There isn’t much light when you’re inside;
Well, natural light, anyway,
And if you’re looking for a star to guide you
Through your thirty days, you’re even more out of luck
Than you were getting here in the first place,
(In my case, appropriating—almost—a turkey breast
On the Saturday after Thanksgiving,
In the hope no tired, overworked checkout girl
Would ever miss it. Piss poor luck, nothing more.)
The windows too narrow to climb out,
Too high to smash in anger or frustration.
Still, you can see a bit of the outside world,
The sky (this once, at least,) more blue
Than mid-December has a right to be
In this grubby, hardscrabble corner of northwestern P-A,
Dirty old lake to the west, endless, logged-out hills to the east,
Underwhelming never-quite-boomed mill towns to the south,
Up north Indian land where bootleggers and numbers-runners
Holed up once upon a time (the Senecas having gone legit,
With Beach Boys and Barbara Mandrell fronting shell games
Which now bear the Feds’ seal of approval.)
This is the Galilee I to which I shortly return.
Time gets syrupy in the hole, moving slowly, lazily,
Fighting the laws of Newton and Einstein at every turn,
And, when the bitching about lawyers,
Oft-repeated and off key done-me-wrong songs
And respectful (if somewhat impatient) supplications to Jesus
For a speedy deliverance are no longer sufficient distraction,
Then a man begins to think and remember.
I met Easy Terry E. (so he called himself) in the city lockup in Troy,
Or maybe it was Schenectady (I have, after all,
Been up and down the Eastern Seaboard,
On both sides of the bars) and, I tell you,
For the only time in my life I wished
That these little city holding cells had solitary,
As Terry E. not only had a scraped-chalkboard falsetto
Which constituted aggravated assault on the eardrums,
But also a predilection for non-stop yammering and prattling on
About nothing and everything, punctuating his blather
With high-pitched and frequent insistences that he was a hermaphrodite,
And he would frequently taunt the guards by yowling
Baby, I got a lady’s equipment down here. Why don’t you strip search me, hon?
(Such high spirits led to a predictable, inevitable end;
I heard a jailer up in Utica decided to quiet him down
By sticking Terry’s head in a toilet, and the swirlie
Ended up being a minute or two longer than was advisable),
But I had been able to more or less ignore him
Since to that point he’d concentrated on pissing off everyone else in the cells
With the exception of me, but my turn came around soon enough.
Oh, don’t worry Peter, darling, I know your type.
Different, smarter, than the rest of us.
Mebbe so, I grumbled, just a few fluky bad breaks here and there.
Terry laughed and clapped his hands,
Poor sweet thing, a victim of that old lousy karma.
There was a philosopher…
And he stopped for a moment,
Seemingly trying to pick a name out of the air
(Not that he could likely see anything floating in front of him,
As he wore horn-rims with lenses as thick and opaque
As the headlights of a ’72 Skylark). Well, never mind, then.
So you’re just taking a break here until your luck turns, mmm?
I laid back against the wall, hands behind my head, and grinned.
Yep, I replied, things are due and then some to start going my way.
Terry giggled again. Well, you’ve got it figured out then!
Good, evil, right, wrong–no more than snapshots of the roulette wheel
In some infinitesimal sliver of time, and all we can do
Is put our chips down and hope the croupier is playing it straight.
Well, now that you’ve finally figured all of that out,
I suspect you won’t see the wrong side of the bars again,
And with that, he turned his back to me,
Paying me no mind whatsoever
Until they turned me loose the next morning,
With the stern admonishment
To trouble the good citizenry of the Capitol District no more.
As I think back to that moment,
I suspect that he may not have been telling the whole truth as he saw it.
And so I will be released
From this cell in this small, red-brick building
In the midst of this equally small, red-bricked town,
And I will by-pass the bars with their potential for a cheap hustle,
With their various types and flavors of low-hanging fruit,
And I will dispense with a seat on some sad Trailways bus,
Seeking a ride (thumb hopefully, defiantly pointing
Upward to the sky) on the Grand Army Highway,
Then north on the Buffalo Road,
And I will climb down the embankment
To the Kinzua Dam, and, shedding shoes, socks, and clothes
With no concern for the cold,
I shall wade into the water, acclimating ankles and washing my feet,
Then dive headlong under the water’s surface,
So that I may rise cold, cleansed, and ready to move onward.