Two Poems

Poetry / Juan R. Palomo

:: A Shy One ::

A few minutes in the recreation cage.
Winter’s chill has begun to sneak into fall’s
time and, as he’s escorted back to his cell,
he shivers despite his recent exercise.

The Dallas Cowboys’ game will soon start. He won’t
see it and he won’t hear it but he will know
the results: as soon as the game is over,
the score will echo loudly from cell to cell.

The Cowboys will play again the next Sunday
and Sundays after that until the season
ends. Then they’ll start another season, only
he might not be around to hear about it.

The days are growing short. Fifty days before
his own date with fate, he is now seeing the
world through the eyes of the hundreds of men
who lived this experience in these same cells.

No doubt all felt about their approaching death
just as he does now: whatever happens is
God’s will, and all he can do now is pray—pray
for His favor, for strength—and smile and walk on.

A tour group comes through, looking like regular
Joes and Janes. Three women stand as far from him
as they can and look at him. He walks away
from his door. “Oh, a shy one,” he hears one say.


:: His Future ::

1. The Barber

From his cell, he can see
the prison barber on days
the recreation cage is used
for cutting hair. He enjoys

the view and he likes the
banter as inmates are led

in and out of the cage, 
and hearing them ask

for different cuts, as if they
had a choice. The view from

his cell window is not bad either. 
He can see horses in a pasture. 

He sees woods, and cars
on a road. Far away. 

2.  The Taquería

He thinks of how he’d feel   
if he were to suddenly find 
himself outside the walls, amid 

the aroma of a panadería 
or a taquería. How he would
love to order some taquitos

de barbacoa, con guacamole 
or pico de gallo. And a Bud
or a Dos Equis, por favor. 

He smiles, realizing he
just sounded as if he were 
in a cafe, talking to a waiter.

3.  The Painkillers

The painkillers make it bearable but he’s
beginning to wonder if there’s something 
really wrong. Could it be stress? Or is
it all in his mind? His body may be filled

with pain, he tells himself, but he should
not allow pain to also take over his days,
and he struggles to remain in good humor.
He just has to learn to be more active,

that’s all, and hopeful. He wonders if the
hearing on the twenty-ninth was held.
He doubts it, for he’s sure he would have 
heard by now if the court had set his date.


From the writer

:: Account ::

Nineteen years ago I became friends with a person on Texas’ Death Row, Rogelio (Roy) Reyes Cannady.

Over the next twelve years, Rogelio and I exchanged letters at least once a week, sometimes more often. Seven months after our first communication, I made my first of many visits to Livingston, where the state’s death-row inmates are housed. Each letter, each visit told me this was a special person, extremely intelligent. I soon realized he was also a damn good writer, despite his never having finished high school.

His case was on appeal throughout most of our friendship, but Rogelio was a realist and knew that sooner or later his time would come, and he asked me if I could be a witness to his execution. I agreed, reluctantly. Unfortunately, I was unable to keep my promise (for reasons that would take too much space to explain), but we remained friends and in constant contact.

Three months before his scheduled execution date of November 6, 2008, he was moved to what is called “Death Watch,” a group of cells designed to hold inmates whose dates are approaching. It was then that he decided he wanted to blog about the rest of his days on earth. Even though he had never seen the Internet, he had heard and read about blogs and was intrigued by the idea. Of course, he had no access to a computer, much less the Internet, so he asked me to start and maintain a blog for him. He wrote his posts, in long hand, and mailed them to me to transcribe and post. I received his last post a few days after his eventual execution, May 19, 2010.

I have always known I would write about my relationship with Rogelio, and about our correspondence. I just didn’t know how or when. Earlier this year, however, in response to a prompt in a poetry workshop, it became clear to me that verse was how I would address it, and I wrote a poem based on a telephone conversation I had with him a few hours before he died, and on a blog post from a few days earlier.

I wrote other poems, including the two featured here, based on his words as found in some of the hundreds of letters he wrote to me. In many ways, these are his words and thoughts. These are his poems.

In writing them, I wish to offer others a better insight into the daily lives and thoughts—and the humanity—of some of those we condemn to death. In doing so, I also hope to allow myself a better understanding of that friendship.


Juan R. Palomo was born into a migrant farmworker family in North Dakota and grew up in South Texas and several Midwestern states. He received a BS in art education from Texas State University and an MA in journalism and public affairs from The American University. He was a reporter, columnist, and editorial writer for The Houston Post, covered religion for the Austin American-Statesman, and wrote a column for USA TODAY. His work has appeared in The Acentos Review.