The eyewitness, victim, lost-a-love seats are the best.
She could have stayed home
and watched it on TV,
but hell, she didn't have a date
11:52 stage left the executioner enters,
small, dressed, as one would hope, in black,
compressed, concealed no face, no sex.
The executioner stops in front of the man and
Straps the sword's handle against a black leather glove.
The gesture graceful, inside the black carapace,
The dealer in this man's death is a woman.
She slides the sword along the rope that holds his hand.
Fibers fall to the ground. A soft vowel from the crowd.
Paula impressed by the sharpness,
wonders if the fibers might clog the drain.
The prisoner's eyes follow the fall of shavings.
The executioner whirls the sword
in an arc downupdown diagonal across his body.
He pulls away against his ropes, the sword tip misses him and
we hear the ringing of the air where it was cut.
Is he surprised by his intactness?
Someone in the crowd takes a breath, then another and another.
Someone giggles.
The executioner pauses, she brings the sword
backhanded in an arc just above his waist.
He strains away from her, as the tip of the sword slices his jacket,
cutting neatly through the zipper, splitting cloth.
a tiny breathless moment, then light, vagrant applause
someone in the back yells "Take it off, take it ALL off"

11:57. Noises from outside leak in.
Paula recognizes New Year's banging
of pots and pans in the streets above the Rotunda.
She likes that custom, so different from sweaty indoors happy new year.
The executioner turns back to the man and in a perfectly vertical plumb bob of a stroke
she slices him from the outside margin of his cheek to his shoulder and down his chest,
almost to the hem of his jacket. A second does the other side.
Blood rises, lines up.
Paula nauseated now, sees the man back on the street
in front of the bar where he killed Tom.
Death gives out onto death she figures while she wonders
if the white stripes revealed by the cuts might be ribs.

Paula hears suggestions from the crowd.
"Slash his... Put it in his... Cut off his..."
They come mostly from the back,
the cheap seats, no relation.
The front rows are silent, the noise from the back washing over them.
We hear more banging of pots.
11:58 Paula holds Tom's sister, shields her eyes,
sometimes hiding behind her like she used to hide behind Tom.
The pot-banging gets louder, sword cuts ring, meat cuts sing.
Paula lets out her breath, takes a bite of air and chews it up.
We hear singing and another swing of the sword.
Paula recognizes the melody.

She is on her feet, pulling the girl with her
and the breath shoots from her chest, catching the lyric

...........lang syne, my dear
For auld lang syne
We'll drink a cup of kindness yet
For the sake of auld lang syne

Midnight. audience rises in ones and threes, sings along,
Incontinent, repeating four words, maybe five
but Paula is back in college chorus, each verse
with a pure clear burst that sweeps up stragglers
and carries the song along. The crowd's a bass guitar
for Paula her arms pull Tom's sister tighter in to her chest
Breast to breast and all the voices rise like well-sliced flakes
snowing up to the ceiling and falling up higher and higher.

Paula Sees the Execution - New Year's Eve - Lynn Hoffman