"On Experimental Conditions / Cruel and Unusual Experiences," "Again," and "Cruel and (Not) Unusual Experiences"

On Experimental Conditions
/ Cruel and Unusual Experiences

punishment takes on patterns of a nation
behind bars of a generation




juries deliberate conditions revisited
vote to spare spars ignited
overruled decisions motions lotions
straps gurneys inspections injections
morning mourning misses wishes
missing amidst system failures
punishment spirals trial by error
fevers fervors veins poked
pockets picked claims in vain
stakes stack robes deliberate
final plates steak potatoes
early hours digestive issues
court filings anxious waits
weights organized official rulings
clocks tick clothing stripped
muscles creak water fountains
drip tears birds caw
phones call endings anticipate
experimental gases gross negligence
wrenching stays denials dissents
dissidents flames fires media
piles vans caravan last
rites final nights writhes
pulls restraints condemnation broken
men nitrogen seeps puddles
prayers bleed protocols seethe




no more night the state of a nation a final flight
rights on wings of the distant crow come moonlight






the man’s body is strapped to the gurney
his last words are documented for eternity
             the Constitution promises
             no cruel and unusual punishment
             an Alabama prison preps
             to administer nitrogen untested

the man consumes a final meal
             steak, eggs, and hash browns
             served at ten AM, to reduce
             the risk of vomiting
             on the day of the man’s second visit
             to the death chamber, he is denied
             liquids after four
             when the man was found guilty
             of murder for hire, a jury recommended
             life without parole – a judge
             overruled the people’s desire

the man prays to a higher power
while escorted to a death chamber
the nation’s highest court is asked to issue a stay
the media gathers to report on the fray
             again the Court writes their own answer

             the phone rings
             -- Go Ahead

last rites are read
             in the event of another error
             for two minutes,
             the man writhes and struggles

clock hands complete full circles
heavy breaths slow
cruel and unusual punishment             still, moments ago



and (Not) Unusual Experiences

In nursery school,
I first learned of the periodic
table of elements and consumed
elementary lessons on flight, cruelty,
and unusual punishments.
On the asphalt playground,
we’d create shadow puppets
and play rounds of jacks.
Recess and its misunderstood
exams and games of chance
were prized and despised.
We’d dodge balls
and trace figures, arms wide,
with sidewalk chalk, always aware
of aides that watched as they lined
the perimeter of concrete courts.
“Don’t lose track of the balloon’s flight,”
they’d caution. “Latex is harmful to unsuspecting birds.”
Plights unknown.
Invisible gases bear visible harm.
I first learned of the mysterious
powers of gas as a young girl.
Friends and I would inhale
whatever warmth the interior
of a balloon concealed, then giggle
as our voices altered.
A stranger amongst us.

We’d watch the balloons in flight.
Erratic movements
Choppy waltzes
Eventually the balloons lost life.
Uncertain journeys
Rocky flight
We’d count a full two minutes
as deflated armor returned
to the ground at our feet.
Now, I think of nitrogen hypoxia
and shudder as I pass a small bird
on the asphalt walk.
In desperate
need of nursing –
Invisible harms,
harmful terms
the gas not allowed
for euthanasia of animals.
Experimental tests
Untested outcomes
Let loose like balloons
and their unknown forms.
On morning radio,
a reporter fills the air with
cold facts
as news of the execution is told.
A body strapped
shook               spooked
previously poked
Onlookers count
a full two minutes
until breath returned,
then left.
A mourning dove calls as I walk.
I pause,
pick up a discarded balloon
from the foot of an oak
and its broken limbs,
then pray for two minutes.
Altered states of matter
Unheard of terror
A society
ever more comfortable
with what’s cruel
and increasingly
not unusual




Source: https://www.cnn.com/2024/01/25/us/kenneth-smith-nitrogen-gas-execution-alabama/index.html


Reflection: As history is made in the most cruel and unusual ways, the path is paved for increasingly inhumane days.



Jen Schneider

Jen Schneider is an educator who lives, writes, and works in small spaces throughout Pennsylvania. Recent collections include 14 (Plus) Reasons Why (free lines press), Evening Walks (Ethel Zine), and Months, Moments, & Mileage in the Rearview Mirror (Alien Buddha Press). She recommends Philly ASAP.


Edited for Unlikely by Jonathan Penton, Editor-in-Chief
Last revised on Monday, April 8, 2024 - 20:58