The American Journal of Poetry
"Strong Rx Medicine"®


Lauren Scharhag

The Heart Goes Last


I. 7 Minutes

A unit of time deemed
acceptable for death.

Life unworthy of life,
the first injection

bestows unconsciousness,

one wonders about the dreams that seize,
the life-dreams,

and the death-dreams, too,
which have no regard

for restraint or circumstance.
The mind coils

and recoils
like Minos’s tail.

II. 34 Minutes

Longer than an episode of Seinfeld,
but not quite as long as an episode of The Walking Dead;

in that time, you could hard boil an egg
three times over.

You could listen to nine pop songs
or at least two movements of Beethoven’s 9th.

You could walk two miles,
get a relaxing massage,

take an extremely long shower,
get an appendectomy,

say the rosary.
It is

the span of a lunch break,
of a workout session.

In the hall, the reporters start to murmur.
The second injection stops the lungs.

The dying gasps
become unbearable for the witnesses

and some of them
turn away.

III. 120 Minutes

Such a death is still
much shorter than a birth;

executioner’s lullabies measured
in CCs and needle lengths

as they were once measured
in stone, rope, breath, volt.

Now a pulse,
the adagio of vital signs

green notes on a monitor.
The third injection is for the heart

which some say they never really had.
Behold its dark weight

like a freight train
easier to derail

than to stop on a dime.
The puncture mark a period

full stop.



Lauren Scharhag

The Art of the Backyard Haircut


Two barefoot children
The adjacent lot vacant
Separated by the warped diamonds
Of drooping chain link

A neighborhood of pitted driveways
And muddy porches,
Of bikes propped against the sides of houses

They drag a patio table
Into the center of the yard
Items balanced carefully on its surface:
Comb, brush, shears, electric shaver
The ashtray where their mother parks her cigarette

The boy can hardly stand still long enough
To have his hair mown down to prickles
Through which the white of his scalp shines through.
At the back of his head is a whorl where the part would begin
If he had enough left to part,
Exposed ears translucent as elm leaves.

The girl, far less certain, clutches a princess doll,
Her mother’s fingers move through her locks like sunlight
The snip of the blue-handled scissors soothes and satisfies,
Cross-eyed, the girl follows its journey across her forehead
An instrument forbidden to little hands,
The same twin blades that cut twist-ties on hanks of lettuce,
Or the thread of a Thanksgiving Day turkey.
Afterwards, they check the straightness of her bangs
With a schoolhouse ruler.

Newly weightless, the children run,
Heap of hair scattered to the grass
By the winds of their departure.




LAUREN SCHARHAG is a writer of fiction and poetry. She is the author of Under Julia, The Ice Dragon, The Winter Prince, and West Side Girl & Other Poems, and the co-author of The Order of the Four Sons series. Her work has appeared in multiple magazines and anthologies. She is the recipient of the Gerard Manley Hopkins Award for poetry and a fellowship from Rockhurst University for fiction. When not writing, she can be found hanging out in prisons or embarking on art pilgrimages. A recent transplant to the Florida Panhandle, she lives with her husband and three cats.



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