Death Sentences



Appear, like deities, in many guises.
The cancer patient who daily wrestles
With the agony Demerol and Fentanyl

Cannot quell. The bullied boy leaping from the bridge,
Misled by shame, guilt, and youth.
The honor-twisted, in terror zones:

Self-detonators; random crowds hurling stones
Until the woman’s head hangs from the strings
Of her esophagus, neck open to the birds’ passes

Until her brother steps forward to bury the sin. The crowd
Disperses. Then there is our situation.
The courts, the ten-year appeal,

The Texas law powered by zeal,
Which is justice, which is deterrence, which is vengeance,
And which will never, ever, roll back the stone.


Deborah Phelps is a professor of English at Sam Houston State University. She has published a chapbook, Deep East (Small Poetry Press), and her work has appeared in various journals such as Southern Poetry Review, Louisiana Literature, and Gulf Coast. She lives in Huntsville, Texas.

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