Dead Man Walking

I used to write to a man on death row. I started writing to him when I was a junior in college, and I wrote to him every few months for about four years. His name is Vernon. While I was in college, I had the opportunity to visit the jail where he is incarcerated. I wrote this in 2005 after a visit to the prison.

401 East Madison St.

From the smooth, cool, brown leather of the sofa
I hear the buzz of the coke machine, Circa 1975
I’m sitting in a waiting room that could be in
Any hospital, anywhere
But this waiting room, this anywhere,
Is a somewhere so unique
This is where the children and
The mothers and the lovers
Of the condemned sit and wait
To hear a name called.
Then they rise,
Children excited because they don’t understand,
Women dressed to the nines:
“Man these shoes hurt” and “Is my lipstick on straight?”
Primped and prepped for their tête-à-tête;
Half an hour with their very own
Dead man walking.
I see them come in and go out, through
The door that stands between the living
And the living dead;
There above the door, a sign that seems
To be mocking them, saying
“You made a difference.”

What do you think? Any tips/feedback on the writing are greatly appreciated!

6 thoughts on “Dead Man Walking

  1. Wow. I admit that I don’t know much about poetry, but this really paints a picture for me. I’m glad you’re delving back into your love of poetry and that you’re sharing with us!

  2. I don’t know much about poetry, but I did want to say that it’s inspiring that you wrote to Vernon… Talk about pro-life!

  3. I like it. It’s very vivid and evocative. I do think it’s a little wordy though. Ezra Pound used to go through T.S. Eliot’s poems and slash every word that he didn’t think was absolutely essential to the meaning of the poem, and I’ve found that doing this to my own poems, even when it hurts, often greatly enhances the meaning and sound of them and punches up the images.

    Take the last three lines. You can do it a number of ways:

    “There above the door, a sign
    “You made a difference.”

    “There above the door, a mocking sign
    assures them
    “You made a difference”

    Above the door, a sign
    “You made a difference”

    See what I mean? Cutting out words is often more effective, I’ve found, than adding or changing.

    Anyway, that’s my advice, for what it’s worth. It’s saved many of my poems from ruin.

  4. Calah,

    Thanks for the feedback! I was thinking it might be a bit wordy too, but wasn’t sure where to cut (or how to say the same thing with less). I appreciate the suggestions. 🙂

    It’s also nice to know Eliot needed an editor.

  5. Please keep sharing your poetry. I know nothing about poetry and have never written a poem. So I will love everything that you write.

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