The last time I saw Jonathan, she said, was visiting hours.
We were playing cards
and by accident, he put his hands in his lap.
So they strip searched him
and threw him in solitary.
I am driving the spine of Lookout Mountain,
just me and the blinking cell towers;
my radio picks up static,
and signals from space,
and her voice:
He was 16 with a 30 year sentence.
He didn’t know what that meant at first,
but after 4 weeks alone he did.
And when the guards changed shifts
he hung himself.
I miss my turn. The GPS is possessed
the gold trees look grim, the road eerie, the engine hot.
Maybe my car is about to flame out.
Will this be the last thing I see before I die?
How about this?
I park and ascend the ridge on foot
as if I’m being timed or watched or pursued.
Great Eastern Trail, the sign says. Cherokee Falls.
Statute numbers warn the Stupid not to pass.
Once, the Cherokee slipped on dangerous rocks to their hearts content
made love in the pools illegally
and were sent packing to the barbwire.
I pass a church group, then a cereal box family
A white couple takes a selfie by the overlook
did you get it?…take another
I close my eyes, wondering if he knows how much she hates him.
I leave their conversations far behind
Make way for me, winner of the Great Eastern Spitting Contest,
I am a coal furnace
that might explode
They slide the iron gates across the road at 10 pm
barring entry or exit.
I like this so much, I would extend the quarantine for a week
or the rest of my life if I could.
All around me, you gather in groups by your roaring fires;
Mine glows and dies, glows and dies, like a fever,
like a lone cell tower on the brink.
Searching the grass for more kindling, I find only spider eyes
reflecting light into prisms.
I talk to them like pets.
What does death feel like
when the steppers step on you?
When the trespassers bash their stupid heads
when they march you to Oklahoma
when they seal the penitentiary
and you cinch off your own neck but don’t die —
how bad does it get
before it gets better?
It’s bad, it’s a life of solitary confinement
compressed into 7 seconds;
I know because I punched through and got free of this place
that needing you
is a lie I tell myself
even on the other side.
I toss all night, I am cold, my eyes ache.
Orion makes his way across my zipper.
I dream that teenage boys undress me in my tent.
I dream that Jonathan is visiting from prison,
and as a courtesy would I please fuck him one last time,
before he transfers to maximum security.
I dream that I have just returned from Afghanistan
and strangers leave me fruit baskets,
my mother tells me she’s proud –
of course. I’m a glorious fighter, after all
though I can’t recall any combat.
I drive home
through the arid and ugly Georgia lowlands
an expanse of solitude and sadness.
A green Malibu with Chattooga plates pulls alongside
and I stare at Jonathan and me.
We are cat-eyed gorgeous drunks; we are redneck crazy;
better in still life than in real.
The DOT sign says, Historic Trail of Tears.
that must be it;
It must be pain that saturates the ground here
growing rich crops of cotton,
and meth heads,
and my love for you.
The radio is a nonstop corporate playlist. But I stay
because not even prayers rise here.