Rehearsal for an Execution

by Shane Seely

      —at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola

Twice a year he rises and goes to his death
in the farthest room of the state penitentiary
rises from the warm breath of his wife still
sleeping from his dreams or from dreamlessness
into the still-dark morning before
even the birds have shuddered awake
looks in on his children sleeping and still and leaves them
before the grass blades lift before
the magnolia blossoms open their delicate throats
to the morning—

He leaves them in darkness
his headlights slash it and it seals around him absorbs
the little metal vessel carrying him
into the night’s fathomless body
at the prison they’re waiting the warden
the officers with their cruel mouths and trustless
eyes the priest who will pray for his soul again always
the same prayer the same
unreconciled life each detail
is consistent the small
audience behind the glass the official huddle
around him he is bound shackled silent
down the pale green hallway his chains
clanking simulating drama the warden
barks and the heavy doors
open and the green table
greets him again

Sometimes he conjures for himself
a criminal history like something seen
on television
in the middle of a sleepless night bodies
sunk in swamps across four states turning
filmy eyes toward a cruel moon or stacked
like cordwood in the tool shed
until the neighbor’s dog
digs a hole beneath the door
or the corpse discovered
in six plastic bags
at the bottom of a lake imagines for himself
florid tattoos a casual skill
with a knife—
though more often he remembers
his own crimes his daughter’s
hot face slapped a welter of tears the cat
he drowned as a child he thinks what debt
his life might ease as some men
do as they are hooded
as they rest their heads against the table
smell the leather
as it is tightened
a hand swabs his arm with alcohol
the last gesture
to be rehearsed each time he imagines
the needle’s bite the cool surge
in his veins

Hooded and splayed he can hear them those
who have lain as he lies now
their breath as it suffers
and seizes as the eddy of chemicals
scorches their hearts these men vessels
offered upon a table with whom
he shares this single posture
though only he
knows what happens
when the straps are loosened
and the hood removed

Shane Seely’s first book of poems, The Snowbound House, won the 2008 Philip Levine Prize for Poetry and was published by Anhinga Press in November 2009. Shane is a Senior Lecturer in the English Department at Washington University in St. Louis, where he teaches composition and creative writing and acts as Assistant Director of the university’s expository writing program.