My prison pen pal “Conway”, who is serving 25-to-life for a nonviolent offense under California’s now-repealed three-strikes law, continues to work on his “City Elegies” series while awaiting a hearing on his early release petition. Like a man on a desert island, he has been knocked down to the bare minimum of possessions following transfer to another holding facility. His survival library includes the collected works of Shakespeare, Raymond Chandler, Rainer Maria Rilke’s poetry, Peter Elbow’s Writing With Power, and Dag Hammarskjold’s Markings, which has become his personal bible. These poems find him reflecting on the passage of time and lessons learned in captivity.
City Elegy VII
As I stand here, ready to be judged…
All of me has been searched and prodded, so often–
that no place on this body remains a secret.
Dreaming of a fair future…
In the dark vault of the skull; (beyond prying eyes.)
It is difficult to picture a future without locks, or
a true mattress under my spine.
Yet, even an abused child, no matter how bullied or beaten–
in life, still clings to the dream of justice.
The hours sneak past, without favor, or concern.
With an unreserved acceptance for life, my faith
is a state of mind.
Twisted up in barbed wire, obeying the corridors’ mood…
Where guntowers encircle the perimeter, like hands tangled
in thorns, lifted to the sky in prayer.
Cages lined up, like pews before the pulpit.
If I bow, will it still feel as if my head
has been pushed down, forced?
Where amber lights glare at each other across the yard,
searching cold hard dayrooms.
Topaz eyes with no face, or mouth.
Nowhere to scowl but down,
frown at the graffiti of lost souls left behind.
Who dares to mark their name on walls they have passed?
Where concrete halls wrap around us all…
listening for a door to open, a door way beyond
every other door.
It is not louder, or colored differently.
But, it makes a different sound; a spiritual melody–
you’d recognize, like the transparent depth of wide open skies.
If you don’t anticipate any other muted hush,
your future requires you to hear this sound.
This door is quicker than a six second quarter mile,
heavier than a mortician’s smile. It gathers momentum,
echoing down the tiers, then blindly disappears.
Blindly disappears; like a fragrant smell in your ears.
Silent as a shadow leaning against a a wall…
I huddle in a corner, where the door can be
slammed in your face, enough times–
to convince the most stubborn of people.
I was late to understand.
There may never have even been a door, or
to kick your own exit through the wall.
But, if you’ve made it through.
It is best that you swear, you were never
Still, I ride on;
Day upon day, and night in my mind…
City Elegy VIII
Once again, day has passed away as days always do: murdered, by the slowdragging schedule,
which has been sentenced to my own wreckless past…
The sky has become a ghost. Numbered day after day…
Shackled up, and then put back away, for another lesson in patient discretion.
Years came and went, disappeared with slow eyed surprise.
Rumor, whittled away from the nonsense, laid things at my door.
I restrained the urge to check some chins on a few established figureheads,
content yet careful in their mediocre claims.
Myth, and my own creation, built this unknown obligation.
Born sometime along this line, where odd-old places flutter back and forth…
Wasting time tugging on fate’s vast web, and once again shivering in nearly-naked privateness.
Opposed to this familiar stonewall. Monotonous square-footed center, of times
Cheered by the sudden slap of dusk: Because it is what most others dread. (The shadow.)
The Shadow plays fair. None is innocent among the convicted. The raw moments of solitude,
are time’s savage instinct. Time stops for neither instinct, nor episode,
as another calendar drifts past.
As this swirling harvest inhales its latest issue, of rusted ventilation dust…
A new dawn, or illusion of such. Struck suddenly kicking the teeth out of another skyless night.
What passes for air, being captured from somewhere, amongst the fumes of circulation,
(inside this whirling frazzle of souls)
wrenched a stench so foul, that I’ve not been able to shake it loose
from my nose hairs to this very day.
In the pursuit to escape this meaningless existence, without the feeling of shame…
I stay prepared for unexpected company. (you might say)
Bringing along a false hope. So they, can take it, all-back-away.
Until this preparation exposes its last heavy locked door on my horizon.
If I pass through, I will have but one debt left on this
primitive soul. A redemption only God can know.
My time, my prayers, spin the rhythm, while a lost forgotten song
with its on and on, hums along in my head…
I must pay attention to the sound, document what’s goin’ down,
as I swiftly walk away from the possession of this prison.
Into an everywhere and anywhere, that can be salvaged from
a future of, whatever might possibly be.
What a righteous purpose I must learn, to earn…
(The song is called Albatross.)