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Elegy Ending With a Cell Door Closing

By Reginald Dwayne Betts

— for Rojai Fentress

& the Judge told him to count
The trees in the parking lot
Where there were only cars: Zero
The same number of stars
You could see on a night in the city.
& the Judge told him the parking lot will
Be crowded with trees, oaks & spruces
& pines & willows & grass & maybe
Horses before he smells the city
On a Sunday afternoon; & another
Word for this story is azalea, the purple
Bouquet his mother might have buried
Her face against, had she known for this
Judge sentencing Fats was a Funeral —
A mourning, another purplish bruise; Fats
Pled not guilty, which is to say, he has never
Murdered a man, & in the courtroom, he
Washed his hands against the air, as if
To say fuck everything; imagine, no hair
Troubled his face that afternoon &
He'd never held a razor, except
Inside his mouth, the best weapon a man
Could hope for, unless you were
The cat I saw tussle, for a second,
With a Louisville slugger, turning
The razor under that man’s tongue
Into a kind of prayer, his hands leaping
To his face & blood appearing as if
Always there, & the man’s hands
Fumbling against the air, as if ablution
Could be found drenched in blood,
& remembering reminds me that Fat’s
Washing was a kind of holy, a plea,
A reaching, for trees, for wild horses,
For all the violence he’s known, to make
Of him free, when innocence failed.




Listen as Reginald Dwayne Betts reads,
"Elegy Ending With a Cell Door Closing."

Added: Monday, December 9, 2019  /  From "Felon," (W. W. Norton & Co., 2019). Used with permission.
Reginald Dwayne Betts
Photo by Mamadi Doumbouya.

Reginald Dwayne Betts is the author of four books. His latest collection of poetry, Felon, was published in October 2019 by W.W. Norton. He holds a J.D. from Yale Law School. Betts was a featured poet at Split This Rock Poetry Festival: Poems of Provocation & Witness 2016.

Other poems by this author