Friday, February 3, 2017

James Walton #33 One eight six

One eight six

She likes the sandwiches cut in triangles,
vegemite and butter and I’m lithe with a knife
an even spread sculpting the edges.
Though it goes against her pride in doing so,
I help with the shoelaces that slip undone
our kitten fighting every finger.

It’s a special ordinance rope I carefully plait,
we have to be certain that all the measures
height and weight and drop fall are right.
I don’t think about any of the noises now,
rudimentary skills are art for the initiated
and the sounds of death are swift.

Awkward glances tarry over the hood,
there should be a handkerchief in the satchel
if it’s taken we’ll all know where to look.
I worry over grated knees on the rough bitumen,
holding breath to that blanking point of release
a great gulping sigh knowing you’re alive again.

They’re singing belief on the other side,
the bluestone fish scales in indifferent chorus
hums through the pauper’s turned soil.
Recess bells meet the silence of this forlorn attire,
palms still itching from the Particulars Handbook
scribed with the details of death by fracture dislocation.

Again I wash my hands for cooking dinner,
distracted how potatoes are like the taut of a nape
and that a heart can beat for three to four minutes.
The cat can sleep on her bed tonight when she asks,
in the knot of her thankful innocent arms
my day breaks like a thousand dry plates.


186 is the final entry in the Victorian ‘Particulars of Execution Handbook’ held at the Public Records Office.  In it are described the details of each execution carried out by the official Victorian Hangman of the time.

186 was Ronald Ryan hanged at 8.00am on February the third, 1967. This was last exercise of capital punishment in Australia.

‘He stood quite still and was cooperative with the execution. As he fell one heard his neck break. After fall no movements. Heart beat for 3 to 4 minutes. No breathing. Cause of death Fracture dislocation of neck consistent with judicial hanging.’


  1. Captivating, engaging and ominous. Love the last stanza with the cat, the thankful innocent arms and the day breaking like a thousand dry plates - fabulous lines.

  2. Wow, how powerful, and yes haunting as Kit already said, I love this poem!

  3. The inescapable knot of the hangman's noose in every body, even the innocent! How intricately you've implicated us all in this, James. Great stuff.


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