Tuesday Poem: ‘When the Sister Walks’ by Sarah Jane Barnett

When the Sister Walks

The trail is damp so she gathers up the hem
of her habit and scolds her own impatience

as she steps over roots as thick as a boy’s wrist. She
is not at her best. When she left he gently pressed

his tattooed palm to the glass barrier. He said,
See ya, Sister. He made a joke – See you tomorrow.

He watched her face while she recited from her red-
edged bible. Finally, like a child, his head rested down.

At the lake she makes towards the witness tree,

she holds aside a low-hanging hickory, the seed-nut rattle
exciting a family of yellow-back wasps. They scatter

like bright marbles, afraid or maybe angry
she cries out, Oh – oh – and stumbles

away from their hide. They are sucked into an undulating
bubble of yellow and vibrate up into the trees.

They haven’t hurt her. It is nothing

but on her knees she says, Oh God, I am thankful
for you
. She wipes a dirty finger across her cheek.

“When the Sister Walks” is one of a series of nine poems about death row executions in Texas. It appears in my debut collection, A Man Runs into a Woman, which will be launched 10 August, 5.30pm, at the Michael Hirschfeld Gallery in Wellington. The poem first appeared in issue four of Hue & Cry Journal. In 2006 I wrote a poem in response to the hanging in the movie Capote, about the power of cinema, illusion, and self delusion. While looking for information about hanging, I found a website that had the last words and criminal reports of death row inmates.

It may sound like the death row series is about execution, but that’s only true in passing. I wrote the poems as a way to try and understand  how something like a murder, and then the subsequent execution of the convicted person, could become a normalised event for the people involved–the police, prison wardens, execution technicians, clergy, the inmates and their family, and the family of the victims. Maybe it can’t. I hope the poems try to reconcile, or at least interpret, the different stories told by the inmate’s last words and the police crime report. Maybe my poems are another story about the event.

A Man Runs into a Woman can be purchased from the Hue & Cry Press store.

Check out other Tuesday Poems on the Tuesday Poem Hub.

6 thoughts on “Tuesday Poem: ‘When the Sister Walks’ by Sarah Jane Barnett

  1. Thought provoking. An entirely fresh view of a vexed topic. These things need to be examined in various ways, like a tongue feeling for something inside a mouth, trying to work out what it is, what it looks like and how to get it out. The poem made me recall Jeff Sparrow’s book – “Killing: Misadventures In Violence.”

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