Audio Poetry- Katrina & A Wreck by Kristin Garth

Audio Poetry- Katrina & A Wreck by Kristin Garth

Trigger Warning:

This poem contains sensitive subject matter related to domestic violence and murder. Please exercise caution and self-care when listening and reading.




for Jessica Chambers

93 percent of your body burned,
you wander, sooty throat, towards a car
that turns headlights towards you to discern
what is approaching, what it is you are,
arms outstretched, under stars, backlit by
a Kia fire.  Cold, thirsty, in five hours
you will expire though they will make you try
to speak.  Burned vocal cords, without power
to drink are coaxed to utter your own name —
Katrina, then Jessica, you say
Then they ask you to tell who is to blame
and you say Eric, Derek — either way,
wrong utterance upon which two juries hang
though you didn’t even know your own name.


A Wreck

Some will hypothesize Eric was an
attempt to say a wreck — Mississippi
accent, tongue swollen, did you mean man?
Misunderstand?  Believe the ninety three
percent of blistered skin that cannot stretch
enough across your chest to let air in
could not have been intentional? Shock lets
your mind redefine this immolation
as accident?  Is it another wreck
you cannot forget, two years ago, when
your older brother dies and you decide
you are not meant to fly, even pretend,
in polyester blend, but just get high
at the discretion of dangerous men?
Is it even a name they hear you say —
remembrance of when you lost your way?

Author’s Note

Jessica Chambers was a 19 year old girl who was burned alive inside of her car in Courtland, Mississippi in December of 2014. No one has been convicted of her murder though she did spend that day with a man who would be tried twice for it — two mistrials. Much was made of Jessica’s speaking the name Derek or Eric, as a response, when asked who did this to her. Her body was 93 percent burned, her mouth and vocal cords were soot covered and heat damaged. One firefighter testified she also identified herself as Katrina when he asked who she was. She wasn’t allowed even water she begged with some of her last words to receive. She would die of her injuries five hours later.

Jessica’s story is a part of my book The Stakes which examines how fire has been used as a tool of misogyny against women historically and even in contemporary times. Fire is torturous and destroys the evidence of the body. Both motives were probably in play in Jessica’s case. The prime suspect in Jessica’s murder, Quinton Tellis, is a suspect in another torture/murder case of a woman in Louisiana, Meing-Chen Hsaio.  In that case, Tellis has already pled guilty to using the dead woman’s credit card after her death by elongated torturous stabbing (presumably to obtain the victim’s pin number) and served time for that crime.
The Stakes is forthcoming from APEP Publications 2020.