Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Poem - Heaven-Leigh Peters

The writing below is a fictional account inspired by the story of Etta Lamb, an inmate at Eastern State Penitentiary in the early 1900s.

Etta Lamb
Heaven-Leigh A. Peters

They called it assault. 
Said I was gonna kill him.
I wouldn't waste my time.
My bruises scream louder than the courtroom did.
I let their voices drown me in that moment
I let my silence soothe me
As if it wasn't my trial
As if it didn't matter
Because it didn't matter
I'm a black woman 
He’s a white man
I never had a chance 

Each breath was a weight my chest couldn't lift
My tongue too heavy with the truth
How his fingertips stung
How my eyelids hung
How each slur felt like a slap and each slap felt like a shot
He shot me where the the jury could couldn't see
Made me scream in silence 

I held the war under my tongue 
I left my mind in the courtroom
I became walking bones
Fractured and filled with my own despair
The smell of depression riddles the building
We’re all equal to the dust we will become
Just a shadow too slow to claim
So I sit in my silence
Let it ring
Let it soothe me


  1. William D. BrookoverAugust 1, 2018 at 10:55 AM

    An excellent description of the hopelessness that many inmates at ESP must have felt. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Heaven-Leigh,

    You have a knack for creating compelling metaphor and symbolism. A number of lines stand out in this regard. I particularly like "My bruises scream louder than the courtroom did."

  3. Hi Heaven-Leigh;
    In your piece you vividly capture the despair that Etta Lamb felt during her incarceration at Eastern State. I especially love the line in which you state:" Each breath was a weight my chest couldn`t lift. My tongue too heavy with Truth". What a powerful piece.

  4. Powerful writing. We can feel her pain and also understand the hopelessness that she is feeling. No matter what she said or did, there was not a chance that she would be heard. We had courts of law but not for all.

  5. Your descriptions are intense and powerful. You portray a sense of imprisonment for people without a voice - not just Etta lamb. Thank you for sharing.

  6. The way this poem focuses on physicality and bodies is so powerful, especially when it describes psychological wounds as if they were physical ones. The line that really stands out to me is "each slur felt like a slap."
    There's so much pain in this poem, but the narrator's voice still rings sharp and strong. It feels like she hasn't lost herself entirely.

  7. This is really powerful. I felt like I became her. I am setting in my office reading and by the end I was glad for the silence around me and my own shoulders slumped with the weight of it all.