Another Vigil At San Quentin
Not quite midnight. My candle stutters 
under the half-full moon, the frightened stars. 

Someday in the future, people will be curious 
about these rituals: how 
we murdered them in the dead of night, strapped to beds, 
poison injections dripping, scientifically timed, 
thinking ourselves modern. 

And some of us, the lecturer will explain, 
dressed up like guards 
(two rows of them here, visors 
pushed back, batons at the ready), 
and some like newsmen, clambering over low rooftops 
with their klieg lights and cameras, 
and the rest of us drab, weary and defiant protesters, 
arm in arm, with our candles and sage 

and We Shall Overcome and, in this case, eagle feathers, 
as the accused killer 
(all right, he really did it) 
is a Native American, who 
(if you want the whole story) 
lured a girl-child to his car, 
raped, sodomized — go on, tell it — stripped, and flung 
this ten-year-old from a bridge 
into a gully, as if she were a beer can he’d just crushed 
under his heel, and left for litter. 

Say that part. And then, to enact 
our rage, to express our unspeakable 
horror at the ravage of our daughter, 
we’ll carefully poison him. 
The candles burn down. 
The counterprotesters, 
Christians to a man, get on their megaphone: 
“Ten minutes to repent! Nine more minutes 
or your soul will burn! 
Eight minutes and the Lord is your judge!” 

Our songs pick up as well: “We shall not, 
we shall not be moved,” 
“Gonna lay down my sword and shield,” 
and a Navajo chant. 
The current swells. Inside, 
a frightened, fucked-up 
man is being prepared for death and burial. 
He has requested that a medicine man with sage 
accompany him to his death chamber. Request denied. 

All right, one eagle feather, 
to be pinned to the sheet over his body. 
I link arms with the rough wool coat 
next to me, bow my head into a friend’s shoulder, 
thinking about my own rape 
at the hands of a rageful drunk, years ago. 

I don’t have words 
for what I’m doing here, only the smell and roar 
of the ocean going on and on below us: 
crash, smash, gotcha. 
And the softness of the air on my cheeks, 
and the sound of screaming gulls. 
Last week the rains finally stopped. 
The peach tree is in full pink flower. 
Earth seems to have forgiven 
our uncountable human sins again 
and opened her arms to us in spring. O pure 

right and wrong, how I long for you. 
Tell the people of the future I came here for confusion 
and ignorance and darkness. 
For the white lick of flame against the char of ash. 
For poison and reason and the old moon, 
and a stubborn idea about the innocence of things, 
and for the smell of candle wax 
dripping silently and slowly.