February 1, 2010)
First, the story. Then, the grave.
She loved him, she loved him
not. She killed him, she didnít. Before we killed her, she
spoke or she didnít speak. She and her words are whittled by
the storyteller who sits invisible in the tree we gather beneath
today as rain slips into her coffin like every coffin, no matter
what the salesman whispers in the parlorís showroom.
We are gathered to celebrate
a momentous moment. The first hanging of a woman in the state.
The first woman in such a state. A first and only woman. A
woman who lived and died over a hundred years ago. A woman
who wore white thrice. A wedding veil, a mourning veil, a veil
of mold. The third only seen by what eats her, like applause.
According to time and town, she
rode her casket between crowds who came to cheer and be cheered
by the one who cheers on the left and the right. So many tourists
the townís four blinded horses paraded her to the larger town
with a taller ladder and tree where her legs thrashed, fluttering
her skirt and baring her ankles like evidence of guilt. Where
there is guilt, there is crime or love.
Before her heart stopped, her
lungs and her father's knees collapsed like the bleachers after
burial. We inhaled her last breath, hoisting our screams and
her body to the branch.On
the tree across from hers, wide-eyed children perched. Unfortunately,
their branch broke a breath before her neck, so many turned,
never to say later that they applauded only their imagining
of her death. Those who saw never described, how, before the
rope saved her from the town and the town from each other,
it looked like she would fall into our hands, so we tried to
catch her, but our palms caught only themselves, clapping in
and out of prayer, all our hands exploding so that death had
a sound we could stop.
Now to her grave and then to
the annual downtown festival: free popcorn, a tribute band,
Main-Street coffin races where we take pictures of ourselves
pushing children in pine boxes toward the finish line.
Tomorrow, the parade and play.
Tonight, a hayride then bonfire.
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Palestine, IL by
published February 1, 2010