Published on Academy of American Poets (

Untitled [Executions have always been public spectacles]

Executions have always been public spectacles. It is New Year’s 2009 in Austin and we are listening to Jaguares on the speakers. Alexa doesn’t exist yet so we cannot ask her any questions. It is nearly 3 AM, and we run out of champagne. At Fruitvale Station, a man on his way home on a train falls onto the platform, hands cuffed. Witnesses capture the assassination with a grainy video on a cell phone. I am too drunk, too in love, to react when I hear the news. I do not have Twitter to search for the truth. Rancière said looking is not the same as knowing. I watch protests on the television while I sit motionless in the apartment, long after she left me. Are we what he calls the emancipated spectator, in which spectatorship is “not passivity that’s turned into activity” but, instead, “our normal situation”? Police see their god in their batons, map stains and welts on the continents of bodies. To beat a body attempts to own it. And when the body cannot be owned, it must be extinguished.


Copyright © 2019 by mónica teresa ortiz. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 4, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

About this Poem

“Point number seven of the Black Panthers’ Ten-Point Program, which calls for ‘an immediate end to police brutality and murder of Black people,’ came to mind—for me—that as poets, we are responsible for not just witnessing and documenting time and history, but reflecting and critiquing our society’s very soul. In Jacques Ranciére’s The Emancipated Spectator, he addresses the audience as spectators, not active participants. In this poem, the narrator is implicated in being a passive witness to a country that sensationalizes and reproduces violence, as well as exploits death. I sought to craft a critique on complicit relationships to public spectacles and state-enacted executions, while also attempting to archive a particular type of violence that has haunted this country since the colonization of the Americas.”
mónica teresa ortiz


mónica teresa ortiz

mónica teresa ortiz is the author of autobiography of a semiromantic anarchist (Host Publications, 2019), winner of the inaugural Host Publication chapbook prize, and muted blood (Black Radish Books, 2018).

Date Published: 2019-06-04

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