“Joe Arridy” by Joseph Fasano

Joseph Fasano


1915–1939—“young American man known for having been falsely accused, wrongfully convicted, and wrongfully executed for the 1936 murder of a fifteen-year-old girl in Pueblo, Colorado … Arridy was severely mentally disabled and is believed to have made a false confession. He received a full and unconditional pardon seventy-two years after his death.”

This morning they took my train away.
I hear the birds
singing in the garden.
Why do they always have to sing?

I tell them Joe won’t die.
No one believes me.
They take my train away.
And the stupid birds keep singing.

They sit with me and tell me
to tell my story.
Tell what happened to the girls.
When I forget,

they tell me my story.
It’s like a game and it’s funny.
Like the time daddy
locked me in the garden shed

so he could visit with mom.
Visit means tickle
and it makes a strange sound.
A strange sound makes me alone and that’s bad.

They give me my train back.
The wood is so soft.
I soaked it in the toilet
so I can cut my name in there with my fingernail.

I cut the names of mom and daddy, too.
And Frank, who hurt the girls.
They told me if I tell them
I was Frank when he hurt them

I could see the new kitten.
Now he’s on my train. Now he’s me. 
Now the moon shines on the floor
like the milk I got in trouble for

and that’s bad.
I try to clean it up but it’s not real.
I try to tell them
I’ll clean up what I did but they say it’s real.

The new kitten is nice.
She has a white tail and the warden’s wife
holds her when I stroke her.
She says things to me in kitten

and that’s not bad.
A lot of things are not bad.
Like the sun and the moon.
And the stars. Really the stars.

I saw them once from that great big train
in Wyoming
and that was not bad.
I can still close my eyes and see them sometimes a little bit always.

I remember mom’s pearls
when she tucked me in and I was sick.
I told her they were like the stars.
She said that’s nice Joe be quiet go back to sleep always so I did and I will and I do.

I think probably
if I think about it
and I do think about it
I’ve been asleep a long time maybe forever a little bit always.

Maybe when the warden touches me
it hurts because it hurts to be asleep.
Maybe everyone else is awake
and that’s bad.

Ice cream in the morning is not bad.
Ice cream in the morning is very good.
I tell them Joe won’t die and
that’s good. They say

that’s good, that’s good,
and they smile so it must be true.
Last night
the warden’s wife let me hold the kitten

on my own.
She cried when I held it so I don’t know why.
Then she said
it will be quick, Joe, you know that, don’t you?

I said oh yes everything is quick.
Your eyes are quick your lips are quick
your lipstick is quick your voice and your heartbeat too.
She smiled and smiled.

But probably she meant the kitten growing up a little.
Things grow up so quick
mom always says and some things
don’t last forever.

Daddy threw her clothes in the yard sometimes a lot
and I had to go get them.
It was like picking up pieces of the moon I don’t know.
But it was like that. It was like that all the time.

Why are you sad Mrs. Warden. 
Why are you sad Ms. Kitten.
Why are you sad Mr. Milk.
Why are you sad Master Moon.

They say my name will last forever
and I say that’s good and they say
no that’s bad. So I don’t know.
Maybe there’s nothing to be sad about maybe sometimes a little bit always.

I have a picture of mom and daddy
that’s made up so no one can take it away.
I keep it in the pocket of my striped shirt over
my heart and that’s good. That’s very good.

They tell me the time is one hour to go.
But to go where 
no one will tell me. 
They take my ice cream away. They take

my train away. They take 
all the names on it away and my picture
in my pocket and also the kitten which is bad.
I think if she could talk 

she would tell me I don’t have to be sorry.
But I am sorry. 
I’m sorry I ever hurt those girls
even if I didn’t hurt them ever

because when you’re sorry then a thing didn’t happen.
I don’t want that thing to happen.
I don’t want any thing to happen.
Can I tell you something else 

if you really want to know
I’m a little bit scared sometimes always
but then the warden comes and holds my hand and that’s good.
I think he’s coming to hold it again now.

I hear the birds singing. I hear
the sun and the moon and my train
falling down the stairs. 
I hear the kitten talking in the dark

and her voice won’t always be like that because
things grow up so quick you hardly know them anymore.
And the birds stop singing.
And the moon stops spilling.

And my name is famous I am 
very famous and the birds sing and the moon spills
and the Man comes with the black mask to talk to me maybe
about the kitten.

It won’t be quick, he says. It won’t be quick.
But I know that. 
I know. 
Why do people tell each other’s stories?

from Rattle #73, Fall 2021


Joseph Fasano: “I rarely remark on one of my own poems, but it occurs to me to say that ‘Joe Arridy’—which at first glance may appear a rather unusual poem, in a rather unusual voice—makes its way toward a question, in its final line, that attempts to recover the humanity in our current cultural conversations about the appropriateness of attempting to inhabit someone else’s voice. It is indeed a nearly impossible act, indeed often a kind of transgression, but it is precisely that crossing over into the lives of others by which we live.” (web)

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