Issue Forty-Two - Summer 2023

What Lingers: January in Elmwood Jail

By Carol Park

The deputy in slacks and knee-high boots heaves
         a weighty door—neglect, injury, violence.   
They’ve come to lead a prayer service, she tells forty
         females wearing thin orange uniforms. They
scatter round a large, cool room—walls empty
of all color. A resident standing in her four-bed section,
spies over the divider to the next. Cameras point
         all places—even within toilet stalls.

Eight shamble out—tall and squat, 
         obese and trim. They dismantle stacks
of seats. We form a circle on well-scuffed vinyl.
They read aloud, pray as one and fret about dates at court,
         their kids, and mothers left to care for them.

A voice quivers—like a ball atop a net—
a slight woman with a blonde bob. Her hands
envelop her small ears: The voices—I can’t stop them,
                  can’t get my schizophrenia meds.
When the group departs, another speaks—a model
beauty with clear dark skin, hair curled close. She leans
to me and whispers—
                  The spirits command me: find a murdered one—
                  Leave a drop of blood. The spirits of Matthew
                  and John keep speaking. Don’t you hear them?
Sorry, no. Must be scary. I do what I know.
          I pray and copy digits from her wristband
to bring help later.  A name matters
little here. She insists I write hers down—
                  Don’t forget me.
         Her full moon eyes sear me.

Deputies with handguns and ponytails dismiss us
           with no thought.. Our way out crosses cracked
asphalt, by sharp, ashen buildings, soaring fences—
            with massive metallic spirals, ferocious spikes atop.
My partner punches the code. The last gate swings open.
Then freeway, partitioned home with knobs that turn,
precious privacy and medicine for my taking. I awake
	on pristine sheets, remembering her eyes.

Copyright 2023 Park