Kings once favored beheadings;
and when it was their turn,
so did angry peasants
America chose a different tableau:
Black hoods, elaborate nooses
and sudden plummetings
made hangings popular—
although it took time
to perfect the technique,
the first victims strangling
because the rope was too short,
and the next group surviving
because they hit the ground alive.
Eventually we got it right.
Although most bizarre,
we still fry in smoking chairs,
Nor are we embarrassed
to strap as for crucifixion
before injecting poisons.
Firing squads are still employed,
and still seem most decorous,
blindfolds and final cigarettes
conjuring up heroic martyrs,
the corpse slumping gracefully,
perhaps a mere spot of blood
upon the breast.
But proof of deaths like this
involves only a stethoscoped doctor,
and Saudis know these ways
lack beheading’s frisson,
so they continue the ancient way.
They know the heart is not the schemer;
They want the plotting knob
visibly parted from the rest —
The shortened corpus gruesomely comical,
limbs dangling dissolutely,
like long johns on a clothesline.
And when the head is held up by the hair,
the eyes and mouth hilariously distorted,
Quasimodo-like with protruding tongue,
onlookers need no physician to prove
what is thought to be justice.