Prison Radio
Mumia Abu-Jamal

This is the poem that NPR didn’t want you to hear. It’s called, “Another Nameless Prostitute Says The Man Is Innocent,” for Mumia Abu-Jamal, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Camden, New Jersey April 1997. ‘The board-blinded windows knew what happened. The pavement sleepers of Philadelphia groaning in their ghost infested sleep, knew what happened. Every Black man blessed with the gashed eyebrow of nightsticks knew what happened. Even Walt Whitman knew what happened, poet a century dead keeping vigil from the tomb on the other side of the bridge. More than 15 years ago, the cataract stare of the cruiser’s headlights, the impossible angle of the bullet, the tributaries and lakes of blood, Officer Faulkner dead, suspect Mumia shot in the chest. The witnesses who saw a gunman running away his heart and feet thudding. The nameless prostitutes know hunched at the curb their bare legs chilled, their faces squinted to see that night rouged with fading bruises now the faces fade. Perhaps an eyewitness putrefies, eyes open in a bed of soil or floats in the warm Gulf Stream of her addiction, or hides from the faint whispers of the police. In the tomb of Walt Whitman where the granite door is open, and fugitive slaves may rest. Mumia, the Panther beret, the thinking dreadlocks dissident words that swarmed the microphone like a hive sharing meals with people named Africa calling out their names even after the police bombardment that charred their Black bodies. So the governor has signed the death warrant. The executioner’s needle would flush the poison down into Mumia’s writing hand so the fingers curl like a burned spider. His calm questioning mouth would grow numb and everywhere radio sputter to silence in his memory. The veiled prostitutes had gone, gone to the segregated balcony of whores. But the newspaper reports that another nameless prostitute says the man is innocent; that she will testify at the next hearing. Beyond the courthouse, a multitude of witnesses chants, praise, shouts for his prison to collapse; a shack in a hurricane. Mumia, if the last nameless prostitute becomes an unraveling turbine of steam, if the judge’s robes become clouds of ink swirling like octopus deception, if the shroud becomes your Amish quilt, if your dreadlocks are snipped during autopsy then drift above the ruined RCA factory that once birthed radios to the tomb of Walt Whitman, where the granite door is open, and fugitive slaves may rest.’