By conservative estimates, there are currently enough wrongfully convicted people in prison in the United States to fill a football stadium.
Subscribe and Save up to 55%
The same year his wife died Clarence
tripped off the tractor. Helplessly big, game
leg rigid as a plea in the air, he twisted
his head to watch the mower shuffle toward him
over the sweet timothy singing its awesome melody.
It severed him mid-thigh. The storm of his own
blood twisting around him, he thought fast
and saved himself dancing: a beetle on its back,
he jigged round and round, wild, to turn his head
downhill. Later they told him what he had
already learned from the death of his wife:
when a limb is gone you still feel it, still
reach to touch it. So it was for him
in the armchair of the early dark
The bull chased the old man every week.
For months he ran, barely making the fence,
in time leaving a patch of his pants fluttering
like an angry tongue on the barbed wire.
August, patience depleted, he carried a bat
when he went to check the pump, and when the bull
charged, he struck, square between the eyes,
like the strong man at the circus. The bell rang,
and the fine animal fell in its tracks.
Turning, the man dragged the bat
beside him, his heart pounding. He knew
a boundary existed where fear turned rage
was punished: it was his only breeding bull.
Later, resolute, he went back. Seeing the man,
the dazed beast fled to the field’s far side,
and seeing the bull, released, the man laughed.
When flames from the granaries
threatened the stock house,
water was out at the barn,
and the younger men had scrambled
to the pump to start a bucket brigade,
Charlie snatched a teacup and climbed
to the roof, his own circus, a one-
handed balancing act. We watched
from the far side of the lane
while, cup overflowing, heart exuberant,
he doused sparks, one by one.
Charlie was old enough to remember
the dead wagon that came for the heifer
lost in calving, old enough to remember
the tornado that tore a two-by-four
from the barn to drive it through
a sow’s belly; he was old enough to know
there is sufficient violence for everyone —
every human, every beast.
So, caught without bucket that day,
Charlie skittered along the roof,
china cup in his weathered hand,
a pig’s pain guiding his immense heart.