In the early Sunday morning drowse of the Travis County Jail, paired off, handcuffed, each to another & shuffling in our over-sized flip-flops, we make our way to court, waiting for the judge to appear in his choir robe, yawning & wringing his eyes of sleep between reading, one by one, the charges we each face. I’m handcuffed to a man who’s light-skinned—redbone we’d call him in the projects—who insists on scratching his balls each time the judge pauses to allow Spanish translators to repeat charges the non-English speaking are facing, whether or not the court should contact the Mexican consulate, & so forth, & it seems redbone has made a game of this—at once enticing & irritating—like so many men I’ve met outside these court room walls. He might as well be any one of them, except the tattooed tear below his right eye suggests he’s not one given to sentimentality— a perpetual crier—but he’s a murderer—yes, that’s what the tear means—& I wonder what circumstances brought him to such depths of human frailty—to kill a man & have forever stamped on his face the night it all went down—a drive-by shooting, a knife wedged between someone’s heart & lungs somewhere in a black alley, the possibilities are endless—& I shake my head, chuckle, knowing the crimes he’s committed far supersede the drunk-driving charges he’s now facing, & no one’s the wiser save those who can read symbols on a man’s face & know he’s completed a rite of passage, a bar mitzvah of the ghetto variety, though how does my second-degree felony drug charge stack against his crimes, I wonder—me, who prefers Pinot Gris to malt liquor, me who sautés & brines, writes the moon into a story of unrequited love, me who witnesses tufts of pubic hair wiring their way upward each time he scratches himself, pondering if it could ever work out between us. Or is it the bond of incarceration that binds us as we are wrist-bound to one another, as if we are indeed a portrait of perfect compatibility—his Eliza Doolittle to my Professor Higgins. Though of course, this is mere fantasy, synapses snapped in the brain preventing mind’s access to rational thought—though in bearing this, seeds of regret blossom in my throat & I’m choked with grief knowing this is the end of our courtship, & I must touch everywhere but where our wrists are communally bound, kiss his lips, that lone tear, awaken him from the life that leads to this place.
Darius Stewart is the author of three chapbooks: The Terribly Beautiful (2006), Sotto Voce (2008), each of which was an Editor’s Choice Selection in the Main Street Rag Poetry Chapbook Series, and The Ghost the Night Becomes (2014), winner of the Gertrude Press Poetry Chapbook Prize. He earned an M.F.A. from the Michener Center for Writers, where he was a James A. Michener Fellow in poetry, and lives in Knoxville, TN with his dog Philip J. “Fry.”
This poem appeared in storySouth.