One eight six
She likes the sandwiches cut in triangles,
vegemite and butter and I’m lithe with a knife
an even spread sculpting the edges.
Though it goes against her pride in doing so,
I help with the shoelaces that slip undone
our kitten fighting every finger.
It’s a special ordinance rope I carefully plait,
we have to be certain that all the measures
height and weight and drop fall are right.
I don’t think about any of the noises now,
rudimentary skills are art for the initiated
and the sounds of death are swift.
Awkward glances tarry over the hood,
there should be a handkerchief in the satchel
if it’s taken we’ll all know where to look.
I worry over grated knees on the rough bitumen,
holding breath to that blanking point of release
a great gulping sigh knowing you’re alive again.
They’re singing belief on the other side,
the bluestone fish scales in indifferent chorus
hums through the pauper’s turned soil.
Recess bells meet the silence of this forlorn attire,
palms still itching from the Particulars Handbook
scribed with the details of death by fracture dislocation.
Again I wash my hands for cooking dinner,
distracted how potatoes are like the taut of a nape
and that a heart can beat for three to four minutes.
The cat can sleep on her bed tonight when she asks,
in the knot of her thankful innocent arms
my day breaks like a thousand dry plates.
( 186 is the final entry in The Particulars of Execution Handbook, the last hanging in Victoria and Australia. The handbook is held in the Public Records Office Archives. It contains the summary notes of death recorded by the hangman for each execution 1894 – 1967 from all the prison sites across Victoria ).
First published on the Melbourne Poets Union International Poetry Prize site
Walking Through Fences ASM & Cerberus Flying Island Books Markwell & Macau December 2018