The Prison Librarian

The prison sits unmistakably on the horizon.
Regardless of poetry
it remains a definitive interpretation of a prison.
Watertight. A thing you can hold in your hand and believe in.
A doorknob. A cork.

Sorry not like a cork. That might lead to a conceit,
turning the inmates into champagne.

The prison is wild with lies like this.
They sweeten the air. You can almost taste it,
young lives fermenting. The men take new nicknames,
change their verdicts, rework their teenage tattoos
into gigantic, empty ideograms.
You know these people a little less every day.

In the library, an inmate has put up a poster:
ESCAPE WITH A BOOK.
In the quiet hours you consider this,
hefting the latest Jack Reacher thriller,
wondering whether it could lay out a guard.
Maybe Steve. Probably not Warren.

Someone could tunnel under the shower block
with a hardback edition of Midnight’s Children.
After that, it’s just one night sleeping rough in the forest,
insulated by Secrets of the Millionaire Mind.
You lock the office. It is 6pm.
Daniel is standing in the middle of the Fantasy section like
something incomprehensible
howled into a pillow. Daniel, you say.

Outside, it is both snowing and not snowing.
Both instances are held to be equally true.
Daniel has trained himself not to collapse ambiguity.
It’s 6pm, you tell him. You realise he is praying,
filling himself with unknowns,
the cool palace of his mind stretching out in all directions,
beyond the ring-road and county borders.

As you wait to turn off the light,
you think about a book you used to own
about the Black Oak Druids,
who thought the evening sky
was the same darkness they trapped inside graves.
The shadows somehow escape at dusk,
rise up to scribble out the sun.

Books go missing all the time
and then the stories are forgotten, go free.

You once found a new dedication written in The Bell Jar.
For Lisa. Because it’s the only name I can remember.

Snow covers the carpark.
Only the governor’s footsteps can be seen
as he returns to his frozen vehicle.
He is thinking about the ages of his children, adding them up, dividing them,
clicking them back together again.
He drives towards the city,
this definitive interpretation of a city,

adjusting the rearview mirror
so he won’t have to watch
the prison dissolving silently behind him

like an aspirin, for example. Or like a prison.


from Emergency Window (Penned in the Margins, 2012), © Ross Sutherland 2012, used by permission of the author and the publisher.

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