I saw them two white girls on their way past me
me and my sister letting our cow graze
and they asked us where the maypops grow
but we didn’t know. We knew our place.
But when all those hundreds went searching
that night all over the countryside
and found them underwater in the ditch
beaten with a railroad spike
they came for me. They came to my house
and my tear-eyed baby sister watched
them tear me away. The police screamed
until their faces turned red, said I killed them
two white girls. But I knew my place.
I wasn’t gonna be able to see my family,
they said, unless I said I did it.
Them three big white men all crowded me
and for an hour they shouted at me,
and wrote down some notes saying I confessed.
Two weeks I waited in jail and knew.
Them three big white men said I done it.
A lynch mob gathered outside the jail
and wanted to get in at me to kill me.
When they pulled me out into the courtroom
the white man talked to all the other white men
and then the ones who would decide went away
for ten minutes. I didn’t look up when the judge
said I’d die. The white men all went home for dinner.
The Governor came to watch me the night before.
I watched the floor and remember the face of my sister
and the face of my brother and my mother and my father
who had to leave or be lynched after they took me away.
Last I saw them their faces were all wet and bloated
like the faces of them little girls must have been
in that ditch full of water. But I don’t know really
because I never seen them girls when they were dead.
That Governor must have been thinking
how I was black as the sin I did
killing two little white girls picking flowers
pure as anything but maybe he didn’t know
that my baby sister is pure as anything too.
When they took me out of the little room
to take me to another, I held a Bible
in my right hand. It was evening but
I couldn’t know that. I’d been in the dark
for eighty-one days.
The chair was too big for me. I sat
on the Bible to make me taller
and the straps fell loose from my arms
and ankles. The wires wouldn’t stay.
Like God was telling them they’d made
But they didn’t listen like they didn’t listen
when I said I never killed those girls.
They put a mask over my face and it smelled
like the place I was going and back there
I let my eyes cry for those little white girls
and for my poor pure little sister
but when they got the wires in place
and flicked the switch and the power
jolted through me like a burning fire
the mask fell away and I screamed
to the heavens and my arms and my legs
thrashed like a dance I never could catch up to
and my head jammed back and into my chest
and I bit my tongue and the blood was all in my throat
and I saw the stars in my eyes bursting, wide open
like it felt – my blood from my skin and all feeling
but pain and it went through me with the men watching
as the drool pooled from my mouth, and my eyes staring forward
with each jolt, three of them, for four minutes
that were my whole lifetime.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.