Dozier Reform School, 1967
The guards will start with your fingers:
Backtalk or hesitancy brings the club
shattering into your digits – un-wisecracking
you so you’ll cry in front of the others.
They laughed the day they broke my humerus
and splinted it with wire coat hangers wrapped
in black tape so my skin couldn’t breathe,
so I’d understand honest pain.
When a mother or two inquired about our gnarled
fingers, our curled limbs, they had a preacher
explain how the evil inside us twisted and warped,
since Satan lived in all our skeletons.
The breakings relieved you from weed clearing, though,
and you toothbrush-scrubbed bathroom tile instead –
forcing bleached bristles into straight grout lines –
a white symmetry, perfect for a while.
Silver keys drew me in – neatly lettered and numbered circles
the size of my fingers. If only I could hear those hammers,
smell ink pressed free. Taken by its store display, I sought
a rhythm of permanence: the striking discharge of my name.
Once cops found the Remington in my neighbor’s shed, they said
That boy, as if nobody else would want black applause
from a curious carriage’s well-oiled melody
played on paper and ended with a single bell – done.
Police returned it to Mister Howard, who let it sit
because his name was already on too many buildings.
They booked me in, had me hold a sign with Courier numbers –
white holes of zeroes captured by print’s hard impact.