Wednesday, June 18, 2008
Poetry in prison
When you made your mark
By Roland Fellows
When slipped out his
Cold and still electric body the
Steely hesitant scraping of your mark
The sudden taste of batteries in
His mouth and mine.
I remember a time when he was not afraid to say that he loved me
I remember when he recognized
First he tried it on
A glove, a baseball mitt
Then he swallowed it
And it sunk to the bottom or is still yet sinking
And then he shunned all his love for me
The solid undeniable thump of his
Flesh meeting pavement as you looked one
And scurried away as frightened as he
When you made your mark
My boy, Raymond, Raymond Boyd Fel…he hated that name. Raymond Boyd! He told me that it had always been an embarrassment to him and surely I must have hated him to have so permanently affixed it to him. Raymond Boyd Fellows. I’m not ashamed. I will admit it. Believe you me...there was a time when I could not. My boy, he could make me feel real...dumb…stupid even. Like no one else ever could. And he knew it too. He could turn his hate in on me and I would subsequently make it my own. I’ve ground the sharpest tips of my teeth down on this very fact. He always had the power. And he knew it. How could a father hate his own son? How could a son hate his own father? It, is the only thing left..the only thing that I still hold. It is permanent. My son’s hatred for me.
I was a fool, with my “sins of the father shit!” He was 25 years-old before he could even tell me the truth. What a fool I was! A fucking fool! You know, when a father learns that his son is a...homosexual, it is like a slap to his face. I don't care who you are or what you are, an actual slap to the face. You know that you’ve done your very best to bring him up. You brought him up in the church and he knows the path to salvation, the road to righteousness. Raymond, my boy, he knew. But instead of offering him help, instead of extending to him, in his time of need, my own flesh and blood, a guiding, loving arm to bring him back to Jesus...I shuttered, and I shirked, and I gave way to human weakness and sought refuge in the word of God. And then I used the word of God so that I could, so that I would, not have to accept the truth.
His name was Thomas Caroline. He was born in the city of Paragould, in Greene County, Arkansas. His father worked for the railroad years before and his mother was somewhat of a celebrity in the county, known for her fine, award-winning embroidery. Thomas, it turns out was an average, not altogether exceptional boy who spent most of his days, in the summer, and in the winter, reading The Bible. The Saint Louis and Iron Mountain Railroad, later to be known as the Missouri Pacific, employed his father until he was injured grievously in an inexcusably neglectful event forcing his father to seek subsistence from the state. His father festered without solace and in the end took his own life, leaving Thomas and his mother alone, together.
I suppose in some…ways, he and Raymond…had…that in common. Raymond was a very devout young Christian. He had a very, very, fiercely sincere heart and the lord was his one and constant love. I, understand, that Mr. Caroline led a similarly, sincere, life with the lord, both, washed in the blood of the lamb.
I had no use for it. To me, poetry was a thing of man. A concoction, a crafty concoction. Say what you mean I always told him. I always tried to be straightforward, and saw no reason why any man should hide behind words. Make a fact of it I say. Raymond would try, I recall now, many years before, to read to me, to try and coax a common bond from words, between us, words that only irritated me and left him staring coldly with those black eyes of his. Many times I heard distinct mumblings from his lips, though no specific consternation or disapproval could be discerned. But I felt it, full on and without fuss, his utter disgust in my lack of intellectual fortitude.
I nearly lost my footing that Saturday morning, nearly falling on the kitchen tiles. I nearly put my hand on the open flame reaching to the stove for balance. A half-page spread, of a picture, of him, holding out a scrawled on piece of paper, holding a book. This, Mr. Thomas Caroline it appeared had “won” some sort of community writing contest. He did not smile. He stood, in the picture, in one hand a book, which did not look unfamiliar to me, the other holding up the paper. I could see, although the newspaper was in black and white, the shape of some sort of ribbon. “Blue,” I thought. A blue ribbon.
The Cummins Unit, formerly known as Cummins State Farm is a 16,000 acre correctional facility located 28 miles south of Pine Bluff, off Highway 65 near the town of Grady in Lincoln County, Arkansas. It first opened in 1902 and has a capacity of 1725 inmates. Cummins Unit housed Arkansas’s death row until 1986, when it was transferred to the new Maximum Security Unit. And it was now to be the final stop for my son’s killer.