Holden Seidlitz


He called his third daughter Deliverance
and was pressed under the sole of the executioner

who led the town in prayer. Arraigned at eighty-one
for the murky charge of telekinesis or else

spectral projection, Giles Corey refused
to plead. He had, however, appeared years earlier

before the jury for the murder of a servant
whom he’d flogged for Eve’s deed, stripping

his tree of its fruit. The court ruled death tenuous
enough a consequence. He paid a small fine

for “unreasonable force” and returned
clean. Al Capone served four years at Alcatraz

for tax evasion. By the time
Capone was released, his brain had atrophied

to the point of innocence. A letter from his psychiatrist
described among the symptoms of his insanity a tendency

toward confabulation, or “honest lying,”
the contrivance of a memory by someone who believes

they are telling the truth. The doctor wrote “curable”
is understood to mean that the patient does not die. It wasn’t the pain

exactly that interested me but the fact
of surrender, the renunciation of self which was a new identity

I came to recognize. For instance the way you changed
the skin over my neck and the blood

that coated my teeth like candy and sweetly painted
a stranger in that mirror. That person still belongs

to you. On the third day, his ribs splintering
beneath the planks, they offered Corey salvation, asking

if he would finally plead. I guess it’s only fair
that I tell you the nature of the accusation.

Her name was Mercy
and he appeared at her bedside as a ghost, her throat

bound by his hands, she told the court. He was forcing her,
she said, to write. Her testimony speaks of this

as a kind of torture. It was the third day
on his back and he contemplated no bargain, but he did

plead. More weight, he said. Al Capone died in Florida
with the mind of a child, rambling

at the dinner table to those people
he’d killed. He was by then an amateur lepidopterist and loved

by his granddaughters for his knowledge
of butterflies. There is no absolution whatsoever

only the unfixed and recurrent decision to forgive. We forget
that the story of the witch’s valor makes us blind;

a request for the inevitable is not necessarily a kind of power
but I can pretend that it is grace. If I asked you

to hurt me, knowing––what we both did––that you would have
without recourse, I was allowing you the possibility

of redemption. But only with this fiction, the fiction of inevitability
did I not abet you. And I know there is no total submission

before death and that if you had asked, there is nothing
I wouldn’t have said to keep your fingers around my throat,

bearing down on the page like the shoes of the reverend.

Holden Seidlitz is a writer and editorial staffer at The New Yorker. Their work also appears in Pitchfork, NPR, Stereogum, Gawker, LitHub, Longreads, and elsewhere. They are a recipient of the Columbia Journal prize, awarded by Jia Tolentino, for their story “Notes from Underground,” and an Axinn Foundation Fellowship from New York University, where they completed their MFA. They live in Brooklyn.