America’s Assad Avatar

Word Count: 424

by Jeffrey Young
Monthly Exclusives

“These are not the actions of a man, these are the crimes of a monster.”

– President Donald J. Trump, in response to Syrian President Assad’s chemical weapons use on Syrian citizens, shortly after Trump called for the increased use of the death penalty in America’s criminal legal system.

If dead is the outcome—
like an opened possum

on highway black. Yellow lines crossed.
Mangled fur peppered with gravel.
Lips stretched, blood-red gums,
dagger teeth, frozen

then is dead
not the product?
Or is the process the product?

A child, recovered
from rubble. Legs dangle
from a mother’s cradled arms.
Head slacked back, swirls
of ashed hair. Charred limbs.
One foot in a tattered sandal,
one foot bare, traced
with mama’s tears.
Bad air dropped from Syrian sky.

By bullets lodged in flesh,
the rumble of bombs exploding,
the sandpaper throat-choke of toxins,
by loving hate, looking the other
way, dead is dead, no?
By Trump’s decree?

Who’ll drop cruise missiles
on America’s death
factories? Razor wired
labyrinth halls plunge
deep, infecting dejected souls,
devoured by minotaurs
toothed with iron bars.

Death-row cells echo
with the scrape of paced
steps, DNA exoneration
hopefuls until dead—
line encroaches and dungeon
mouths creak open to Grim
Reaper escorts carrying shackles.

Strapped to the gurney—
highway black.
Locked in a glass house
for spectators to see volts
vogue, serum swirl, gas gallop.

Chemical warfare
with social fanfare. Society peppered
with stone hearts. Prayers dangle
from a mother’s clutched palms
while the crowd looks on from vacant eyes.
Just another green mile walked,

redlines don’t exist here. Lips
part, last breath fumbles over
pink gums and a mama’s-boy’s innocent


Jeffrey Young is an incarcerated poet and essayist, and an active member of the Minnesota Prison Writing Workshop.


Minnesota Prison Writing Workshop (MPWW) fosters literary community and a devotion to art inside Minnesota correctional facilities through high-quality creative writing classes and related programming. During incarceration and throughout reentry, they empower writers, challenge stereotypes about the incarcerated population, and promote a vision of rehabilitation and restorative justice through art. They also seek to bridge the divide between literary communities inside and outside of prison by creating platforms for their students’ work. Read more about and donate to MPWW here.

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