Gabriel Prosser, Hanged in Richmond for Inciting Slave Rebellion, 1800
Turning our Tortures into horrid Arms
Against our Torturer….
Paradise Lost --Book II
The smithy, arms akimbo at his forge. The sweat
Beads glisten; long scars zigzag his ebon skull.
The flame erupts, the umber brick itself a-glow.
He hammers & shapes,
hammers & shapes the white-hot
Iron to a luminous inverted U. But alone now, from the corner
Beyond his tools, he unwraps his hoarded treatises,
Swadled in cloth. Paradise Lost. Common Sense: “the strength and power
Of despotism consists
wholly in the fear of resistance.”
He turns the pages in the conflagrating light. The time
let us turn the ploughshares into swords,
Cudgels, pikes, knives to hold upon the perfumed
Throat of Governor Monroe. But the plot will be revealed,
Captured, he is brought in chains to the Richmond gallows.
The neck snaps instantly, the “dignified demise,”
Reserved for reprobate elite. Not so lucky are his fellows.
The cart & tree gallows mode:
half an hour you gasp within the noose.
Daniel Frank, Hanged in Henricus for Stealing a Calf: 1623
…but his face
Deep scars of Thunder had intrencht, and care
Sat on his faded cheek…
Sunday morning—the Godwins are in church
& he creeps to the pen on hands & knees.
For an endless hour he’s lain in the razoring stealth
Of a briar patch,
awaiting their cart to creak
Toward steeple & hellfire. He rises to a crouch
& the noose is slipped & tightened about the neck
Of a cream & brindle calf-ling, more rope cinched
Three times around her legs.
Hard to lift,
& of course she struggles all the way to his wagon.
Five long years he’s tilled tobacco fields,
Serving out his Indenture to Miles Perrin.
But he’s free now—
to let his first child
Perish of pox, his wife of childbed fever. When the sheriff
Comes upon the calf-ling, tied to an oak to graze & bray
In a forest clearing, is it not Providence, Almighty justice
That bids him hooded
& strung from the self-same tree?
A Handbag Fashioned from the Skin of Nat Turner, 1830
Then when I am they captive talk of chains.
They gentle the body down from noose to cart,
So it might be pristine for dissection. But first
A privileged few have been allowed to rummage it
The nails, a tooth, the scalp.
The top-hatted figures bob up & down inside the cart
Like pistons, supplicants whirligig-ing prayer wheels
& this one slices a foot-square piece, the delicate
& fine-haired dermis of the lower back. It pulls
Off daintily, like cutting the pages of a novel by Scott.
Cover it in salt for 30 days, & in a broth
Of seawater & urine, stir it daily & soak it
30 days longer.
To remove the fine hairs, apply the milk
of lime. Now, razor the remaining hairs. The bating
will soften it, the pickling in salt & sulfuric acid
soften it further. A coin purse, workmanship flawless, befitting
a lady of refinement.
It laves & caresses the palm of her hand.
Various Nooses Said to Hang John Brown, Charles Town, December, 1859
For never can true recouncilement grow
Where wounds of deadly hate have pierce’d so deep….
One in Massachusetts, gift of Roscoe Taylor.
One in the West Virginia Historical Museum,
Also one in Lynchburg, another in Fort Royal.
In NYC, where the coffin
came for burial, a mortician claimed
the noose still coiled his neck, waxing poetic:
The next best thing to the ladder Jacob saw.
He is not Old Brown, opined Thoreau. He is an Angel of Light,
Though to other abolitionists
he was crazed: blackguard, outlaw.
& what the Charleston & Richmond papers said of him is
Easy to imagine. Yet even Stonewall Jackson,
Reporting the body drop, lauded his unflinching firmness.
To the gallows he rode
atop his own rude coffin.
Verbose as always, he meant his final screeds
To be good PR. The crimes of this guilty land will never
Be purged away but with blood. Off to the Blue Ridge he pointed.
I never had the pleasure of seeing it before.
The Lynching of James Jordan, Waverly, Sussex County, 1925
And on methought, alone I pass’d through ways
That brought me on a sudden to the Tree…
Let us note that to lynch is not to hang.
The hanging, as Schuler reminds us, comes nearly last
& the process is protracted grievous rite.
A white woman
“attacked” in her home, her pistol stolen,
Jordan alleged to sell it to “another negro.”
Jordan is thus identified, confesses, jailed.
The mob then storms the jail. The crowd grows,
The sheriff shackled in his own cuffs.
Jail door battered,
The prisoner dragged into the street, pleading mercy.
No one masked. Shotguns fired into the air
As they string him from a telegraph pole by the Chessy
& Ohio station. As he strangles, more shots fired—
The body riddled now & doused with kerosene.
A thrown flare alights it.
Express rockets by, for this is not a town
That warrants a stop.
But the engineer slows for a better view.
How To Tie a Hangman’s Knot, 510,952 Views: (Juvenile, Name Withheld, 7 May 2012)
Consult how we must henceforth most offend
Our Enemy, our own loss how repair.
Adderal-fueled. Kid Rock on his speakers. 2 a.m. Pale fingers click
The keyboard. Parents long asleep, the rope heaped on his desk.
He follows the voiceover entranced. The most iconic
Of knots….Easy to make…
absorbs movement & shock
Notably well. You will need a single length of rope. Create
A long u-shaped bend or “bight,” tipped
On its left side. Use adequate rope, for this knot
Requires a minimum of 7 turns,
with 13 preferred.
Create another bight at the end of the first, in its
Opposite direction. The rope should look like an “S.”
Put the end of the rope over all 3 legs. (A “turn” is the name for this.)
Continue the wrapping
at least 6 times more. Stop
To tighten each one as you make it. The top of the second bight
should poke out noticeably above the topmost turn,
Forming a loop. Pass the end of the loop from front to back.
Pull the right hand edge of the loop & tighten.
Three Monkeys on Main: Watching the Walter Scott Shooting, 2015
…dire was the noise
Of conflict; over head the dismal hiss
Of fiery Darts in flaming volies flew.
Above the zinc bar’s taps & fifths, the 50-inch
floating dark as the panels of Rothko’s Chapel—
Then all come alive with CNN, iPhone footage
Grainy, sound track hiss & murmur,
Flashes vague starbursts. Nine sharp reports
& the pixels of a running black man, named for a bard,
Lie now in pixels of blood, the pixels of the cop
Bending to place
something bright on the ground
Beside the body, already too bled-out to cuff,
The barman & the drinkers transfixed.
Then the clip
Played again, again: pixels fleeing, pixels tumbling to asphalt
& the object
set like grave goods at the bloodied hip—
Pixeled but Paleolithic. He’s the Tollund Man, noose
Jerked tight as the bog
awaits his millennial sleep.
Now a voice from the bar—bastard got what he deserves.
& then our craven silence:
happy hour, the drinks are cheap.
Noose Placed in a Tree at Varina High School: (Juvenile, Name Withheld, 9 May,
…save what is in destroying, other joy
To me is lost….
By the parking lot, by the sign announcing
“Our Town,” don’t text & drive!,
From the oak ringed with mulch & pansies,
From a limb so sturdy it could dangle a body,
Pendulum-ing, a-gleam in April breeze, brightened
By the flash of a dozen cell phone cams.
And blazing with delusive light, writes Milton,
So glistered the dire snake. O serpentine one,
Ever-loquacious in your slither up & down the Knowledge Tree.
Not so different from this kid stoked on weed,
in a Nine Inch Nails tee,
Slinking up at midnight with his grim semiotic, his livery.
Almost losing his grip,
he checks his fall, then knots it snugly.
& now the twine uncoils & hisses down.
Later, the county will ferret him out.
Later, there is “appropriate disciplinary action”
& workers in a cherry picker
cut it down writhing to the dirt.