One Of These Days We’ll Rise Up Singing

Published in Kenyon College’s literary magazine HIKA, Spring 2010.

One of These Days We’ll Rise Up Singing

Wanted: Male for Carrying Out of State Duties at Penitentiary.
Compensation Upon Completion of Task.

I was conceived some twenty yards away,
My mother combing the slatted shadows
Back from his scarred-up face. Some kind of
Singularity, me, to burst forth red-petaled from seeds
Stolen from cold ground, kept alone in silence.

I needed money, hanging above the river
By the landlord and the tax man and
The thousand men with axes that I face.
So there was a name, a call, four lungs breathing down a line.
We speak the lithe tongue of death. No one burns.

I see my birth in these familiar places.
I will become Death out of desperation
And I, my work, will all be blessed.
A man is dancing on the wired walls outside.
(I am not afraid to die.)

They walk me to the place where women
Are stories of softness and forgiveness of the flesh,
The knife, the bullet. The breathing dead will never see me
But we taste the copper and smell fried hair.
I would someday like to be forgiven.

The warden hands me cloth with holes
For eyes and I am suddenly the end,
The switch, the straps, the hymnal
Turned to mud by miles of walls.
My father is awake somewhere.

I can hear a weeping woman through the mirror glass.
I’m sure my mother was a cold Madonna, bowing
To the spoken word of a higher power than she.
I am the dirty fist of a higher power than she.
(I am not afraid to die.)

I hear his prayers. Clumsy begging, the passwords
Of the corridor that only has one exit.
Our Father who art in Heaven. My father is under my feet.
He tries so hard to see me that maybe he knows who I am,
My mask, my street clothes, and this shaking heart.

I hear the first notes of his last words tremble on his lips.
“One of these days, I’ll rise up, singing.”
And then he started to dance.
I am not afraid to die.
(I am not afraid to die.)

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