The parking lot's enormous,
big enough to admit a stadium-full of fans
or a mall's worth of Christmas
shoppers, but no one here is cheering
or shopping as we cross
the frozen tar to the windowless jail,
Jane County Corrections—
corrections?
—I carry
a brown paper sack like the ones
I'd packed your school lunches
in, but this one holds the public defender's
recommendations: toothbrush,
comb, a pack of Lucky Strikes.
It's Friday afternoon, too late for bail
until Monday—we're new at this.
The waiting room smells like a late-night
bus station, all of us crowded
on cheap plastic chairs, most of us
women, most of us black.
The woman working the counter
doesn't look up as she asks my name
and yours, tells me to sit.
We speak in whispers, and I think
of school libraries, study hall
where those of us who've misbehaved
must serve our detention. Time slows
until there you are, cuffed, in your orange
jumpsuit, shuffling off the elevator—
Is that right? Or am I seeing you
later, in that courtroom, where
in the stark light of ordinary grief
I watched you marched in by deputies,
guns on their hips, lined up
with the other petty thieves and addicts,
saw you look for me, then look away?
Memory fails, but I remember this
the way the near-drowned in winter
never forget the darkness and the ice,
your voice that night on the jailhouse phone
so like a boy's again, telling me
I had to come get you, you couldn't stay
there, you could not be in there,
the hollow sound of my reply.

 

 

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