Ode for Rain from Death Row
The rain is a cold, clean prayer,
the only light I want to see.
I say it still rains on her
like it rains on the bars and streets
somewhere outside the walls.
And in the rain, she is always twenty,
her shoes always candy-red Converse,
her jeans always damped to her thighs,
her mouth never parted from mine.
She hasn’t pressed her lips to glass
since the fire; the ashes are back to ashes, the dust
follows dust, the spring rain powders her arms
and evaporates in the stare of the sun.
And this rain is the only light I want to see.
A mist that kisses till my socks are sponge,
till the fire fizzles and baby is back again
cooing with hot-chocolate-warm hands.
Before I die I want to stand outside,
birth-naked, let the Lord soak me.
But options and pardons are gone.
The priest only offers a glass
where my throat wants a holy rain that pours
in sheets and hoods and lasts for forty days,
till it floods, and floats my sins away.
Published in 'Tomorrow, We Will Live Here' from Salt Publishing, 2010
This poem is based on a quote from Kenny Ritchie – a dual British-American citizen who was on Death Row in Ohio following a conviction for killing a two-year-old in a 1987 arson. In 2006 he had reached the end of a lengthy appeals process and was quoted in The Observer saying, “My dearest wish before I die is to stand outside in Scottish rain and to feel it soak me.” In 2008, he accepted a plea bargain which released him from death row and he returned to the UK.
bio: RYAN VAN WINKLE is a poet, live artist and critic living in Edinburgh, www.ryanvanwinkle.com. His second collection, The Good Dark, won the Saltire Society's 2015 Poetry Book of the Year award. As a member of Highlight Arts he has organized festivals and translation workshops in Syria, Pakistan and Iraq. Recently, they have been working on a new play about the death penalty in Pakistan. This project has been commissioned by the Justice Project Pakistan and is in partnership with Ajoka Theatre and Complicite. To learn more about their JPP's human rights work please visit: www.jpp.org.pk.