PN Review Print and Online Poetry Magazine
News and Notes
Digital Access to PN Review
Access the latest issues, plus back issues of PN Review with Exact Editions For PN Review subscribers: access the PN Review digital archive via the Exact Editions app Exactly or the Exact Editions website, you will first need to know your PN Review ID number. read more
Poems Articles Interviews Reports Reviews Contributors
Gratis Ad 1
Monthly Carcanet Books
Next Issue

This poem is taken from PN Review 176, Volume 33 Number 6, July - August 2007.

from Habeas Corpus Jill McDonough

These poems are part of Habeas Corpus , a collection of fifty sonnets, each about an execution in American history. Since the first recorded legal execution in Jamestown in 1608, courts in what is now the United States have tried, sentenced and executed nearly 20,000 people. In my efforts to uncover primary sources about these executions I had help from librarians at Harvard and the University of California at Berkeley, and public libraries in New York, Provincetown, and Boston, as well as the Boston Athenaeum, the Huntington Library, and the Virginia Historical Society. Stuart Banner's very thorough The Death Penalty was published during my research; it's the most helpful book I've read for understanding capital punishment, and for tracking down contemporary information about these often forgotten cases.

April 25, 1822: Samuel Green
Boston, Massachusetts

My dear Mother,
                           I now sit down to write
to you the last lines, attempt to inform
you, for the first time, of my fate. I was tried
for murder. Prisoners, to gain their liberty, swore
against me; and now I am condemned to die,
most likely before you receive this. I am afraid
this will likely break your heart. Dear mother, I might
have lived, might have been happy if I had staid
at home and taken your advice. Now I
am bound in irons and chained to the door - I shall
soon sink under my misfortunes. Give my

Searching, please wait... animated waiting image