Excerpt from "Night Work Three Accounts/Ruth Snyder" by Lawrence Wray

by Leslie Anne Mcilroy

3/    Remnant

What happened to her dress?
Was it incinerated?
Was there smoke that lifted
above the prison yard,
because it clothed her body? —
a gauzy texture to the air,
faint threads unraveling
the morning after
from a chimney pipe,
and not clearing on a breeze
but fluttering close
to the ground, entangling legs
of prisoners out for sunlight,
on schedule, by the walls.


Was her dress wrapped
in butcher paper,
bound with twine for her mother
to claim within a few days? —
its tart odors and stains,
like the Shroud of Turin,
bearing a memory of the ritual
destruction of a life.
Had it become a relic, whose
presence induces a trance
of worshipful silence,
the hood pulled over Mary
Surratt’s face — if it existed still,
the dress would resemble
the empty road to the prison,
its scuff of litter and dust.


Her dress would resemble
the mute, astringent room,
his technique
of two thousand volts
for three seconds, and five
hundred for the remainder
of the first minute.

It would resemble a letter
she wrote to her daughter,
Lorraine — was it given to her
in a box with her mother’s
spare effects, one day
when she was old
enough to understand?

Had it become a remnant
last image of the light-bruised
body, the dress a span
of lapsing wakefulness
or moment of seared mind,
it would be a blankness
from which a voice begins
to flesh, a gulping for
breath, her restrained fits
crawling over the dress,
fire ants when she was gone
already and Lorraine was ten.

Lawrence Wray has been published in a variety of online and print journals, including the best of edition of Cider Press Review, Crab Orchard Review, Innisfree Poetry Journal, Sentence, and Dark Horse Review. His full-length collection of poems, The Night People Imagine, was a finalist last year for the Patricia Bibby Prize at Tebot Bach Press.