The American Journal of Poetry
"Strong Rx Medicine"®


Mark Smith-Soto

Last Gasps

“The controversy over the drugs used in US executions has been reignited
after a convicted murderer took nearly two hours to die by lethal injection.”


I counted six hundred gasps, one witness says on CNN,
and my mind, gone deaf, has veered into a maze of
collaging detail: The girlfriend shot six times, the father
with a bullet in the brain, the white kitchen streaked red,

six hundred gasps, each gasp squeezed from the monster
in the blank, hygienic room who looked just like a man,
a man-shape twisting on the end of a needle, tearing
at the air with his teeth, lips sucking at the rope of air

tying him to his monster life, to the crack crack of the pistol
in his hands, to the girlfriend in the garish kitchen, her father,
their horror finger-smeared on the cave of his skull even
as his purple lips and tongue keep sucking at the plastic air,

wheeze after wheeze after wheeze—

Oh no, no, that is not what cruel is, a woman is now crying
on TV, her mascara in runnels down her cheeks, eyes popping
from swollen lids—cruel is my sister, my father, their blood
all over the floor, this creature you people are so concerned
about was not a man, was not

I hit the mute and just sit there,
watching her mouth opening and closing.




MARK SMITH-SOTO, along with three prize-winning chapbooks, has authored three full-length poetry collections, Our Lives Are Rivers (University Press of Florida, 2003), Any Second Now (Main Street Rag Publishing Co., 2006) and Time Pieces (Main Street Rag Publishing Co., 2015). His work, which has appeared in Antioch Review, Kenyon Review, Literary Review, Nimrod, Rattle, The Sun and many other publications, has received several Pushcart Prize nominations and was recognized in 2006 with an NEA Fellowship in Creative Writing. His Fever Season: Selected Poetry of Ana Istarú (2010) and his lyrical memoir Berkeley Prelude (2013) were both published by Unicorn Press.



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