LaWanda Walters – Execution

Walters LE P&W 5 Nov-Dec 2023

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14th Anniversary Edition, Live Encounters Poetry & Writing Volume Five Nov-Dec 2023.

Execution, poems by LaWand Walters.


Anne Boleyn’s truest friend aimed
his sword like a knight, her pretty neck
at the mercy of his strength and accuracy.
He got it just right, so that while her head

rolled, she saw him, a knight with a sword
galloping toward her, like some fairy tale,
beating his own time and accuracy
on his fast horse, grabbing her just before

the earlier cut, so now, as in some tale,
she was back in one piece. He’d broken
some law of the universe we’d all like gone,
seconds ticking by while what’s unfair happens.


To Anne Sexton
I have been her kind, you said, and I
believed you, took heart in your courage,
thinking you meant like me or Madame
Bovary, like the girl in my Mississippi
junior high who “had gone all the way”
with a guy. I’d see her by the sinks and mirrors,
ratting her hair, adding eyeliner.
Like anyone misunderstood,
called “lazy” or “indolent” or that word
my brother-in-law used after my husband’s
diagnosis—What an ingrate!
But no, you go riding in some cart
with your demon lover, take your “hitch
over the plain houses.” I cannot sing your pitch
of song—you have written music like Rachmaninoff’s
Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini. You are up
in the wilds of harmonics and ghosts, “dreaming of evil”
like some bauble or fancy cigarette. You ride
with the old tale (the broom, the dildo),
leagues away from less beautiful girls,
anxious to please by opening their legs,
or someone spending more
because they’d been poor—plain old
self-consciousness, fear of what others say.
A dropping vertigo at supposing
those gossips might have been right.
I was jealous of your writing “Little Girl, My String Bean”—
your nerve in that poem, your love for her growing,
blossoming. How could a mother write that way
about her child’s body?

We were not haunted the same way, you and I.
I was foolish, a spendthrift. I could not bear my grief.
And so that day, when I took my children
to the orthodontist, I did not worry about the time.

This was right before cellphones and always knowing
where a person is. The waiting room was full,
and after the long appointments,
my kids getting fitted for braces,
we drove to a place to get soothing tapioca
and ice cream. I loved those times, alone
with my children. Maybe we went to Gamestop.

It was confusing, later. Did I actually know
he might die that day? I remember getting back
that afternoon, the front door still ajar.
So much of life is unclean hindsight.

Palm Tree and Pool

Picture the palm tree my mother purchased
at the Island Garden Store. It flourished,
but then it got so tall that you’d bump into
the privacy fence, trying to walk backwards
far enough to see it whole. Well, she couldn’t afford
an architect, and people paid in cash for piano

lessons from her, and that paid off, teaching piano
under the table, so to speak. Anyone should purchase
what they want unless they hurt others to afford
it. If anyone did, my mother deserved to flourish,
make her own paradise. People looked backwards
to stare at her when I was little. Bumpkins,

who don’t know better than to want to bump into
someone different than they are and stare. She played piano
and organ at church while her husband sang—backwards
to how it should have been. She was the genius. He’d chase
the women he directed in the choir. He’d flourish—
they’d think he was “the sweetest man”—then get fired

for his double life. We’d move to what we could afford
next, to the smaller church where he wouldn’t bump into
someone who knew his problems from before. He’d flourish,
thinking he was the righteous one. So Mama quit being pianist
after that church in the mountains. The women he chose
(this one named Phoebe) were plump, didn’t talk back

like Mama did, using her terrible words. He’d knock her backwards,
my mother, who had trouble walking anyway. When he was fired
that last time, Mama became agnostic. She finally found purchase,
her balance. She followed him to Georgia, but Jesus’s picture got bumped
from the walls for Matisse, the Bible traded for her library, the sound of the piano
from lessons or from Bach and Rachmaninoff. Flowers, not saintly flourishes.

We were grown up, but now we had a home for the summers, flourishing.
Meals of brown rice and steamed vegetables, her walking not awkward
in that blue pool. Some artist’s residence with poems, art, the piano.
Life seemed smooth, for a while. the rough patches forded.
We were not ready to let it go, that lack of bumpiness.
She built it on her own. It felt like an oasis, our purchase

on paradise. In the pool, her walk was even, no bumping up and down.
Teaching piano, she kept that tree in the back of her mind.
And it was no fiction. She could afford it. For a while, it flourished.

© LaWanda Walters

LaWanda Walters earned her M.F.A. from Indiana University, where she won the Academy of American Poets Prize. Her first book of poems, Light Is the Odalisque, was published in 2016 by Press 53 in its Silver Concho Poetry Series. Her poems have appeared in Poetry, Georgia Review, Nine Mile, Radar Poetry, Antioch Review, Cincinnati Review, Ploughshares, Shenandoah, The American Journal of Poetry, Laurel Review, North American Review, Southern Poetry Review, Alligator Juniper, and several anthologies, including Best American Poetry 2015, Obsession: Sestinas in the Twenty-First Century, and I Wanna Be Loved by You: Poems on Marilyn Monroe. She received an Ohio Arts Council Individual Excellence Award in 2020. She lives in Cincinnati with her husband, poet John Philip Drury.

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