He told me the story of absence,
its contents, the thickness of its spine,
nicknames of guards providing blurbs,
the setting which is neither place nor
not-place. In some places, he said, oranges
shrivel if treated harshly or remain bitter
if ignored. Here, you learn to speak
to these bars the way children cup their hands
in snow. Snowmen. I asked if he had children.
He said ox-carts passed his window each day
at incredible speeds, and he had been fixated
for the past week on the letters j and u
which had not yet been added to the word
he was trying to recall. The fact that he
turned down a last supper was a case in point.
So, too, was the purpose of incarceration:
destroy the imagination, confuse it, burn it
like books, poof! Here he was, he said,
waiting for cartridges to be filled, waiting
for a barrage of snowballs at midnight.
I asked if he believed in God. He said
clouds were really oranges. “All I know,
I was once a cowboy on my grandmother’s
back porch. Tonto was there with the sweet
smell of light so shiny you could cut a shadow
in half. Now, I’m under a death sentence
for crimes I did or did not commit
and one day that will have to be explained
to the child now becoming June, who might
want to know or not.” Your daughter, I asked?
I think he understood the question.
I think he could not fathom the answer.