M. L. Williams


On his back, spine against wood,
blinking blood from his eyes
tight as knots, this criminal
looks up, trying to make a face
from the shadow the sun haloes.

The soldier inspects these tense
desert hands, tough as old sandals,
sighs a little, kneads a cramp
from his own tight palm and prays
the next one's a soft, failed bureaucrat.

He holds the nail firm against the flesh
of the hand, gauges an efficient angle,
studies the smoothest weave through
taut tendons, hammers between the pebbles
of small white bones into the forgiving wood.

There is an art, a Roman symmetry
to crucifixion, and a consequence
should one fall off, or should one arm,
dislodged, plead like a collapsing
windmill for sympathy or revenge.

This prisoner relaxes his hand a little
around the nail, which bites in clean and holds
in the plank. The soldier glances into his own
shadow around the grained face, into eyes
speaking the language of nails and wood.