange suit hugs his biceps, clings ripped muscles. What is the penalty
for wanting a killer? The camera captures a shirtless pose, his eyes kiss
the screen. He flexes riveted abs, a flirt in his eyes and mouth
slightly open. Even in handcuffs he is a god. I want to keep his life—
save him from something. Obsessing, I am unable to heed my business.
On the web I search his name: news articles, information on death

 

row privileges, execution rates, appeal statistics, modes of death
practiced in various states—few outlaw it, Texas drops the penalty
like keys outside a door. Almost 400 in the last decade is their business.
History of beheading, hanging, electrocution, by firing squad and the lethal kiss:
three silent drugs that numb, paralyze, kill. Fair trade—a life for a life.
We are gods reigning judgment, the word “guilty” always in our mouth.

 

And here is this beautiful man, sky for eyes, square hands, with a mouth
made to say my name. I find his profile on a prison pen pal site. Status: death
row, 36 years old, loves horses, the outdoors; seeking a woman full of life,
who is adventurous and a good cook. I copy his address. No penalty
for a letter. I live mine to be interesting. It’s not as if I’d get to kiss
him through the mail. My heart is in a sling with no business

 

in this. His name in my mouth is savory, the most dangerous business,
but I’m already writing his name behind “dear” and fantasizing a kiss,
his life improved by my attention, the repeal of the death penalty.

 

 

©2013 Laura Walker

 

Judge's Statement

‘His name in my mouth is savory’ and ‘what is the penalty / for wanting a killer?’ might be the key phrases of this powerful poem. A thread of desire and the forces of attachment create a fretwork of humanity to hold all the bleak information contained within. It is a complex work, dense with information and ideas, a poetic contest between desire and death row. The poem cleverly moves from his phrases to his name, the whole work propelled by lines of great precision.

 

 

Author Links

 

Laura Walker website

Poem by Walker in the Cascadia Review

 

 

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Southword 6 Southword No 7 Southword No 8 Southword No 9 Southword No 10 Southword 11 southword 12 Southword No 14 Southword No 15