Thursday, September 22, 2011

In Our Name: Troy Davis (October 9, 1968 – September 21, 2011)

Troy Davis is dead. For some absurd reason I expected this not to happen. Seven out of nine eye witnesses have taken back their testimony. Citizens around the world  spoke out to protest this miscarriage of justice. Peaceful protesters held signs up in city squares yesterday across the globe.

It is not my habit to post my poems. And yet, here is a poem I wrote over a decade ago that unfortunately is just as relevant today. 

We are all Troy Davis

In Our Name

Inside this room we don't come to: the sizzle and spit
as of fat in a pan, a sweet-heavy smell
of flesh in flames, and two exhaust fans turning

toward a man whose hair on his left leg
and head have been shaved,
a diaper pinned in the waist of his jeans.

No prayers, no words, will he slip
in his hands; only the fingers
can legally burn into blue smithereens.

Here is the soft mauve cloth he'll wear
which will hide the human face
when the veins push out of his molting skin

like glass ridges on a jar or vase.
Let this chair mark the spot
where his heart shudders, then pops

in accordance with Florida law.
Here, stand in this room
with no view of the sea, meet the warden

the Imam, the Rabbi, the Priest.
See the doctor who shines a light in the eye
of a man when he's three minutes dead.

Here in a room, with a switch on a wall,
is one citizen paid always in cash --- assuring us
the nightmares he has may never be publicly shared.

From The Cartographer's Tongue, White Pine Press, 2000

Finally, this is not an isolated case. This week's Letter of Note provides information on death row prisoners that have been exonerated by DNA testing. "I love life too much" is worth reading, too.


  1. Susan:

    This poem is a bit of a paradox in that it's an example of a poem of witness yet the searing portrait is one only a handful of people ever see. And the irony in that is that the executions are carried out in the name of the state which is really you and I and everyone else.

    Even if you find executions acceptable (which I don’t) the case of Troy Davis SCREAMS “do not execute.” The recanted testimony of witnesses, the acknowledgement by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation that the ballistics testimony at trial was faulty, the lack of physical evidence all cast a mammoth shadow of doubt.

    I was saddened and angry last night and while there is nothing any of us can do to correct this injustice, your poem places us in the death chamber and with that experience perhaps causes to think about the future executions and maybe, in some small way, can awaken more people to somber action that a state can take in the name of all of us.

  2. Michael,
    Thanks so much for your insightful reading and your shared vision of a world where the State does not kill its own citizens. All best to you.