27 March, 2016

Another Prison Poem


Mean Shh, hear that?
Mean someone’s coming,
Mean something probably
A search, a strip-out, a
Drug test — Here,
Piss in this. Jingle-
Jangle, atonal. In other
Realms it might be
Jaunty, but brass
Against brass dangling
Bodes ill for us bodies
In storage.

The hush
Descends utter.
It’s nightfall
Of the short, dark

Books closed.
Pencils down.
Devices off.
Ears cupped, anxious.

A toolbox clatters.
A sigh escapes.
Only the plumber.

Where was I?

* * * * *

Anyone who’s done time in prison could likely tell you how the metallic rattle of guards’ keys obliterates concentration. Downright Pavlovian, we hear it and tense with anticipation. At night it pulls us from deepest sleep. During the day it distracts from everything — letter-writing, job duties, a rerun of Maury, the song blaring through our headphones, drawing, our 10,000-point game of rummy, scrubbing laundry…

I often wonder how much of what prison life has inculcated in me might follow me out, if and when I’m freed. Will I need to sleep alone? Will I wake at odd hours for head counts that never occur? Will I take longer showers than intended, having forgotten for a moment that the water at home doesn’t shut off automatically? “Keys” came about during one such musing. If the sound causes mental disruption now, what instants of minor havoc might it wreak on me as a free man?

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