“Holman’s House” by Darrell Grayson


“Holman’s House” by Darrell Grayson
This chapbook will always be available on the Dead Mule. It is not archived.

It is published in memory of Mr. Grayson who was executed by the state of Alabama on July 26, 2007.

Holman’s House — a chapbook by Darrell Grayson


A quickening.
It is boundless when in pursuit,
Becomes excited by life’s fluids racing,
The bouncing of heart off the ribs.
Fear, exploding in shocking fire to the
Brain in recognition of danger, terror…
And the Lord have mercy…of riding
On Lucifer’s saddle.


Welcome to the corridors of night. As your host, I am
Often viewed as some ancient, medieval edifice, cold and
Austere where tortured souls pass through. For a time
They slip between hundred percent southern cotton sheets,

Stamped with our sovereign’s great seal of approval.
Here in this ethereal world of my design you will be
Encouraged with radical sleep tonics that will
Subdue the savage beast. Open your hearts

To my dead, for they are the consummate houseguest.
Listen to those voices raised in righteous supplication
Pleading for help on bended knees while beyond these
Stellar walls lies an apathetic world licking its bitter

Lips at the dissonance of misery vibrating in the bones like jazz.
Be ever humble for none of those misanthropes doubts
Your tenor will lend itself, pleasingly, to my grand
Temple of harmonics.


Within the place where I live
The hungry air becomes a vacuum
Feeding insatiably on my marrow.
Over the shell there’s a colorful cover
That has begun drying-out and is starting
To flake. The crusty old walls are synonymous
With the shedding of skin housing
Brittle bones hidden beneath aging flesh.

As soulful layers fall to the ground
There’s a rejoicing at reconnecting with
Ancient and contemporary kin who once tarried
Here. Witness now, in clarity’s bell-jar, the
Contest between evolving flesh and spirit,
And the sacred rites, which transform ashes to ashes
Dust to dust in the soul of cells.

Darrell Grayson is on death row at Holman Prison


Despondency comes like signs wafting darkly on weathered
wings. It creeps up on your fears and crashes the gates of
sanity. Wielding an ash it whacks at your rational thoughts
and sends them sailing past the barrier. Beyond are youthful
memories palpable enough to make the flesh recoil like
fingers on fire, the sensation of morning glory turning
to night shade.

Strapped in your sponge helmet, voices echo caring
questions that prod grey matter, offering chicken soup
and chocolate to buoy the soul. In pursuit of more space
nightmares share your pillow, swallow you whole. In
the midst of this cloudy psychosis you flounder. There
are no childish Acme products to close the hole
to keep your insides from seeping out.

Listen, there are aliens in the headcheese! You can
hear their tell tale hearts; its eye is in your ear. It
sees and hears the cracking of jaws and the demonic
seed spewing out that grows your jungle of madness.
The sturdiest plant, anger,
erupts and lashes out at its neighbor.

Listen, there are aliens in the headcheese! You can
hear their tell tale hearts; its eye is in your ear. It
sees and hears the cracking of jaws and the demonic
seed spewing out that grows your jungle of madness.
The sturdiest plant, anger,
erupts and lashes out at its neighbor.


Back from the arms of Morpheus, I breathe
Through pillows of fire, my path is narrow, short
And barred. An aging moth, afraid of the dark
Trembles in dull blades of angry light.

From a den of self-indulgent squabblers, I was
Transported to a place of pacific height, where
Dogwoods and sterile-tipped yews welcome their
Shoeless pilgrim on paths strewn with leafy butterfly wings.

From streams, piscian scent satisfies the need for space.
The hands of breezy masseuse slip tenderly over
Tense flesh, insert sensory key, knots are loosed
And layers of worldliness peeled away.


Pensive: instructions in honesty and humility, to
Believe otherwise would suggest a callous nature
Worthy of this wretched condition, in stocks, begging
As cardboard cut-outs of an agonized thinker.

Can anyone convince anyone of the need to
Request heaven it open and saturate these
Dreams, then awaken refreshed, bearing the golden
Combination that unlocks the mysteries of this
Sun burned existence, without witnessing
Evolution, desolation and decay; without
Bemoaning the need to belly down, placing
The face in this poisoned earth?

Tell me that which keeps you sane,
Knowing destiny is illusion, knowing we are of
A temporary kind.

From your patch of shade, bear witness
To those things seen looking side ways at the
Sun. Is it truly a glorious ball of fire,
Sitting in its own splendid air? Or is it a
Kaleidoscope of hypnotic light, waiting to
Fulfill the horrors of some revelation, its
Sphere pulsing with the sum of our
Mysterious nature, our existence?

It demands homage of every creature, as
We are nurtured by it. Our senses come
Alive at viewing its magnificence. We throb in
States of ecstacy as it draws near to its
Final destination; even the tides are
Swollen with pride, pausing in their moon
Kissed dance of sensuality. They burst free
With impertinence, picking up their evening
Attire and rush head high beyond the shore
To cool their aching bodies, unsuccessfully,
Against the sun burned earth.


As with most authority figures there is the power,
like strong laughter, to turn a captive audience to bone.
Viewed from a human point of view, what protection is there?

In the batter of desperation, we seek council in the
tossing of bird legs in moonless nights, clutch at windy
voices intoning catechisms in the remoteness of our dreams.

Choice of life or death is contemplated. A
terrified beast of dubious lineage scurries to
and fro in concrete and steel geometrics.


In the eerie morning light blue clad phantasms
wink here and there…in the waking sun-light
black and white uniformed heads catch fire as
they come ghosting through the mist.

The eyes of black cats, curled into themselves,
reflect the atmosphere. They crowd the entrance
to the maze where social constructs frolic,
and wait soulfully on the game hit or miss
conclusion, before animating the cross.

We have come, as conscientious objectors, filing our appeals
Of grievance through grief, in defense of the sacredness
Of life, one condemned to be snuffed out legally. Mourning
Publicly, the tenderness in our hearts grows as the
Deadly hour draws near, and yet, this rawness we feel
Is soothed through the concrete scented ointment of
Shared compassion.

As the handful of sympathizers gathers for the execution vigil,
A pristinely clothed bird falls out of the waning sun,
On its back, into a bowl of gun-metal colored light
Before righting itself, on elegant red legs the mourning
Dove stands, its pink nails piercing the eye of the
Supreme Court building.

Inside this stone temple, dedicated to coddling the code of
Hammurabi, are priestly figures working in conclave
Against redemption. To them, vicarious sorrow
Is an alien, crushed on the shadow of a granite monument,
That once stood guard in the entrance of this hall of justice issuing out silent
Abuse. These priests, in their deliberation, are raw as Vitruvian
Man, and who will bravely say from whence their guidance

Silently we commune, listening rapturously to the
Mournful call of this numinous voice, bearing witness
To hope, light as the feathers that carried
It to this decadent city of the Confederacy.
Former Chief Justice Roy Moore placed a monument of the 10 Commandments in the Alabama Supreme Court entrance hall.


When the caged came forth, wearing
Introspective miens, one of them looked
Towards his daily focal point,
Outside the chain-link fence and experienced its
Absence as through the lenses of an
Arachnid. The tree, young and
Wistfully dressed, had swayed hypnotically
from coastal breezes and the
Weightiness of a canopy trumpeting with
Emerald chimes. It had succumbed to the
Mighty fists of Katrina’s rage.

The loss became another pin-prick in the
Memory of uncushioned heart-aches, a reminder
Of those experienced as a child. From home
Grown chaos he had fled to wilds, where he
Found comfort and safety beneath its soothing
Blanket. In the stately arms of an aging
Oak he experienced renewal. Here was
Sanctuary, a place to indulge spiritual
Centeredness, where the fragrance of a
Woodland oasis and chuckling waters

On the boundaries of this existence
He can still feel those knobby arms
That held him and allowed his anguish to form fully,
To flow freely. After forty years
that spacial voice, continues to arrest the spiritual corruption
Mindlessly pursuing an innocent, an aging
Youth, who runs onward into the
Wisdom purchased through the earning of cloaks
For every season.


It’s been recommended to wise women
That she gather her buds as she may.
Women, even in June, have no need
Of manly advice, on how to love
In any season.

And women, unadorned, find not their
Buds in gardens along the byways of life
Or in the wild-lands where she rests
Her lovely head, for she is a bud of
Youth in any season.

Yet, in this peculiar wilderness bears come forth
To savor her tender shoots and find
Sustenance after winter’s sleep has bruised
The brow, leaving mighty pains that hunger
And are soothed and quenched by the
Sweetness of seasonal gifts.

Yet, in this peculiar wilderness bears come forth
To savor her tender shoots and find
Sustenance after winter’s sleep has bruised
The brow, leaving mighty pains that hunger
And are soothed and quenched by the
Sweetness of seasonal gifts.


Living narrow lives does not come easy.
Where would we be without happenstance?
This existence, constrained, is not blessed with
An embarrassment of riches. It is fundamental.

When the phone goes silent, on that voice
Sweet as a love song, the wider world is
Closed off with the finality of a vacuum sealed
Door, the least it shuts out is sight and sound.

The voice is gone, memory kicks in and we
Are saved, rescued and transported on wings
Of grace. There, the scent of honeysuckle
Demands, recognition from taste buds
Readily available for the children of the have-nots,
Playing near railroad tracks.


Inserting the key in the lock, Mary
Enters the warmth of her home, kicks
Off her shoes and makes a beeline for
Her favorite recliner, and settles in
With an evening sigh.

From the kitchen comes Joseph, a glass
Of red wine in hand and in his eyes a smile
To match his greeting. As she
Savors the wine he asks after her day.
Rewarding him with her smile she
Reminds him that it’s a jungle out
There, with the same animals, only a
New day.


Two stately figures, seen through a cold,
Opaque eye, stand bookends at the corners
Of boxy abode. Their newly formed shoulders are scratched
By the roof. Through fresh eyes
They monitor a world destitute of care and insight.

Of the two boughs, the one in shadow glows
Vibrantly green as fiery fingers of noon
Climb over one closest to those
Golden nutrients. In an instance of insanity these
Naked warriors don cloaks of budding emeralds.

Having matured sufficiently, from shepherding
Seasons of earthly burdens, I shall venture forth
To feel nature’s inflexible embrace, may even
Bend a knee in communion with the
Resilient earth.


The ease and comfort of performing this task seems best suited to the shadowy ends of the day. Yet, here I am braving the brightest time of light, feeling the texture of ragweed on bare skin. Pulling stubborn shoots from vitamin rich earth, I’m reminded of my own uprooting, from one life to another.

I come face to face with the plant that blooms only in darkness, its white head mirroring mine, shapely, something special I’ve been told. Even as I pull weeds from the necks of tulips, hiding what’s rich, the scent of the black earth, powerful as love, increases the heart’s resources; I am drawn to the calming femininity of irises watching daffodils put on their Sunday best.

Across the road, a blackberry fort of thorns binds itself tighter against predators. I’m tempted to cross over and cut them back before the grandchildren’s visit. I refrain. The thorns have their province. The children’s growth reminds me that my tomato plants need attention before they become unruly. I anticipate their tender, sweet arrival with a smile.

Kneeling, puttering contentedly among an assortment of spring colors, I endure the sharp objects hidden beneath the top- soil I missed in the gleaning. In silence I remove them as they reveal themselves. Life, as do beautiful gardens, demands attention to individual needs. We apply the appropriate nutrients in the hope our lives may become crowded with new and unexpected joys.


Stepping out doors, into the crisp morning air of that southern season between winter’s death and the birth of spring, I smile as five turkeys fly low, ghostly, over-head in single file. As I walk the small, snaking red road, March winds caress my cheeks. At the end of my private drive sits a cardboard box. One corner bears a sodden hole through which hangs one of seven puppies, half in and half out, frozen to death after being thrown away in the night.

Seeing this parcel I think how sinister and feel like throwing up.


You heard ole Bill say welfare mommas be getting’ buried
‘neath all them government checks and can’t move on, but
What he don’t say is how them roads from the welfare rolls
Ain’t paved with gold. How many of them rich folks in
D.C. help poor people pull theyselves up
By they own boot straps?

And what about all them names poured out of ADC
Bowls, where you think they gonna end up? I
Tell you, where most po’ folks land, living in the
Bottoms. Now them strong womens, they lace up they
Own boots and walk in white folks’ houses so they
Can feed they hungry young’uns.

It don’t surprise me none to see why some of these
Womens don’t take out after them other womens running
From government daddies. They don’t see the
Harm to they pride and self-respect. Now you ain’t
Gonna hear ‘bout my woman cashing them checks,
But man, I love that government cheese. Now
Kang me!


Long ago the ancients slumbered beneath the great
Spirit Mountain. Many days passed and they became weak.
From the earth, new shapes pushed towards the sky and changed
The laws of Human Beings, but not the laws of mother earth.

The shadow of new tribes covers the world now, coloring
Strange and hostile resting grounds in black and white.
The children of the sacred mountains are no longer worthy. They
Do not wear the sacred feathers of guardians of earth anymore.

Forgotten are our brothers, the red and black hills, who
Welcomed and protected strangers to our shores. The hardness
Of new fathers conquered our old fathers. Together
We are proud, pitiful caretakers of this land.


When the world whispers
We count backwards
To the day of our birth
In transcendental tears.

The flesh in absence of glory
Dances in the dirt of
Perhaps, mayhaps, conclusions,
And breathes a grimy sigh of relief,

For we are arrows pointing
Towards Eden and away from self,
Away from Achilles’ heel so easily
Acquired in markets of mortality.


Once we were a blazing thought,
An inky dot, on the consciousness
Of time, waiting to be expelled
Out into the color of existence.



When the announcer introduced the large, sweating black man, known the world over as Bear Cat Brown, I noticed how my father came alive, shifting slightly in his seat. There was another, the Cat’s contender, my father also admired, an Asian fellow who bore one half of an infamous name. He was called Tojo Yama Moto. On this special occasion I was carried along, as sport, to the Boutwell Auditorium, where these two muscle-bound thespians were contending for the world wrestling championship. This was one of the few occasions when some form of intimacy was attempted between father and son.

On the backseat of the large Buick car, between two of my father’s friends, I recall the space my small, six year-old body filled. As the car rocked like a big boat, my insides felt as though they were being tossed on massive waves. On the outside I remained calm and quietly attentive while my two companions teased me kindly. I am sure they were the ones responsible for my presence.

Now: in this forty-four year old mind, it occurs to me that that long dark road from Montevallo to Birmingham was a premonition of the quality of my future life. Of the four adults in the car, the two faces I don’t recall I associate with warmth and laughter. The other two, my father’s and his best friend’s still cause me painful breaths, like having your ribs broken and being whipped.

With my face covered in popcorn butter, I watched the ghostly image of my father with bated breath. Staring at him as he watched the show, his body would seemingly flinch, jerk and vibrate as though he were experiencing tiny epileptic fits. I could not determine by his body language whether he was winning or losing this match. However his chosen fighter won.

I often wonder was it painful for this man to choose one over another? He was a husband and father. Six of his eight children were bastards. He was a mason, a quiet, dignified member of the community. His best friend was the preacher.


It was the simple chore of washing a face that has become a state highway, which made me aware of the necklace of black cat paws around my neck. Up and down the Adams’s apple they crawl tempting my disposition to turn sour. And yet, these temptations can be avoided in the least of men on their sojourn from urban avenues to eternity.

Call me Mr. Lucky! Would that I could teach them how to eat the words of honey and fly as Bly, on dusty wingtips; summon their ghost, those fallen on concrete battle fields, on fields of white-gold which have plowed under dusky souls for centuries. But life teaches us the meaning of dear skies and how to cry.

The ability to stand guard over the corner of marking time…is undoubtedly an art form. Uniformly they stand, idle hands open to the sky, open in their hearts, open in their pockets, fingers open and close in preparation for skills’ test in dark workshops. These vassals are capable of mixing pink bubbles to soothe infant skin, capable of morphing into Trigger and giving the thrill ride of a lifetime.

Once more, out of the cage, I leave these temporal blades on my dingy pillow. What if these walls could talk, had souls? Would they breathe a sigh of relief from respite of Animals in Prison, would they contemplate G. Bear’s marching off stiff-legged past the institution’s cats, knowing he has gone to confront himself in short bursts of masculine energy?

In quiet reflection, reclined against chain-linked fence, I watch the nature show in the wilds of W.C. Holman. Sipping an elixir of life from a cheap plastic chalice I watch state animals walk about; some wrestle with darkness, others pull lethargically at acidic sustenance from the Lord’s footstool. I am mindful of the abysmal levels to which some animals can sink, that most of us have heads like clocks that fail to keep the right time.
southern photo


The young man no longer wrestled with, or examined the
Regurgitated love lessons that clung to him like filthy
Attire as he ran through the woods bordering
His corrosive abode. These woods, once a place of comfort
Failed now to extend their oaken arms of
Refuge. Instead, they offer thundering
Sounds of innocent feet and laboring breath reverberating
In the earth like a broken heart.

Flinging himself through shafts of broken light, which
Reflected those tainted expectations through which he
Saw the world, it occurred to him that for most of
His existence, hands, claw-like, resting tenderly
On his immature shoulders, kept him floundering
In toxic air.

Bursting free of this haven, sweating illusions
He threw himself headlong towards newly discovered
Promises, those not nurtured in a world
That had enjoined him to serve rather than bow
To each other in mutual respect.


Being low amid the trio of personalities, the twain gave
Grudgingly of themselves, in their metaphysical order.
I wasn’t wise as a man. I knew hunger and pain of defecation.

Of life and death, each drag the other down to temples
Built on earthly cravings. It is possible
That foresight and hindsight are part of them.

Of this particular life, who knows the hour or the day?
Whether I sleep in darkness or shafts of light,
I AM NOW and live it fully.

We know the id can inspire artistry or undermine the ego.
So what is madness? Visions unacknowledged are hazardous.
Picasso’s bulls appear cross-eyed in righteous indignation. But

What of that broken woman with the uni-brow? She shared
With us her life-pains. The depth of her miseries depicted in
Vibrant colors burst from her vagina like over-ripened fruit.

Peacocks in all their rainbow glory know no chemistry.
Beauticians only bring their dye out upon request, and
Dupont solved the riddle and we bought it.


Through humor, love cascades
As a display of stars—these
The gods have reasonably essayed—
And further, they whispered the
Punch-line into clay to ease
Their boredom.

Essence is conveyed as light.
These artists crafted the senses through
Bold explicit strokes, painting us
Breathlessly across a winking sky.

Portends tragedy
Sweetens the earth like music
Caressing the senses, in
Blue jazzy waves.

The Temple of Our Familiars
Mazes of reason are conquered
Allowing us to consume dementia
And expel rose-colored bubbles
Our gossamer wings
Shimmer in quiet desperation.

Brilliant abstraction no longer loll
Over horizons that once captivated
Or swayed us through chants
From ego-centric lands, where
Philosophies eat souls as tender fruit.


That singular crown of a face
Edified to the magnificence
Of hearts redeemed.


After the trauma to my muse, we fled
To rural Minnesota to escape and
Find the key to liberate an obscure

I’d been tormented by the
Clogged storm drains
On the old house in which I had
Secreted myself for months. Despite
Knowing the spill-over could hasten
The eaves’ ruin it took
Nearly a year’s worth of struggle to
Pull-out the tools needed to attempt
A solution to this problem.

When the storm struck I was locked
In an over-stuffed old rocker purchased
From the estate of the late genius Czeslaw
Milosz, my Polish antithesis who had
Become the bane of my existence. In my
Lap was a Gathering of 50 Men, Robert Bly,
And myself. We had been transported
To the wilds where our senses were
Newly opened and our feet were firmly
Planted in the salt of the earth.

The pounding rain forced me outside to
View the results of my plumbing efforts.
With all my being attuned I watched
The opening until yesterday’s rubbish gave
Way and spilled in a gush of
Dark mucus. Then came the waters, flowing
Clear and uncontaminated.

As the unimpeded waters collected below
I realized how help can come when we
Least expect it and from unexpected


Billie Holiday’s smoky voice opens my mind
Like the door on a musical toy after being wound and
Out pops a face familiar and sweet on the last note.

Sometimes when I hear jazz I’m reminded of
My formative years where I cried wolf and
Found myself in a tar baby sort of predicament.

Resembling scales on a sheet life rises and falls.
Its rhythmic progressions endure as memories
Of pain being drummed out on youthful skin.

In the depths of memories we remain potted, nurtured.
The imposition of etiquette, the oiling of ashy faces,
The keys of love are expressed through tradition.

Homing pigeons leap faithfully from places of safety
To stir the air in improvisations of freedom
Before returning in flights of synchronization to roost.

Music can sweeten the immigrant’s bitter tea, become
The pulse and pole of ones life’s compass, be the
Posthole of rearing that keeps us upright.


A man goes to the hospital
Has his foot cut off
Goes home, has a beer
And goes to sleep.



Lying here formed in a half mold of foam,
I peer through lattices of steel at a universe
Not mined. This privation has been long
Since seated, etched in steel and stone.
The condition is like rushing waters, rubbing away
Understanding. Should we hold fast
To a constellation of inquiry? And what of those souls
Born in winter, poised beneath the living word,
Wearing winter clothes in the spring-time of
Their lives? For all the well spring
Of life is contaminated with the raw seepage
Of dislocation.


It is at the deep end of innocence where
Individualized humanity is created as living
Templates: bottom-feeders, self-sufficient as pirates,
Or orchids, enthusiastic for sustenance of life
Hidden behind a waterfall. Were we actors, in
The Fall of Man, naked we would have run
Towards our unsympathetic nature.
Predators, in pursuit of our temporal names, seek answers
To why essential humanity swirls in
The bottom of blood.


Pressed perpendicular against tradition, man-
Kind quizzes satellites as to what is or is not
Wisdom. In a singular fashion the one true
Source visits that quiet, awake place
And reveals the ineptness of the tribe
That knows little and should save itself.
We have become barterers, sun-bathing in
Hourglasses, contracting with dark angels for
The backside of mortality. Even these servants
Of man ask, Where is your grief? Why have
You surrendered to a home where flesh rules?
In olden days, memories… our elders,
Placed their temperament between stone and lamb’s
Blood. Their feet were steady in the stirrups of
Grief, knowing, that two deaths are not more
Than one and that it is the one that breaks the

Mercy Seat Press offers this bio of Darrell B. Grayson:

Darrell B. Grayson was raised in Montevallo, Alabama with eleven siblings in a single parent household. He dropped out of school in the ninth grade. At age 19, and with no prior criminal history, he was convicted and received the death penalty from an all white jury. He has been on Death Row at Holman Prison in Atmore, Alabama since 1982. After some years of severe depression, which he describes as spending flat on his back, the death of his mother brought about the decision to better himself. He began to write commentary and poetry and received his GED and Associate Science degree. In 1994 he became active in Project Hope to Abolish the Death Penalty, an organization founded and operated by Death Row inmates. In 2000 he became its chairman. He edits and assembles Wings of Hope, the Project Hope newsletter, with primitive equipment in the prison.


The Death Record

Darrell was sentenced to death in 1982 at age 19, before DNA testing. He had been convicted of rape and murder by an all-white jury, defended by a state-appointed attorney whose professional focus was divorce and who acknowledged being unprepared and underfunded by the state to defend Darrell. – See more at: http://www.uscatholic.org/2008/06/the-murder-darrell-grayson#sthash.Ax8PZkaN.dpuf


  1. Unfortunately that statement about Darrell not having pen and paper or books is incorrect. He wrote the poems on paper and sent them to me. We would discuss them and I would type them up. Furthermore Darrell was a voracious reader,

  2. the statement has been corrected

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