Ballad of a Hanged Man

‘Ballad of a Hanged Man’ is a poem which is written in the style of a song. It is based on fifteen hundred pages of trial testimony connected to the trial, conviction and execution of my first cousin once removed, George Hamilton, who was hanged along with his brother Rufus in Fredericton, New Brunswick, on July 27 1949, as a result of the murder and robbery that they committed in January 1949.

Geo: Their drinks to my drinks feel different.
I’ll stomach a stammering teaspoon full,
but Roach laps up half the half bottle.
He slups glass for glass with the best.

I sidled in, easy, the taxi with a hammer,
harsh, in my pocket. See, as a wed man,
I don’t care if I wear uglified overalls.
But I ain’t gonna hear my child starve.

I had the intention to ruck some money.
In my own heart, I had that, to rape money,
because I was fucked, in my own heart.
I took scared, shaking inside of me.

I knows Fredericton reporters can prove
zoot-suit vines style not my viciousness.
I was shaking all that evening, my mind,
shaking. But my child was hungered.

Have you ever gone in your life, going
two days without eating, and whenever
you get money, you’re gonna eat and eat
regardless of all the bastards in Fredericton

was bust in the head, skull jimmied open?
This is what I’m sermonizing in English:
homemade brew, dug up fresh, tastes like
molasses. We had some. Some good.

Logic does not break down these things, sir.
If I hadn’t dropped the hammer, laughing,
Silver would be laughing now. Laughing. Silver
moon and snow dropped on the ground.

Two pieces of bone driven two inches
deep in his brain. What’s deeper still?
The bones of the skull were bashed
into the brain. Blood railed out.

I was so mixed up, my mind bent crooked.
Silver’s neck, face, and hand bleached cold.
Inside the sedan 19-black-49 sobbing Ford.
Outside, snow and ice smelling red-stained.

I ain’t dressed this story up. I am enough
disgraced. I swear to the truths I know.
I wanted to uphold my wife and child.
Hang me and I’ll not hold them again.

from Execution Poems (Gaspereau Press, 2001), © George Elliott Clarke 2001, used by permission of the author and the publisher.

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