William Walker

In 1855, the owner of the New Orleans Crescent newspaper walked into Nicaragua and declared himself king. By the time a year had passed he had reinstated slavery, declared English the official language of the nation, and restructured its economy to encourage further colonization by the United States. Unfortunately for the new ruler, he made an enemy of the trainmaster Cornelius Vanderbilt, who hired two farmers to assassinate him, forcing him to flee back to the United States on a gunboat, abandoning his throne. Five years later, he would attempt to reclaim it, only to be captured in the region of the Mosquito Coast, delivered to Honduran authorities, stood up against a wall, and shot.

King slayer. 
Little prayer.

Faith in that small word
lead—the innocence

of the dancer. Financer. 
No answer. What

beyond weather 
should a new country

follow? It was the beginning 
of the wet season;

the only way
to become a man

was to kill one. 
Yellow sun.

Empty lung. 
The bullet

can be a kind 
of medicine

that moves emptiness 
from the soul,

exposing it
in the eye.

Brief sigh.
Blackened lie.

There is only one 
way to trust a king

—when he is dead, 
his once-regal

clothes, a symbol,
now irreparably frayed.

Some time after his death, bananas 
adorning the skulls of colonizers

were freely displayed.

Bailey Cohen-Vera cares about words. He is a Wiley Birkhofer Fellow in Poetry at NYU and the founder of Strange Tools, a writer’s workshop program.