Electric Chair at Sing Sing


I am in charge, to speed you on your way
So that the State will suffer no delay;
I watch the clock, and give the final sign,
And order up your bed of quickened lime.


In uniform, I represent the Law
That all good citizens must hold in awe;
My presence here officially attests
That for your crime this punishment is best.


Professionally, I’m blinded to your need
And granted absolution by my creed;
My role is simply to make sure this mask
Fits properly, thus hastening their task.


I am the priest, who watched the night with you
And quoted scripture till the day was new;
I bless you now, and soon enough will bless
These straps that hold you in a last caress.


I am the soldier, tightening up the laces
So you cannot move. Yet these embraces
Will not last, and soon I’ll cast the dice
That tell if you’ll be entering paradise.


We are Jack Ketch, to whom befalls the task
That others would ordain, yet never ask
Why things like this should be. Go ask the living,
Not the dead, who are beyond forgiving.


Photograph, circa 1900, by William M. Vander Weyde (American 1871–1929), showing a man being strapped into an electric chair by five prison officials.

Jared Carter’s forthcoming book of poems is A Dance in the Street, available in the fall of 2012 from Wind Publications in Kentucky. Wind published his previous collection, Cross this Bridge at a Walk, in 2006. His work has appeared in Poetry, The New Yorker, TriQuarterly, Iowa Review, Hudson Review The Dark Horse, Prairie Schooner, and Kenyon Review. Addi­tional poems and sto­ries may be found on his web site at www.jaredcarter.com.