Poet Lucie Brock-Broido reads her poem “Of Tookie Williams” from her latest collection “Stay, Illusion.” Brock-Broido explained that the subject of her poem is Stanley “Tookie” Williams, one of the leaders of the notorious Los Angeles street gang known as the Crips. Williams was put to death on Dec. 13, 2005, in San Quentin State Prison in California. The poem takes us back to the morning of his execution. Listen to her reading of the poem in the player above for the poet’s take on some of the details from the story of Tookie Williams.
Of Tookie Williams
By Lucie Brock-Broido
A thousand inmates’ spoons for music
While the paper kite flies like a boy-weed caught
In wind from San Quentin to nestle in the next
Prison and the next. Do not do this thing,
The kite said,
But not that gently on the page of it.
The Governor, Not if Mr. Williams won’t atone.
Underground, a pen of clemency will not irritate
The vellum of the night.
There was a snag, the warden said.
So enormous was Tookie’s arm
The needle couldn’t enter it, eleven minutes of poking
Three to find the vein,
Thirty-six to put him down.
Tookie was a big man,
The warden said, But it’s only salt that stops
The heart–you know–that simple.
But if I say “simple” for example, I mean
That in the private gardens
Of our aristocracy, the animals are harnessed in
Or bled out broad by
Day and when they take them down,
The children are only very gently
Sad, a habit of the class they were born to.
Me, I am not “mean,” I’m told, only
Vengeful, which is a relief to me, of course.
The wind is kicking up now. Lung for lung.
Soon I will be done for.
On his last night here on earth, he only took milk.
Reprinted with permission from Alfred A. Knopf