I.

 

Turn around and face the car please.

Police handcuffs; usually the blue lights

are still blaring their neon glare so

you can’t really see. The pain depends

on how rough the officer decides to be.

Something about the sound of that key—

that little click & your life is locked.

You cannot wave or write with your hands,

shake another man or woman’s hand,

drive or make love. Metal cuts into flesh & bone;

how much all depends on the wrists. 

Do not twist. Be still; it’ll hurt less. Be no one.

When they finally remove them—trust me,

you’ll see your hands for the very first time.

 

II.

 

It can take hours to be processed in. No rush.

They roll each finger in ink, but the image

isn’t taking, it’s all that alcohol in you.

They don’t give you water, just more force.

Guards are eating fast food & checking

cell phones & laughing. You become animal.

You wait behind bars, cinder block, pee hole

in the floor, fluorescent light. The noise is hell.

The inmate next to you got picked up on drunk

& disorderly. He is howling profanity hard,

gets subdued. Metal doors being slammed.

Listen: people go to jail for breaking the law

& for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Police have quotas; your life can turn on a dime.

 

III.

 

Mug shot, very similar to the movies.

Turn to the right. Click. Turn to the left. Click.

Turn to center. I SAID TURN TO CENTER!

Click. Don’t move. Go back behind bars.

 

The mug shot will go online & stay there—

your record of disgrace. This fact will cause

more trauma: one morning, several months after,

your daughter will be quietly taking

 

notebooks out of her high school locker

when some classmates she doesn’t know

will run up laughing & brandish it

on their cell phones, delightedly, in her face.

 

IV.

 

This is the slit window inside of each cell. It is just high enough to prevent

even a tall inmate from being able to look out. There is no chair to stand on.

Sometimes you can see a bird, or a plane; but no woman & no man. O God.

 

V.

 

LINE    UP     NO     TALKING
LINE    UP     NO     TALKING
LINE    UP     NO     TALKING
LINE    UP     NO     TALKING
LINE    UP     NO     TALKING
LINE    UP     NO     TALKING
LINE    UP     NO     TALKING
LINE    UP     NO     TALKING
LINE    UP     NO     TALKING
LINE    UP     NO     TALKING
LINE    UP     NO     TALKING
LINE    UP     NO     TALKING
LINE    UP     NO     TALKING
LINE    UP     NO     TALKING

 

VI.

 

There is an assault in your cell in the middle

of the night. You are a person sleeping

on a jail floor because there is not enough room.

About a foot above you, you hear two

inmates starting to fight, no one tries

to stop it, it escalates, one of them screams,

you sit up & see wet blood on a cot

in a fluorescent slit of light. Fists & hair & howling &

mother fucker I’m gonna press charges!

Two guards come and take them both out.

Metal slamming against metal. Consciousness

cold as iron—subhuman, without any words.

Every night, you try to sleep—perchance to dream.

Can you even dream, now that your future is deferred.

 

VII.

 

hey can I have your soap when you leave

are you done with your tray

hey can I have your soap when you leave

are you done with your tray

hey can I have your soap when you leave

are you done with your tray

hey can I have your soap when you leave

are you done with your tray

hey can I have your soap when you leave

are you done with your tray

hey can I have your soap when you leave

are you done with your tray

hey can I have your soap when you leave

are you done with your tray

 

VIII.

 

 

Men & women are created equal in jail.

We wear orange canvas. We have a number.

We all get the same thin towel, soap sliver,

& tan plastic cup. We are guilty; we are not.

 

We are part animal, shown little mercy.

We all scratch our tally on the dirty wall—

//// //// //// //// //// //// //// ///. Enough said.

Forgive & give us this day our daily dead.

 

IX.

 

(Hum silence, hum invisible, hum dirt.)

 

When you get out, the air so cool & free

you almost choke on it at first.  

 

Gulp, then sip. Can air be indivisible, 

for all to see, sea to shining sea—

 

You start to move forward, through that air. 

You have to teach yourself to breathe.