by Dale Wisely
Here is RHP Issue 85. I find this issue sad, in may ways. Sadness is something we should neither dwell on or avoid. With joy, I send my thanks, as always, to my colleagues and co-editors F. John Sharp, F. J. Bergmann, and Laura M Kaminski. Thanks, also, to those who contributed to this issue, those who submitted to it and whose work we passed on, and to you for reading Right Hand Pointing.
I don’t know where I would rank Robert Bly among my favorite poets, except I know it would be high on the list. Maybe at the top. I see that he is presently 88 years old. I don’t know what kind of shape he is in or whether he is still writing. I hope, at least, he is able to look out a window and see the snowy fields. Maybe get out a bit on foot and see boards lying on the ground. In 1962, Bly wrote--
I love to see boards lying on the ground in early spring;
The ground beneath them is wet, and muddy—
Perhaps covered with chicken tracks—
And they are dry and eternal.
There’s more to the poem, but it’s all about the wood and the ground and chickens. We’ve had more famous poems about wood and the ground and chickens, but I love that one. You can’t really do wrong with a good poem about wood and the ground and chickens. Write one now and you’ll see what I mean.
I once had a friend named Darrell Grayson. He was killed by the State of Alabama in the name of my fellow Alabamians and me in 2007. The State of Alabama did this over my objections, which has been something of a theme in my years here. I have some pretty compelling evidence that the State of Alabama does not care what I think.
I still miss Darrell. He used to write me actual letters. So, you know, among other things, we lost a letterwriter. I used to send him poetry books and I believe I acquainted him with Bly. I hope so, because I know he came to love Bly’s work as I do. He told me once that he loved the book The Night Abraham Called to the Stars. Recalling that title was Darrell’s favorite makes me smile and cry a little at the same time. Bly wrote that when Abraham saw the stars that night—
He cried, "You are my Lord!" How destroyed he was
When he watched them set. Friends, he is like us:
We take as our Lord the stars that go down.
If you say, when you read that, that we do not take as our Lord the stars that go down, reconsider. Because, friends, Bly is right about this and about most things.
When the day of Darrell’s execution came, I drove to Atmore where Alabama’s notorious Holman Prison is. (It may not even be our most notorious prison. That distinction might fall on the Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women.)
I had no idea what to expect. I had hoped, I guess, that I could have stood outside the prison and waited with my fingers hooked through a chainlink fence. I found, instead, that the entry road to the prison had been blocked off to prevent people like myself from just driving up on the day of an execution. So, I drove to a service station that I remembered sat at a high enough elevation that I could stand in the parking lot and see the prison. Sort of. So I did. I waited until I got the digital news that Darrell was dead. I later learned his last words were to wish people peace.
I called my daughter who, at the time, was working for the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty in Washington, D.C. (All three of my daughters do very good things with their lives and are useful people, which is matter of great pride to me. Let me encourage you to make yourself useful, if I may. It's a fine way to live.) She knew Darrell’s case, of course, and knew he was my friend.
When I called her, standing on a bit of grass adjacent to the service station, I cried on the phone. My daughter consoled me and reminded me that I had published Darrell’s poems, had written him letters, sent him books, and had loved him. This was a daughter consoling a father, which is as sad and beautiful as chickens in the yard, wooden boards on the ground and the stars going down.