The Poisoned Ink Well

Wednesday, February 25, 2004

Continued from Visiting Day a piece that I wrote a while back

Visiting Day

concrete, blacktop diamonds
glistening in hot texas summer
the fields held in chains of thought
like sweat driping round my neck
stark pale building
with turrets and gates

appears in distance like city from nowhere
after long drive
this is oz in reverse
walk the careful path in between lines
past grim faced men
in dark glasses
with thin pursed lips
standing on a series of x's
printed on cold stone floor
being searched and searching for answers
in your thin face
through thick glass
eyes meek downcast
cheeks drawn
like soul shotgun
through pock marked plexi-glass
I was 12
you were only 18
and I could never go back again.

Visiting Day: Continued Part Two

On The Way To The Pen

My parents picked up a girl walking up to the prison.
It was on a hot summer day and everything seemed to be wilting
And there she was walking along at a nice country trot
There were no houses to speak of for miles and no gas stations
There was only one place that she could be headed and the road ended there
We had never seen anyone walking on this stretch of highway, before
She was tall and lean and she had straight copper colored hair
And a white t-shirt with the sleeves rolled up
Freckles covered her arms, neck, and face
The only tattoo I noticed was the obligatory thorns around her left wrist
She had on frayed blue jeans and white tennis shoes
Everyone was passing her by when we noticed her
My dad leaned back and looked at me and my mom

We had driven the whole day in the old Cadillac to be there
The air conditioner was on and we had just stopped to ditch all the beer cans.
And this was the last five miles before the searches, the dogs, the questions
The clipboards, and the weird otherworldly lighting with grown men who liked to wear sunglasses inside and who would only grunt at you in response
If you were dumb enough to ask them for directions.
We saw her as soon as we turned off the main highway
to the long road with the plowed, sickly, looking fields on either side
It was so dry and dead that you couldn’t tell what had once grown there
Her hair was shining in the sun in the midst of all the brown dying grass
The blacktopped road rose up in odd, eerie patterns of heat waves
The white rubber soles of her shoes contrasted with the hot, hard pavement
she didn’t look like the sun was going to slow up her pace.
And we all decided that we liked her at the same time
“Anyone that determined deserved a ride.”
“And she was headed to the prison and not away.”
We had a quick conversation amongst the three of us.
“So she wasn’t escaping.”
“Not that there was a women’s lockdown anywhere near.”
“And it was a long way and it was awful hot.”
She seemed surprised and relieved
when she saw it was a family offering the ride

she wasn’t hitchhiking, but she smiled, and got in and thanked us
We offered her a cola from the cooler and she asked for a piece of ice
Which she rubbed on her face and her arms
She wasn’t a girl, she was probably in her forties
With smooth lines like a road map of many smiles
And miles of walking and not giving a damn
Though she wasn’t going to turn down a ride
She was very tan with freckles on the inside of her eyelids
You could tell that she had worked hard all her life
She was muscular and had the healthy glow
of someone who worked outside and liked it
or was at least never going to admit that she didn’t.

She had an air of resignation without any sort of self pity.
She was going to see a husband who was going to be in there a while.
And that’s all she said, and we weren’t anxious to share our tale either
We didn’t talk much, none of us
But she thanked us for the ride and smiled the whole time.
It was such an odd moment of triumph for everyone in the car
A civilized gesture met with equal civility
in a place that was supposed to have none.
Finally we saw the gates off in the distance
With rusted barbed wire fences and guards on horseback
All the cars slowed in dreary procession about a half mile long
She asked my dad to pull over
and she volunteered that it was probably
“better if she walked in by herself, so no one would get the wrong idea.”
She thanked us again
and she got out and maneuvered in between the cars
and walked up to the gate and was the first one in.

Mel 2004