Attica Prison Rebellion in Three Poems

Attica Prison Rebellion, September 13th, 1971:  Sergeant Edward Cunningham, Murdered Hostage, as Seer

“If he says no, I’m dead.” Hard words from a hard man to the governor.
Cunningham wanted negotiations. What did he know? He was just
a guard. He killed the krauts in ’45, a good Joe,
earned every spangle of his Bronze Star
somewhere near The Ruhr. Where is that, now?

The governor did all he could.

There would be no mercy.
There would be no saving. Cunningham
forced his hard words
from the dungeon of his lungs,
“I’m dead.” His life a spent penny,
extracted shotgun shell, double aught buckshot hole
a black mole on his cheek.


Attica Prison Rebellion, September 13th, 1971:  Willie West, Murdered Inmate, Espouses the Virtues of His Public Defender

My teachers ignored me, sensed

I’d wind up here, or

just as bad. They had to check

the roll

to call my name, each day. They

never remembered. They
passed me.

The cops showed more interest.
There was a robbery on my


I had a wad of cash from craps.
They stopped and frisked and

hauled me off.

Where’d you get this? Huh?
My lawyer claimed I got
a good deal. He said the judge


family, school, and job. I

wouldn’t look

him in the eye. He called it

disrespect, called it



Attica Prison Rebellion, September 13th, 1971:  Raymond Rivera, Murdered Inmate, Prison Chess Grand Master, Commentates on the Negotiations for His Life, and for Those of 2,000 Other People

Chess, chess, chess. Every day, I reached between the bars
to play with Willie West. His knights were killer,
white rooks javelins to my queen.

I don’t want to say I was a pawn during the riot.
I just needed some air.

There were a bunch of dudes at the negotiating table,
maneuvering our lives,
dismissing their opponents with a wave.


Oswald came in. Then Jose Paris. Right on, I shouted.

Next, they scoffed.

Next. Next.


Image Credit: AP Photo (File)

About the author

Paul David Adkins

Paul David Adkins is from Fort Lauderdale, Florida. He attended Mercer University, earning a BA, and, later, Washington University, receiving an MFA. Adkins then joined the US Army in 1991, serving for over 21 years. He toured Afghanistan once and Iraq three times. Upon returning from Afghanistan, Adkins wrote to process his war-time experiences. He enlisted the help of poet Kelli Agodon, allowing him to better share his war-related work. Chapbooks include Stick Up (Blood Pudding Press), The Great Crochet Question (Kind of a Hurricane Press), and The Upside Down House (Yellow Jacket Press). He works as a counselor and instructor within the SUNY University system and has taught in a state penitentiary. Adkins lives with his wife Melanie and children Lily and Malachi in New York.