Twenty Three Stanzas for the Last 23 Minutes of Nate Woods’ Life


The South is an open graveyard filled with Black bodies occupying an eternal residence for crimes they did not commit. An overcrowded mausoleum of names that could not be pardoned, because what is mercy in a land that trademarked what it meant to be merciless?


Nate Woods is now a memory in spite of evidence that suggests he should be present tense. Alabama found it easier to poison his blood rather than allow it to continue flowing. He is now initiated into the brotherhood of goodbye & we are left in sorrow from the system’s latest heist.


You cannot talk about the Deep South without talking about a trail of bones buried by way of sentencing. What is a fair trial to a courtroom encircled by a murder of Jim Crows above its roof? What is a Black defendant to a system hell-bent on upholding a slave caste? What better way for a system to legalize lynching than to reduce it to the mere pound of gavel?


Kay Ivey must have sought counsel from the ghost of George Wallace. Must have had a moment of generational envy. Must have wanted her name to be connected to a lineage of governors that doubled as hitmen. She muted the cries of “stay” to make sure Nate would leave & this is how Southern white politicians have long appeased constituents who desired for Black folks to be no more.


Texas spared Rodney Reed in a way that Alabama was not open to saving Nate Woods. Alabama is a member of a fraternal order of states sworn by a blood oath to deliver smash mouth oppression. It is not that Texas is a lighthouse of progress, it is that the Delta is the parent cell that carries the DNA for American racism. It passes down an inheritance of intolerance within a geography cultivated by hands once held captive.


I live in Louisiana. A land of convict leasing. A land where the incarcerated are enslaved in ways that far surpasses the norm. A land that shares kinship with Mississippi & Alabama & Florida & Georgia. A place that embodies the phrase “property of the state”. We know what it means to either consent to hard labor or be fitted for a toe tag. To be a rare exoneration. To live with a fear of going in and never coming out.


There was a shooter’s confession. A plea to leave Nate be. It could not overturn a wish to execute. Which is what it means to walk in the skin of bloodlust.


In the olden days, electric chairs would fry the life out of death row inmates and that was considered inhumane. Nowadays, a slow serum of toxins siphons the life from the convicted. It took 23 minutes for Nate’s life to become his after-life. For the poison to disrupt the function of his organs. It has taken generations for an alternative to capital punishment to be considered. And will possibly take more lifetimes for it to be put down.


Blackness and fate walk into a death sentence. Hog-tied by a history that allows for no way out. Fate tells Blackness to close its eyes and wait for peace & Blackness complies because what are its options?


We petition and call; they ignore and inject.


We pray and they tell us that vengeance is theirs because punitive justice has a god complex.


They said Nate was an accomplice. Said he organized an ambush against a trio of officers. Meanwhile, somewhere in America, someone with a badge was brutalizing someone Black. Was ambushing a neighborhood. Was terrorizing a community at the same time Nate’s veins were being flooded with chemicals designed to dead any inkling of innocence.


I once wondered how lawmakers slept when they knew they were crucifying a citizen with reasonable doubt. I now only have room for remorse on behalf of our ancestors forced into permanent slumber at the hands of non-unanimous juries.


A family lost a family member.


Another southern city was the final destination for a Black man seeking a verdict not marred in violence.


Governor Ivey says she “believes in the rule of law and justice must be served” & a chain gang of Black victims of execution rise from their resting places begging her to reconsider.


The lone surviving officer of the ambush would not pinpoint Nate in any line up of killers.


The courts tried to blame gangsta rap as the motivation for the gun Nate never fired, but I wonder what is the soundtrack to a lynching? What sonic booms through a chorus of “not him”... “he’s not the triggerman?” And when the lethal needle breaks skin does it sound like a heart mimicking a slowed down snare drum stutter stepping toward its final rhythm?


Call lines jammed.


Signatures for salvation fall on deaf hearts.

Twenty one.

Last meal prepared.

Twenty two.

Hands clasped in formation for Islamic prayer.

Twenty three.

On the other side of this place, there is a just world. One that does not marginalize the bodies it welcomes. Nathaniel Woods went home by way of cruel eviction. After Black innocence was too high of a living cost to retain residency on this side of soil. And on this side we still await a new world to emerge from the one that governs us gone. A world where the weight of Blackness does not consistently tilt the scales of justice against us. A world where if everybody say we ain’t do it, then we ain’t do it. One where those words are enough to leave us be.