In Response to Amy’s Question: What is Aspartame? by Marissa Hewatt Stephens

(3rd place poetry winner)


It is a sweetener,

an artificial, addictive, non-saccharide sweetener,

rapidly hydrolyzed in the small intestine,

and it breaks down, somewhere between saliva enzymes and piss stream,

into components, one of them being formaldehyde,

the stuff that coats those dead sharks you buy in glass jars,

and those dead people you find in coffins,

and it is approved by the FDA,

the people who give a shit about you

and your likelihood of ending up in a coffin before thirty-five,

coated and preserved in formaldehyde,

with your lipstick painted on

in the glossy pink sheen you’d imagined,

and you look quite nice,

because that formaldehyde has kept

your expired body from turning black,

and your lips so lifelike, your boyfriend can almost

imagine the way their light pink sheen

left a liney smudge on your Diet Coke,

the silver can you pressed to your

pink-sheened lips, lips that swallowed your calorie-free, non-saccharide sweetness

that swam through your organs,

morphing to dead-body-lacquer somewhere between

spit and piss piss that had the capacity

to make your Aunt Sue sigh and tilt her head

saying how nice, how nice it is her lips still look so pink.


-Originally published in The Elixir’s 2014-15 edition

-Photo credit to Cosmpolitan