Numbers

The box of Frosted Flakes at four in the morning
was not the first indignity. All night
we had stayed locked together, trading speculations,
chained to one another like a line of delinquent ducks.

One by one, we went in and out of cages,
pressed our fingers to the glass, recited our numbers,
stared at the camera. Forward, turn, don’t smile
and with each slamming door came the longer thoughts.

Outside, friends were breaking up, tearing out hearts,
pulling up roots. After three years your lover is walking away
and I expect you are curled up with your pillows,
your place lost, your lines of defense blown down.

From my mattress in Central Booking all I can do is rub
my sore wrists, remember they will not throb forever,
promise you the world will shift to shoulder each new pain.
All I can tell you is to stand at zero, use big words,

wait for temporary mercy and the tiny miracles
that punctuate hard days. And when relief comes,
do not confuse it with justice. It is arbitrary as freedom
and the moment you hear they’ll let you go.

September 2004