by James Penha

Where does Lewis find
the temerity
to lean back and dare us
to adore
his body bleakly clad
in a rumpled sweater,
his face scrubbed
of Seward's splattered blood.
Lincoln is dead.
But Lewis failed
to kill his prey and so
his celebrity, clanging
like a hammer now
back against the steel
of this navy yard prison ship
will fade
as it likely would have
even had Seward died.
Folly was Powell's
since he took the name
of Payne and fell
starstruck under the spell
of John Wilkes Booth
who cast him out
as an extra.
from whence his calm
despite shackles
and the certainty that
within days a hangman
will replace the photographer
and embrace just so
Lewis Payne's neck.

Lewis Thornton Powell (aka Lewis Payne). Daguerreotype by Alexander Gardner, 1865. Original in The Library of Congress.


A native New Yorker, James Penha has lived for the past two decades in Indonesia. He has been nominated for Pushcart Prizes in fiction and in poetry. Snakes and Angels, a collection of his adaptations of classic Indonesian folk tales, won the 2009 Cervena Barva Press fiction chapbook contest; No Bones to Carry, a volume of his poetry, earned the 2007 New Sins Press Editors' Choice Award. Penha edits The New Verse News, an online journal of current-events poetry.