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Wednesday, September 21, 2011


by Nancy Penn

JACKSON, Ga. — Troy Davis, who was convicted of gunning down a Savannah police officer 22 years ago, was put to death by lethal injection Wednesday night, his life prolonged by several hours while the Supreme Court reviewed but then declined to act on a petition from his lawyers to stay the execution. Mr. Davis entered the death chamber shortly before 11 p.m., four hours after the scheduled time. He died at 11:08. --NY Times

If this were the last day of my life and I knew it
would I hide under the wings of oblivion?
Take medication to blur out the end?
Go to the chamber uncaring?
Or would I stare at each dust-ball in the corners of my cell?
Regard that chipped pattern on the wall with affection; eat my last meal with gratitude?
Brush my teeth and floss too?
Would I walk that last walk or wish to be delivered on a gurney
too anesthetized to put one foot in front of the other
not caring if they cut off my head.

Might death be better than spending the rest of my life
waiting in line
caught in a traffic jam
hearing the ring of bars and metal gates?
“Rest of my life,” is the operative phrase here.

What would I have for my last meal?
What would appeal at a time like this?
Crème brulee.
But would the chef be allowed a torch here
to sear the crust of the pudding just so?
If not, tapioca would be fine.
Roll the pearls around on my tongue.

My body is perfectly good.
Some cancer patients wish they could have it.
My body bearing the cross of a faith I cling to now
at the hour of my death.
They will kill me deliberately.

At 4:28 am would I be awake
waiting for the rising of the sun one last time?
Or would I sleep through it regretting nothing?

7pm comes too soon and yet not soon enough.
The executioner punches in but not yet.
First breakfast, walk the dog
but not before the alarm sounds into a sleepless room.
All the while he doesn’t think about it.
The dog poops in the neighbor’s yard and he has forgotten to bring a plastic bag.
Time to get his act together.
And go in.
Use an alcohol swab not just out of respect.
It makes the vein pop.

My heart will stop by lethal injection.
My mother will know this
will try to lie down in my place
stretching out her arm offering her vein.
They’ll smile sadly.
Make her go home.
Then get on with business.

At 6:58 pm
will my heart know what’s coming
and beat the last beats in terror?
(I’d like to be the one to declare my life over
before or after the lethal injection.)
I forgive the hooded executioner as he kneels before me.
I hear the whoosh of the sword as it whips back taking aim.
The rope scratches and chafes my neck.
I can’t reach it.
The guillotine blade drops blood on my face as I look up.
The blade falls.

The rest of us will wait ‘till tomorrow
to get away from this day.

Nancy Penn lives in Rhode Island with her husband and their dog and two cats, writes poetry and fiction. Over the years, her writing has appeared in local publications and she has read at various readings. She attended a workshop with Marie Howe, Mark Doty, Patricia Smith and Billy Collins at Omega last August and enjoys a wonderful network of poets from that workshop who continue to inspire and support each other.