“Invoking the Muse in Cell Block B” by Nancy Miller Gomez

Nancy Miller Gomez


There is a heavy sucking
when the door swings open
and a dull clank when it locks.
The men enter the classroom
and open their notebooks.
One taps the table.
One covers his eyes and yawns.
Another gets up and paces
as if he is circling a flight path.
Sometimes it takes a while for the stories
to come out. But then, a mouthful of tacks,
baby shoes, a bat cracked across a small boy’s arm.
They gather these images like kindling
to try to ignite the darkness.
The walls sweat like a submarine.
The air hangs dank and mossy.
There’s an odd Doppler shift of footsteps
as guards come and go, their shapeless voices rising
and falling in the halls. A fluorescent hum glows
off the greenish paint slopped onto cinderblock
so thick it looks like molded cheese.
A man with broken glasses scans the dictionary.
Raven noose, he says, and writes it down.
Ravenous. His neighbor draws crosses
on the palms of his hands.
The alarm blinks its red eye.
What is true about a swastika
etched into a man’s forehead?
Why does it matter if he still dreams
of nights in a cold stairwell,
pallets burning under a bridge,
the sound of his grandmother singing?
They are still waiting in this moonless place.
Children waiting for mothers,
mothers waiting for children
now grown to have children
waiting for them, waiting for wives
or lovers, a visitor, another day. Nothing.
Each scar provides its own dark facts.
What if the thesis is a bottle smashed
on a body? What if the body
can’t grow wings?
The man with the teardrop
tattooed on his cheek
holds the ink tube of a pen
as if it is breathing,
and stares up at a skylight
so dirty it might be night.

from Punishment
Rattle Chapbook Series Selection


Nancy Miller Gomez: “Poetry helps me to make emotional sense of my life. Each poem is a struggle to clarify something I don’t yet understand.” (web)

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